The Kotzker Rebbe teaches that that the secret of Judaism can be found in the first five steps of the
sanctify all your actions. Then
wash away and purify your negative characteristics and impulses. Follow that with
an acronym for
Klal Rishon Peh Sagur
, the first principle is a closed mouth. Then,
cut in half the negative things you intend to say, and only then,
speak. Perhaps this was the intention of Rabbi Yehudah in presenting the acronyms of
Sh, and BACha
to be circumspect in our speech.
The Netivot Shalom notes that the first three plagues were water based, the next three were land based, while the last four emanated from upper realms. This division corresponds to the levels of our own psyches, and represents areas we may need to focus on to become vessels for Hashem to rest within us. Are we caught up with our basest passions and desires that keep us from focusing on Hashem? Do we struggle with humility so that we find it difficult to accept God's will? Finally, do we misuse our intellect to undermine overwhelming evidence of God's existence and interaction with the world? If we are indeed conflicted in these three areas of our faith and observance, the three tiered makos remind us that we can work on them.
The Tiferet Shimshon discusses the symbolism of the three matzot at the Seder. The first matzah represents chochma, knowing that there is a God. The second represents binah, an understanding and emotional connection to God, and the third represents daat, integrating that knowledge into our essence. In fact, says the Yalkut Lekach Tov, we declare this belief twice daily. Shema Yisroel, we are aware of the existence of the God of Israel; He is also Hashem Elokeinu, our personal God; and Hashem Echad, He is One and unique.
Halekach Vehalebuv elucidates the episode in the hagadah of the five great rabbis in Bnei Brak. The Sages were experiencing the dark night of the Roman exile. By discussing the story of the exodus, they fanned the flames of their faith and achieved even greater clarity. As the Psalmist tells us, "To relate Your loving kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness at night." The Netivot Shalom reminds us that Pesach is the cornerstone of our faith, for it is absolute testimony of God's existence and of the individual providence with which He rules the world.
According to the Tallelei Chaim, Adam's sin was not in eating the fruit, which some hold was wheat, but in the timing. God wanted man to use knowledge, but not before he tasted life. Tasting of the Tree of Life would have given mankind a base of unshakeable faith upon which to build his knowledge. Matzah represents that primal, simple faith, while chametz represents all the additions of knowledge. Faith must precede knowledge, or one's faith will be on shaky ground, always subject to question and doubt. The evil Haman descended from Amalek, the paragon of doubt. He is mentioned in one verse together with the mohn that nourished Bnei Yisrael in the desert. "Hamin haetz ... achalta, Did you eat ... of the Tree?" Before Bnei Yisrael could partake of the man, the most highly advanced form of nourishment, they had to live on the simple matzah of faith.
Similarly, continues the Tallelei Chaim, Pesach must precede Shavuot. The simple faith of following Hashem into the desert must precede the profound wisdom of the Torah. At the Seder, we try to rekindle this simple faith in ourselves as we tell our children about the wonders God performed for us as we left Egypt.
Rav Hirsch notes that when Hashem told Avraham Avinu about the exile in Egypt, He included three stages. "Your descendants will be strangers in a land; the people there will enslave them; and they will afflict them for 400 years." Whereas this exile was decreed, the level of cruelty exhibited by the Egyptians was not. The three categories of plagues reflect these three elements of unfair subjugation measure for measure. The first plague in each of the acronyms came to give the Egyptians the feeling that they were strangers in their own land, and to prove God's mastery over the land. Blood, wild animals and hail presented danger, and also challenged the very source of their lives, the Nile. Frogs, pestilence and locusts demonstrated God's power over all who inhabited the land, and made them feel subservient to Hashem. Vermin, boils, and darkness attacked their very body and demonstrated total affliction. The plague of the firstborn included all these elements in a final coup de grace.
The purpose of the plagues was not only to inflict punishment on the Egyptians, but also to purify our souls. In Kabalistic literature, there are five levels to the soul. Have we achieved purification on each of these levels? This is the heart of the discussion between the Sages as to how many plagues God inflicted. If we succeeded in purifying all five aspects of our soul, then indeed the plagues were successful and their power was increased fivefold to the equivalent of 250 plagues. If they did not purify our souls, they were potent to a lesser degree, to as little as 50 plagues. Perhaps this is the greater lesson of the Seder, suggests the Kotzker Rebbe. During the Seder we recount our physical redemption. It is also about the constant conflict between good and evil, of purifying ourselves and humbling ourselves before Hashem.
The night of Pesach was preordained to be a night of deliverance and connection to Hashem. Halekach Vehalebuv points out that Yaakov donned Esau's clothes and came to receive the brachot from Yitzchak on Pesach. This teaches us that on this night, we can purify even the wicked things in the world like the clothing of Eisav.