Thoughts — Apr. 2023

Rabbi  Moshe Ben-Chaim

The Greater Praise of God

The Passover Seder focuses on retelling the Egyptian exodus. Matzah, bitter herbs, and the Paschal sacrifice are key elements. The format is to commence our discussion with our degraded history, and conclude with praise to God for our redemption. This contrast engenders deep appreciation for God’s kindness in improving our lives. 

There's two versions of “commencing with degradation and concluding with praise”:  

1) At first we were idolaters and we ultimately received Torah; 

2) At first we were slaves, and we were ultimately freed. 

Yet, when discussing which cups require leaning, it's limited to only the second category of freedom (Pesachim 108a). What happened to the theme of idolaters vs. Torah? This question is strengthened as the true goal of the Exodus was not physical freedom, but our receipt of Torah. Certainly, then, shouldn't there be a cup and leaning designated about our receipt of Torah? But the answer is that “Mitechila”—the paragraph commencing with “At first our forefathers were idolaters”—said over the second cup mentions Joshua who was subsequent to Torah. Dayeinu too discusses Torah as do the many Torah quotes throughout Hagaddah. By citing the Torah verses, we are in fact saying, “At first we were idolaters and we ultimately received Torah.” Quoting Torah versus validates our receipt of Torah.

There's two versions of “commencing with degradation and concluding with praise”:  

1) At first we were idolaters and we ultimately received Torah; 

2) At first we were slaves, and we were ultimately freed. 

Rabbi Israel Chait explained, the question is whether the discussion of the Exodus encompasses only the “facts” of Exodus—our transition from slavery to freedom—or do we discuss the “purpose” of the Exodus: the ultimate receipt of Torah.

Talmud (Pesachim 108a) has another interesting discussion: Do we lean drinking only the first 2 cups which refer to the “beginning” of our redemption, although we are not yet physically freed? Or do we lean only when drinking the last 2 cups commemorating our “freed state”—after leaving Egypt…but during the first 2 cups we cannot lean as we were not yet physically free. 

This second view is of the opinion that we are praising God relative to our newly redeemed estate; we are thanking Him for our benefit. However, there is a greater praise we can give to God. It is a praise not relative to us, not relative to anything…but a praise for who God is. This first view says we must praise God for His very being (He has the nature to benefit man). The Adone Olam blessing says this precisely: “Master of the Universe Who reigned before any creature was created. And after all things shall cease to be, the Awesome One will reign alone.” These two statements praise God in a non-relative manner: God’s greatness is inherent and independent of man or anything else. Thus, even before we tasted physical freedom, we lean during the first 2 cups, to celebrate God's nature, His capacity to provide freedom.

The Perfect Rebuke of Idolaters 

Jeremiah 8:1,2) includes this rebuke:

“At that time—declares the Lord—the bones of the kings of Judah, of its officers, of the priests, of the prophets, and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be taken out of their graves and exposed to the sun, the moon, and all the host of heaven which they loved and served and followed, to which they turned and bowed down. They shall not be gathered for reburial; they shall become dung upon the face of the earth.”

The profound lesson here is God’s demonstration that the deities man invented in the heavens, did not protect those idolaters from deaths, as their bones display. The sun, moon and stars, “staring” at these skeletons, have no power to revive them, or return them to the grave. God rejects the deification of the luminaries by saying, in other words, “Let's see if they help you now.” Similarly, “For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, both human and beast; and I will mete out judgments to all the gods of Egypt, I am God” (Exod. 12:12). Rashi comments that the judgment of the Egyptian gods was the melting of the metal idols, and the rotting of the wooden idols. God exposed the Egyptian deities as defenseless against God. 

Same Sex Unions

Reader: Please address the destruction of Judaism by subversive Leftists. God doesn’t sanction homosexual “marriage,” or the confusion of the two sexes, or any of the perversity going on around us today. Do you have the integrity to address these destructive forces?

Rabbi: God has already addressed this: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence” (Lev. 18:22). This formulates the prohibition of male homosexuality. “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death—and they retain the bloodguilt” (Lev. 20:13). This formulates the punishment of male homosexuality. Sexuality targets procreation, and psychological health. God deems heterosexual unions as the healthy, mutually complimentary type, as God said, “It is not good man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18) referring to God's creation of the female, not another male. Thus, same sex unions is not God’s plan. And any deviation from God’s plans must result in consequences. Man and woman are different psychologically and are mutually complimentary. This is not so of same-sex unions. 

However, the prohibition of homosexuality is a sexual prohibition. For we see some of the highest level relationships between two men, such as David who treasured the love of Jonathan: “I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan, you were most dear to me. Your love was wonderful to me more than the love of women” (Samuel II, 1:26). David and Jonathan’s friendship was built on Torah values which forges a great identity and bond. The perfected person’s greatest value is the life of wisdom and morality, and when he sees this value in another, there's a natural bond to that person. A dear friend of mine, a Torah educator, shared that he feels depressed in the summer when he doesn't see his students. This is the same value.

When Thought Matters

Rabbi: When you sacrifice in the temple, if you have a thought to eat it on day three which is prohibited, that nullifies the sacrifice. But if I have a thought to steal from somebody, there is no violation until I actually do the stealing. Why is thought in sacrifice more severe?

Dani Roth: Well maybe if you had in mind to eat the sacrifice later, then you aren’t doing the mitzvah with proper knowledge of how to fulfill it, so it disqualifies the sacrifice. But by the stealing all you did was have a thought to rob someone, so that wouldn’t be prohibited.

Rabbi: You mean in sacrifice, I'm actually in the process of fulfilling a mitzvah, and I ruined it with a wrong thought. But thought is not considered part of the process of stealing?

Dani Roth: Yes.

Rabbi: So what if while I am stealing, I have a thought to return the object next week…didn’t I still violate stealing? I would say yes.

Thought has different ramifications in different laws. Sacrifice is how we relate to God, we kill the animal to demonstrate that our existence is not necessary; we should be without existence just like the animal we just killed. That is why Adam offered a sacrifice immediately when he was created. He realized he did not exist two moments ago, and wished to demonstrate his realization. But as he saw that God wants him to exist, for God just created him, he could not kill himself, so he used an animal to demonstrate his existence not necessary. Adam felt, “Just as that animal I sacrificed is now nonexistent, I too do not need to exist. God is the only necessary existence, as God is the only existence that never lacked existence.”  But all else need not exist: it’s completely God’s decision.

We cannot underestimate the value of Adam's sacrifice as he was recognizing the most humble and vital realization: we don't exist for ourselves, but we exist to recognize God as creator. So Adam looked at himself as unnecessary existence, and he only exists now to fulfill God's will, to recognize God and study His wisdom. But man's existence is kindness from God, and is not necessary. 

Now, as our relationship with God is intellectual, based on ideas, sacrifice to God is affected by our ideas, where the wrong thought in sacrifice nullifies the sacrifice. Similarly, the wrong thought about God can violate idolatry, even without any action. Thought is the medium through which we relate to God. But as our relationship to man is more in the physical sphere, our thoughts are not as impactful. Therefore, if while I'm stealing, I think about returning the object, that is irrelevant as the physical act is more crucial.

If someone built a 4-wheeled motorized vehicle and called it a Tabernacle, he is wrong as Tabernacle was already defined at its “inception” as a mobile Jewish temple. Calling a religious building a Ford is also wrong, as that vehicle was defined in 1908 at its inception. “Sacrifice” too gets its definition from its inception. To define sacrifice and its purpose, we don't define it based on later models, as later generations didn’t develop sacrifice. Adam was the first one to sacrifice, thereby defining what sacrifice is. Thus, we derive the definition of sacrifice from Adam’s instant acceptance upon his creation that he need not exist, just like this dead beast. Sacrifice’s definition, then, is derived from its inception, only from Adam’s sacrifice.

Yes…we can observe something, and by its design or function we can offer “a” definition of it. We correctly state sacrifice it is meant to recognize God. But this is not its “definition,” because many things can be “meant to recognize God.” A definition is this: a description which is inapplicable to anything else. 

Without knowing that Adam was the first one to sacrifice, we miss the crucial essence of sacrifice, and that is Adam’s realization: “Man’s new existence is not necessary.” Only Adam represents that “man” is something new. One could not derive this just by examining a sacrifice today, without Adam part of that picture. To ensure that this crucial definition of sacrifice is not lost, everyone subsequent to Adam sacrificed on the same parcel of ground, from where Adam was created (Maimonides, Hilchos Bais Habechira 2:1). By sacrificing on that same parcel of ground, they permeated sacrifice with Adam’s identity, that man's existence, which was spearheaded with Adam, is as unnecessary as a dead animal.