Passover in the Warsaw Ghetto: Inspiration for the Second Seder
Taken from Torah from the Years of Wrath (Aish Kodesh)
אני מבקש ומתחנן לפני כל אחד מישראל שילמוד בספרי, ובטח זכות אבותי הקדושים זצוקלל״ה יעמוד לו ולכל ביתו בזה ובבא
“I request and plead every person of Israel to study my works—surely the merit of our holy ancestors will stand for this Jew and his family, in this world and the next.” From the last will and testament of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira
Therefore the organs, that You have set within us, and the spirit and the soul [that You have breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth]—all of them shall thank and bless…for all mouths will thank You and all tongues [will vow loyalty to You]. Since the liturgy specifies each organ individually—the organs on their own, the ruach and the neshamah on its own, and afterwards the mouth and the tongue on their own, rather than in an all-inclusive manner such as we will all thank and bless—this indicates that even after life in this world [has ceased], when all the physical organs are separated, the ruach and the neshamah are separated, and the mouth and the tongue are separated as well, even then I will thank Hashem. We conclude [the nishmah prayer] with the verse, all my bones cry out, Hashem, who is like You. Even when nothing of my self remains except for bones, they will still cry out, Hashem, who is like You.
Blessed is the Omnipresent…blessed is the One who gave Torah to his people Israel, blessed is He. The Torah speaks of four sons.” What is the significance of the blessing from upon the Blessed One that is expressed as the Torah speaking of four sons?
We have already discussed that the very same verse alludes to both the answer to the wicked son and the answer to the son who does not know how to ask: And you shall relate it to your children…because of this which Hashem did for me. It is obvious that the Torah does not intend to distance the wicked son, rather it considers both sons in the category of “one who does not know how to ask,” and initiates the discussion in holiness. The “son who does not know” does not know how to ask at all, whereas the “wicked son” simply has bad information, and does not know how to ask for good information. Therefore the Torah answers them both with the same verse, indicating how to initiate a discussion in the atmosphere of holiness and how to draw them near. For the son who does not know [how to ask] at all, it is sufficient to say, and you will relate it [to your children…because of this which Hashem did for me], and in this fashion you initiate the conversation. For the wicked son, on the other hand, who possesses bad information, and thus does not know to ask in an atmosphere of holiness, one must first “blunt his teeth,” and in this fashion you initiate the discussion with him and draw him near.
We recite in our ahavah rabah prayer, “our Father, compassionate Father, have mercy on us and give our hearts understanding.” Since the Holy One who is Blessed fulfills the entire Torah, and you will teach your children is also one of the commandments of the Torah, thus “our Father, You command us to teach our children, therefore give us understanding.” This is reason for the juxtaposition of the sections blessed is the Omnipresent…blessed is the One who gave Torah to his people Israel, blessed is He. The Torah speaks of four sons.” Since it is a Torah commandment to return and draw near all types of children—the wise, the simple, the one who does not know how to ask, and even the wicked—therefore the Hagadah does not state, do not answer a fool, or as the Talmud states, “it is forbidden to respond to a Jewish apostate.” Rather, one must return them and draw them all close. In this fashion, even the Blessed One now fulfills this commandment [of teaching all of one’s children], even the wicked son, Heaven forbid, for they have more than adequately fulfilled the notion of blunt his teeth with us. May we now be drawn close to the Blessed One with compassion. Perhaps this explains the juxtaposition of the next phrase [in the Hagadah], originally our ancestors were idolators…and now the Omnipresent has drawn us near to Divine service, meaning such has always been the case—they were always so distant, and yet the Omnipresent drew them close to His worship.
It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer [and his colleagues discussed the Exodus from Egypt] until their students came and announced, “the time for the morning recitation of the shma prayer has arrived. We must understand. Was it not also apparent to the Rabbis that the time for reciting the shma had arrived? If one might argue that they had intended to continue their discussions (for after all there is a span of several hours’ duration in which one might recite the shma), why then did they immediately cease [their discussion] upon their student’s arrival? From the text it seems that they continued their discussions until their students arrived—and then ceased immediately.
A possible response. The Talmud states (Berakhot 28) that when Rabban Yohanan ben Zakai took ill, his students came to visit. When he saw them, he began to weep…he said to them, “if I were being taken [before a human court to be judged, would I not be afraid? How much more so should I be afraid to appear before the Heavenly court]. Furthermore, there are two paths before me [and I do not know upon which path they will lead me].” We must understand. If this was why he wept, why did he only begin to weep upon seeing his students, and not beforehand?
The Talmud (Makot 10) states, “do not teach a student who is unworthy.” The Talmud states (Yoma 87) that the reason for this seems to be to avoid having “the Rabbi in Paradise and the student in Gehinom.” Similarly, a student should not learn from an unworthy Rabbi. If the student is unsuitable, and a Rabbi does not teach him, it is certain that his end will be in Gehinom. Why, then, should a Rabbi not teach him? The opposite also applies, that a student should not learn from an unsuitable Rabbi for this very reason, for this [an unlearned student learning from an unsuitable Rabbi] seems to compound the problem.
A Rabbi and his students are bound together in this world and the next. Consequently, when one of them is in Paradise, he is negatively affected when the other is in Gehinom, Heaven forbid. This is the sense of the Talmudic dictum, “in order that he should not be in Paradise while his student is in Gehinom,” for his share of Paradise will be diminished when his student is in Gehinom, and vice versa.
Rabban Yohanan ben Zakai was humble with regard his own status, saying “I do not know upon which path they will lead me.” He saw, however, that his students were extraordinarily righteous. Therefore he began to cry upon seeing them, since he said that he did not know which path he would travel, and if his students were to enter Paradise, he was concerned lest he diminish, Heaven forbid, their share of Paradise. So too with the case of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua [and the other rabbis] who spent the night discussing the Exodus. In their humility it seemed to them as if they had accomplished nothing. When their students appeared before them, however, and they saw how their countenances beamed after this night, and they saw what effect their Torah discussions of the Exodus had on their students, they stopped.