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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat? Jewish Identity and the Mitzvot of Pesach.

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on September 12, 2016)
Topics: Moadim/Holidays, Pesach

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This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at hresnikoff@yctorah.org.

Although there are parts of Pesach and the Seder that are exclusive, their true purpose is to bond the Jewish people together more closely as a unit. Recent research about addiction indicates that social alienation and lack of feeling bonded, a part of something, makes people deeply vulnerable to addiction as well as other social ills. I claim that as part of our attempt to declare identity with the Jewish people, we should be looking to use the Seder as a time to include and bond with people who fall in that vulnerable category in our communities. We don’t have to stop having the traditional family seder that we’ve had for thirty years, but we should look to find ways to include the people who are on the fringes of our communities in them as well. That is not always comfortable, but the rewards may outweigh the costs.

Is Pesach Inclusive?

Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 13

(א) שלא נאכיל מן הפסח לישראל משומד

שלא נאכיל מן הפסח לישראל משומד, שנאמר [שמות י”ב, מ”ג] כל בן נכר לא יאכל בו, ובא הפירוש עליו בן ישראל שנתנכרו מעשיו לאביו שבשמים, וכן תרגם אונקלוס.

משרשי מצוה זו, מה שכתוב בשחיטתו, לזכר ניסי מצרים, ועל כן ראוי שלא יאכל בו משומד, אחר שאנו עושין אותו לאות ולזכרון שבאנו באותו הזמן לחסות תחת כנפי השכינה ונכנסנו בברית התורה והאמונה, אין ראוי שנאכיל ממנו למי שהוא הפך מזה שיצא מן הכלל וכפר באמונה. ועל כיוצא בזה נאמר בתלמוד לפעמים סברא הוא, כלומר ואין צריך ראיה אחרת. 

That we shall not feed the Pesach to apostate Jews.

That we must not feed the Pesach to apostate Jews as it says, “All children of foreigners shall not eat of it.” And the explanation of the verse says this is a Jew whose actions have become foreign to their Father in Heaven, and this is the translation of Onkelos.

The roots of this Mitzvah are what is written about the slaughtering, to remember the miracles of Egypt, and therefore, it is fitting that an apostate should not eat of it since they are not doing it as a sign and a remembrance that we came at that time to be covered by the wings of the Shechina and we entered into the covenant of the Torah and the faith. It is not fitting that we should feed it to one who has turned away from this, who has left the community and denied the faith. And on such as this it says in the Talmud, “it is logical” and we don’t need any further proof.

Ibid. Mitzvah 14

שלא נאכיל מן הפסח לגר ותושב

(א) שלא להאכיל מבשר הפסח לגר ולתושב, שנאמר [שמות י”ב, מ”ה] תושב ושכיר לא יאכל בו. והתושב הוא אדם מן האומות שקיבל עליו שלא לעבוד עבודה זרה ואוכל נבילות. ושכיר הוא גר שמל ולא טבל, שכן פירשו חכמים זכרונם לברכה.

משרשי מצוה זו, מה שכתבנו באחרות לזכור יציאת מצרים. ובעבור שקרבן זה לזכר חירותנו ובואנו בברית נאמנה עם השם יתברך, ראוי שלא יהנו בו רק אותם שהשלימו באמונה, והם ישראלים גמורים, ולא אלו שעדיין לא באו בברית שלם עמנו. וענין הרחקת הערל מאכילתו, גם כן מזה השורש…

That we must not feed the Pesach to a stranger or a resident alien.

We must not feed the Pesach to a stranger or to a resident alien as it says, “the resident and the hireling shall not eat of it.” And the resident is a person from the nations who accepted upon themselves not to worship idolatry, but they eat carcasses. And a hireling is a convert who has done the circumcision but has not dipped in the mikvah. This is the interpretation of our Rabbis.

The roots of this Mitzvah are what is written in the others. To remember leaving Egypt. And since the sacrifice is to remember our freedom and our coming into faithful covenant with God, it is fitting that the only ones who should benefit from it are those who have kept it faithfully. And these are full Jews and not those who still have not come into a full covenant with us. And the reason for the distancing of the uncircumcised man from eating it is also for this reason…

Ibid. Mitzvah 17

שלא יאכל הערל מן הפסח, שנאמר “וכל ערל לא יאכל בו, והוא הערל שמתו אחיו מחמת מילה, ואין צריך לומר משומד לערלות.

ובו הוא דאינו אוכל אבל אוכל הוא במצה ומרור, וכן תושב ושכיר גם כן.

משרשי מצוה זו, מה שכתבנו בתושב ושכיר…

That an uncircumcised man should not eat of the Pascal sacrifice. As it says, “And all uncircumcised men shall not eat of it.” And this refers to an uncircumcised man whose brothers died because of the bris (and thus was permitted to not have a bris), and we don’t even have to say a Jew who deliberately remains uncircumcised.

And he may not eat of it but he eats matzah and maror, and this is the case of the resident alien and the hired hand.

Minchat Chinuch ad loc

זה לשון הר”מ פ”ט מקרבן פסח ה”ח, כל ערל וכו’ אבל אוכל במצה ומרור, וכן מותר להאכיל לגר תושר ושכיר עכ”ל. דקדק בלשונו דערל חייב לאכול מצה ומרור דישראל הוא, אבל גר תושב ושכיר דגויים הם מותר להאכילם…
This is the language of the Rambam, “All uncircumcised men…but they eat matzah and maror, and thus it is permitted to feed a resident alien and a hired hand.” He was precise in his language, for the uncircumcised man is required to eat matzah and maror because he is Jewish, but the resident alien and the hired hand who are non-Jews, we are permitted to feed them…

Questions:

  1. Based on these rules, is Pesach inclusive or exclusive? Who are we trying to bring in and who are we trying to keep out?
  2. What is the significance of the uncircumcised man being obligated to eat matzah and maror compared to the permission we are given to feed these things to non-Jews? Does this help to sharpen the inclusivity/exclusivity question?
  3. Is there a value to creating a small, bonded group inside the larger population? What kind of ills does it cure? What ills does it create?

What is the Importance of Identity and Acceptance?

Johann Hari, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think, Huffington Post

…If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.
One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.
But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.
Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.
After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them…
When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.
Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.
But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected…
This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection…
This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect.” But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.
The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

Questions:

  1. If bonding is really the key to banishing addiction, how can we reframe the “exclusiveness” of Pesach?
  2. What new light might this article cast on the Minchat Chinuch’s claim that an uncircumcised man is obligated to eat matzah and maror? What does this suggest about who in the Jewish community we should be inviting to our sedarim?

Harerei Kedem Part 2. Based on the novelae of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik

קכ”ו
א
כתב הרמב”ם בפי”ג מאיסו”ב הל’ א-ג, ‘בשלשה דברים נכנסו ישראל לברית במילה וטבילה וקרבן, מילה היתה במצרים כשנאמר כל ערל לא יאכל בו מל אותם משה רבינו, שכולם ביטלו ברית מילה במצרים חוץ משבט לוי ועל זה נאמר ובריתך ינצורו, וטבילה היתה במדבר קודם מתן תורה כשנאמר וקדשתם היום ומחר וכבסו שמלותם.’ והנה יסוד דברי הרמב”ם הם מסוגית הגמ’ כריתות (ט, א), דמבואר שם דמילה ילפי’ ממילה שהיתה במצרים, וטבילה ילפי’ מקראי דמתן תורה, עיי”ש, אך בפשוטו מכיון שגם במצרים היתה גירות, וכמו שמבואר בגמ’ וברמב”ם דהמילה במצרים היתה מילת גירות, א”כ מוכרח שגם היתה טבילה עם המילה במצרים, דהא גר שמל ולא טבל אינו גר עד שימול ויטבול, ובגמ’ פסחים (עא, א) מפורש דגם אינו אוכל בק”פ, וא”כ איך אכלו כלל ישראל מהק”פ במצרים, ולכאורה בע”כ שהיתה טבילה עם הגירות במצרים, אלא שהמקור לדין טבילה בגירות בכלל ילפי’ ממתן תורה ולהלן עוד יתבאר בזה, אך הא ברמב”ם מבואר בהדיא דמילה היתה במצרים וטבילה היתה במדבר ולא קודם לכן, וא”כ צ”ע לדעת הרמב”ם מה הועילה המילה במצרים, הא אכתי הם היו אסורים בק”פ.
ונראה מבואר מזה דעיקר דין טבילה להרמב”ם הוא רק בסיני כשנכנסו תחת כנפי השכינה, וקבלו עול תורה ומצוות, אבל המעשה גרות במצרים שהיה בעיקרו לפרוש מטומאת העכו”ם ולהיות בכלל ישראל, לזה היה סגי במילה בלבד, וע’ להלן אות ב’ במשי”ת בזה, דחלק המעשה גירות דמילה מטבילה דמילה עיקרה להפקיע שם ערל, וטבילה ליכנס בקהל ישראל ולקבל עול מצוות, וע”כ שפיר במצרים שעוד לא נכנסו לברית ולא ניתנה להם התורה, היה סגי במילה בלבד. אולם נראה דבאמהות היה טבילה גם במצרים, דאם לא כן במה נכנסו תחת כנפי השכינה, וכמבואר בגמ’ יבמות (מו, ב) דעיקר המקור לטבילה באמהות הוא מהך טעמא דאל”כ במה נכנסו תחת כנפי השכינה…אכן נראה דבלא שיטת הרמב”ם י”ל, דבאמת היתה טבילה גם במצרים אף באנשים, דילפי’ מטבילה במ”ת דטבילה מעכבת בגירות, וא”כ בודאי היתה טבילה גם במצרים, ומה שהיתה טבילה בשנית גם במ”ת, אף שכבר טבלו במצרים, נראה לומר, דכל תוספת קדושה מחייב בטבילה חדשה דהוי כמו תוספת גירות, ומכיון שבמתן תורה קבלו עליהם עול מצוות, ע”כ היה עליהם חיוב טבילה מויחדת בשעת מ”ת……כלל ישראל במצרים עדיין לא קיבל עול מצוות, ורק בסיני היה תחילת הכניסה לברית וקבלת עול תורה ומצוות, וע”כ היו צריכים טבילה מחודשת על הגרות הנוספת שחל עליהם בסיני.
Ch. 126
A.
It’s written in the Rambam (Laws of Forbidden Relations, ch. 13, 1-3), “Israel entered into the covenant in three ways: circumcision, immersion, and sacrifice. Circumcision happened in Egypt, as it says (about the Pascal Sacrifice), “All uncircumcised people shall not eat of it.” Moses our teacher circumcised them, for they had all neglected the covenant of circumcision in Egypt except for the tribe of Levi and on this it says, “They kept Your covenant.” Immersion happened in the desert before the giving of the Torah as it says, “and you shall sanctify them today and tomorrow and they shall launder their clothes.”
And the basis of the words of the Rambam are from the Talmud in Keritut (9a). And it is clear there that we learn about circumcision from the circumcision that was in Egypt and we learn immersion from the verses about the giving of the Torah. But in the simple meaning, since there was also a conversion in Egypt (as it explains in the Talmud and the Rambam that the circumcision in Egypt was the circumcision of conversion) if so, it must be that there was also immersion together with circumcision in Egypt, because a convert who has done circumcision but hasn’t immersed, is not a convert until they do both circumcision and immersion. And in the Talmud in Pesachim, it is clear that they do not eat the Pascal Sacrifice, and if so, how could all of Israel have eaten the Pascal Sacrifice in Egypt. It would seem that there must have been immersion together with the conversion in Egypt, but the source of the need for immersion in conversion in general, we learn from the giving of the Torah. And further on we will discuss this further. However, it is clear in the Rambam that there was circumcision in Egypt and immersion was in the desert but not before. And if so, we must inquire in the opinion of the Rambam what good the circumcision in Egypt was, behold, they were still forbidden to eat the Pascal Sacrifice!
And it appears clear from this that the key discussion of immersion according to the Rambam is only at Sinai, when they entered under the wings of the Shechina, and they accepted the yoke of Mitzvot, but the act of conversion in Egypt which was primarily to separate from the impurities of the non-Jews and to be a part of Israel, and for this, circumcision alone was sufficient. And see in the continuation part 2 on what will be clarified about this, that the conversion act of circumcision is separate from immersion. Because circumcision is to remove one from the category of “uncircumcised” and immersion is to enter into the congregation of Israel and to accept the Mitzvot. And therefore, It is reasonable that in Egypt where they had not yet entered the covenant and they had not received the Torah, it was enough for them to have circumcision alone. However, it appears that by the Mothers, there was immersion even in Egypt, because if they didn’t, how did they enter under the wings of the Shechina…?
Therefore it appears that without the position of the Rambam, we could say that in truth there was immersion also in Egypt even for men, because we learn from the immersion at the giving of the Torah that immersion holds back conversion. And therefore, certainly there was immersion in Egypt, and the second immersion at the giving of the Torah, even though they already immersed in Egypt, it appears that every addition of holiness requires a new immersion because it is like an addition to the conversion. And since, at the giving of the Torah they accepted on themselves the yoke of Mitzvot, therefore, it they were obligated to have a special immersion at the time of Matan Torah…
… in the case of Israel in Egypt, they had not yet accepted the yoke of Mitzvot, and their entrance into the covenant and their acceptance of the Torah and Mitzvot was only at Sinai. And therefore, they needed a new immersion on their additional conversion that took place at Sinai.

Questions:

  1. According to the Rav, what kind of connection is sufficient to eat the Pesach? Is it related to קיום מצות?
  2. Considering the end of the Hari piece, is this about קירוב? Do we invite alienated Jews to our sedarim in order to bring them to מצות or for some other reason?

Shem MiShmuel (1855-1926) Shemot, Parashat Bo

…כשלא היו לישראל מצוות להתעסק בהן כדי שיגאלו ניתנו להם פסח ומילה, ולמה לא מצוה אחרת, מכל הלין נראה דפסח ומילה שייכי להדדי. וגם אין לך בכל התורה מצ”ע שיהי’ במניעתה כרת אלא פסח ומילה:

ונראה דהנה כבר אמרנו שישראל במצרים הי’ להם מירוק מחטא ע”ז שהוא בשכל, ומחטא התאוה הנטועה בגוף שהוא הלב. והנה באדם יש שני פתחים פתח למוח ופתח ללב. וכנגדן שתי בריתות ברית המעור וברית הלשון, המעור הוא פתח…והלשון היא פתח הלב…וניתנו על שני הפתחים שתי בריתות. והיינו שבלתי אפשר לאיש שיהי’ השכל שלו זך ונקי אלא א”כ הוא שומר ברית המעור. וכ”כ בלתי אפשר שיהי’ לאיש לב טהור אלא א”כ שומר פיו ולשונו…והנה פסח עיקרו הוא לאכילה, הוא מקדש את פתח הלב שהוא הפה… ומצות מילה היא השמירה של המוח כנ”ל. א”כ פסח ומילה הם שומרי הפתחים של אדם, ובהם תלוי’ גאולת ישראל שיהי’ להם מירוק המוח והלב, ואחר שנתמרקו ונטהרו צריכין לשמירה. ע”כ בזכות שתי מצוות אלו נגאלו ישראל. וצריכין זה לזה, כי אם אין מילה ופתח המוח פתוח לבוא בו כל רע מה יעיל /יועיל/ מה ששומר את פיו ולשונו לבל יקרב זר ללב, הלא המוח הוא על הלב ומשפיע בו ומחשבות המוח מעוררות את הלב וממילא מחשבות לבו רק רע כל היום. ע”כ בלעדי המילה אין הפסח כלום…

…Before Israel had mitzvoth to do in order to be redeemed, they were given Pesach and Milah. And why not a different mitzvah? From all of this, it appears that Pesach and Milah belong together. And also, in all of the Torah, the only positive mitzvahs that are punishable by excommunication are Pesach and Milah.

And it appears, as we have already said, that Israel in Egypt had to cleanse themselves of the sin of idolatry which is in the mind. And from the sin of lust which is hidden in the body which is the heart. And the human being has two entrances. An entrance to the brain and an entrance to the heart. And accordingly, there are two covenants: the covenant of the male genitals and the covenant of the tongue. The genitals are the entrance to the brain…And the tongue is the entrance to the heart…And the two entrances were given two covenants. That is, it is only possible for a man’s intellect to be pure and clean when he is careful about the covenant of his genitals. And similarly, it is only possible for a person’s heart to be pure if they are careful about their mouth and tongue…And the essence of Pesach is about eating, and this sanctifies the entrance to the heart, that is the mouth…and the mitzvah of Milah is the protection of the brain as we’ve said. If so, Pesach and Milah guard the entrances of a man, and the redemption of Israel is dependent on them, that they should be cleansed in heart and mind, and after they are cleansed and purified, they need to be guarded. Therefore, in the merit of these two mitzvoth Israel was redeemed. And the need one another, because if there isn’t Milah, and the entrance to the brain is open for any evil thing, what does it help that one is careful of their mouth and tongue that nothing alien should approach the heart? The brain is connected to the heart and influences it, and the thoughts of the brain, wake the heart. And automatically, the thoughts of the heart will be only evil all day long. Therefore, without Milah, Pesach is nothing…

Questions:

  1. According to the Shem MiShmuel, what is the purpose of Pesach and Milah?
  2. Considering Hari’s point, that alienation leads to bonding to unwholesome things, what can we say about the mechanism through which Pesach “purifies the heart?” What needs to happen in addition, according to the Shem MiShmuel, in order to truly reach redemption?
  3. According to the Shem MiShmuel, is Pesach only about telling the story? What else should we be thinking about at the Seder? How do those things relate to the idea we saw in the Rav and in the Chinuch that Pesach is about identification?