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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Acharei-Mot/ Kedoshim 5769-In Search of Holiness

Acharei-Mot/ Kedoshim 5769
Rabbi Ari Kahn

In Search of Holiness

Parshat Kedoshim begins with an invitation which includes the entire congregation in a unique directive:

ויקרא פרק יט
(א) וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
1. And God spoke to Moshe, saying, 2. Speak to all the congregation of the People of Israel, and say to them, 'You shall be holy; for I, The Eternal and Almighty God, am holy.  Vayikra 19:1,2

Instead of the customary “God spoke to Moshe, saying”, the Torah adds the instruction to speak to the entire congregation. Presumably, whatever message is to be shared is of the utmost importance, and concerns the entire congregation. The words that immediately follow are, “you shall be holy…;”, yet the Torah does not define holiness, or even tell us precisely what to do to achieve holiness.

Holiness
There are three possible solutions for this dilemma: First, the concept of holiness has already been defined, and this directive refers to something previously taught to the congregation; second, the concept and precepts of holiness will be taught in the verses which follow. The third possibility requires more careful scrutiny; namely, holiness stands on its own as an independent ethic which operates in the already-familiar framework of Jewish life.

The Ramban,[1] in a celebrated passage in his Commentary on the Torah, argues for this third interpretation. He posits that holiness is an additional dimension realm of performance of existing commandments; in a sense, it is an overarching goal of all commandments. Mitzvot should not be performed in order to provide a perfunctory check on a proverbial checklist. Rather, a mitzvah should be the woof and warp of a profound relationship with God, threads that come together to create a fabric of holiness. The performance of a mitzva should be transformative, helping the individual achieve holiness.

Rashi approaches this passage from a different angle: First, he asks what we can learn about the concept of holiness from the context of this parsha; then, he examines the reason that the entire congregation is involved at this particular juncture.

Rashi looks back to the previous section, and teaches that we must avoid illicit sexual relationships in order to achieve holiness. The section which immediately preceded Kedoshim, the last section of Acharei-Mot, lists the various prohibited sexual unions. This theme connects the two parshiot: The holiness of Kedoshim is achieved by avoiding the relationships taught in Acharei-Mot.

On the other hand, when explaining the reason why the entire People of Israel is gathered, Rashi offers what seems to be a contradictory explanation:

רש"י על ויקרא פרק יט פסוק ב
(ב) דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל - (ויקרא רבה. ת"כ) מלמד שנאמרה פרשה זו בהקהל מפני שרוב גופי תורה תלוין בה:

Speak to all the congregation of the People of Israel – This indicates that this was spoken to the entire assembly because the essence of the Torah is dependent on what is taught in this section.

This creates an awkward division between two halves of a verse which otherwise would appear seamless: If the entire nation is gathered to hear something essential, something new - which is not a continuation of the immediately preceding verses, then the commandment to be holy becomes disjointed, disconnected – a dangling modifier of the previous chapter.

Ten Commandments - Repeated
The source of Rashi’s comment is found in the Midrash, where an explanation is provided for what is meant by the “essence” of the Torah.

מדרש רבה ויקרא פרשה כד פסקה ה
תני ר' חייא פרשה זו נאמרה בהקהל מפני שרוב גופי תורה תלויין בה ר' לוי אמר מפני שעשרת הדברות כלולין בתוכה אנכי ה' אלהיך וכתיב הכא אני ה' אלהיכם לא יהיה לך וכתיב הכא ואלהי מסכה לא תעשו לכם לא תשא וכתיב הכא ולא תשבעו בשמי זכור את יום השבת וכתיב הכא את שבתתי תשמורו כבד את אביך ואת אמך וכתיב הכא איש אמו ואביו תיראו לא תרצח וכתיב הכא לא תעמוד על דם רעך לא תנאף וכתיב הכא מות יומת הנואף והנואפת לא תגנוב וכתיב הכא לא תגנובו לא תענה וכתיב הכא לא תלך רכיל לא תחמוד וכתיב הכא ואהבת לרעך
5. R. Hiyya taught: This section was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. R. Levi said: Because the Ten Commandments are included therein. Thus: (1) I am the Lord thy God (Shmot 20, 2) and here it is written, I am the Lord your God (Vayikra 19, 3); (2) Thou shalt have no other gods (Shmot 20, 3) and here it is written, Nor make to yourselves molten gods (Vayikra 19, 4); (3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain (Shmot 20, 7) and here it is written, And ye shall not swear by My name falsely (Vayikra 19, 12); (4) Remember the sabbath day (Shmot 20, 8) and here it is written, And ye shall keep My sabbaths (Vayikra 19, 3); (5) Honour thy father and thy mother (Shmot 20, 12) and here it is written, Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father (Vayikra 19, 3); (6) Thou shalt not murder (Shmot 20, 13) and here it is written, Neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor (Vayikra 19,16); (7) Thou shalt not commit adultery (Shmot 20, 13) and here it is written, Both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death (Vayikra 20, 10); (8) Thou shalt not steal (Shmot 20, 13) and here it is written, Ye shall not steal (Vayikra 19, 11); (9) Thou shalt not bear false witness (Shmot 20, 13) and here it is written, Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer (Vayikra 19, 16); (10) Thou shalt not covet... any thing that is thy neighbor's (Shmot 20, 14) and here it is written, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Vayikra 19, 18). Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 24:5

Although Rashi quotes only the opinion of Rav Hiya, that essential aspects of the Torah are included in our parsha, Rav Levi's opinion is more specific: This section is a restatement of a very essential aspect of the Torah indeed: the Ten Commandments. There seems to be no contradiction between these two opinions; Rav Levi specifies the essential aspect of the Torah that Rav Hiya refers to generally. How does this impact our discussion of holiness? Apparently Rav Levi understands that the holiness referred to in our verse is achieved by adhering to the laws that follow, “the essential laws of the Torah” – the Ten Commandments.

Identifying Holiness
What bothers Rashi and the Ramban, what bothered the Talmudic scholars before them, is the difficulty in identifying holiness: Despite the centrality of the concept of holiness to Judaism, up until this point of the Torah "holiness" as a concept has been remarkably scarce. The first use of the word is in the context of the Sabbath day, blessed and consecrated by God in the opening chapters of Bereishit. The holiness with which the seventh day has been endowed is theocentric, without a human side or element. Shabbat is holy because God created and God rested; God deemed it holy. Man is not involved, not part of the equation. Only much later in history is man commanded, or even permitted, to take part in the holiness of Shabbat.[2] In this context, holiness is time – oriented, as is the case regarding the various holidays.

In the Book of Shmot, we find holiness related to space: Moshe is told that the land on which he stands is holy[3]. And when Moshe and the Jews break into ecstatic song after the Splitting of the Sea, they express their vision of the Promised Land as a place of holiness:

 ספר שמות פרק טו
(יג) נָחִיתָ בְחַסְדְּךָ עַם זוּ גָּאָלְתָּ נֵהַלְתָּ בְעָזְּךָ אֶל נְוֵה קָדְשֶׁךָ:
You in Your mercy have led forth the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them in Your strength to Your holy habitation. Sh’mot 15:13

Up to this point, the Jewish People have been given an understanding of the holiness of time and the holiness of place, both stemming from God's involvement in history. Yet in each of these, man is an onlooker, at best. Man may appreciate, benefit, or even partake of these types of holiness, but holiness is external to him. Man himself is not holy, but is given an opportunity to approach holiness. The first time we find holiness connected to man is the law taught in connection with the Exodus, regarding the special status of the firstborn.
שמות פרק יג פסוק ב
קַדֶּשׁ לִי כָל בְּכוֹר פֶּטֶר כָּל רֶחֶם בִּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה לִי הוּא:
Sanctify to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the People of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is Mine. Sh’mot 13:2

In this case, holiness is connected to the Plague of the Firstborn, in which the Egyptians were smitten and the Jewish firstborn were spared. The holiness of the firstborn seems less a change of status than the repayment of a debt incurred when their lives were spared. This holiness is not achieved, nor is it an innate quality.

The first instance of the type of holiness discussed in our present parsha appears in God's words to the People of Israel just before giving them the Ten Commandments:

שמות פרק יט
(א) בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי לְצֵאת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי:(ב) וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר:(ג) וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו ה’ מִן הָהָר לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:(ד) אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי:(ה) וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ:(ו) וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
1. In the third month after the People of Israel left the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. 2. For they had departed from Rephidim, and had come to the desert of Sinai, and had camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount. 3. And Moshe went up to the Almighty God, and the Eternal God called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus shall you say to the House of Yaakov, and tell the People of Israel; 4. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Me.5. Now therefore, if you will truly obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; 6. And you shall be to me a kingdom of kohanim, and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the People of Israel.

Holiness of man is connected to keeping the commandments – specifically, the Ten Commandments, the "essentials of Torah". It should therefore come as no surprise that the theme of holiness reappears in Parshat Acharei Mot when the Ten Commandments are reiterated. Quite the contrary: Whereas in Shmot the Ten Commandments are stated, here in Vayikra, the Ten Commandments are explained, expounded upon, the ideas developed and applied. The call to holiness that introduces this section seems most appropriate.

In fact, the concept of holiness is an overarching theme in the book of Vayikra; often referred to as Torat Kohanim, Vayikra is comprised of laws of ritual purity. The commandment to be holy is articulated as early on as Chapter 11, in the context of the prohibition of non - kosher animals:

ויקרא פרק יא
אַל תְּשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הַשֹּׁרֵץ וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם:(מד) כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי וְלֹא תְטַמְּאוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ:(מה) כִּי אֲנִי ה’ הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי:
43. You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them. 44. For I am the Eternal, your Almighty God; you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy; nor shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. 45. For I am the Lord that brings you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. Vayikra 11:43-45

In Chapter 20, sandwiched between laws pertaining to idolatry and a repetition of laws of illicit relationships, we find holiness once again:

ויקרא פרק כ
(ז) וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: (ח) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם אֲנִי ה’ מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם:
7. Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Eternal, your Almighty God. 8. And you shall keep My statutes, and do them; I am the Eternal God who sanctifies you. Vayikra 20:7,8

We have seen, then, that the Book of Vayikra is not unique in its concern with holiness, nor is our present parsha unique in its communal, all-inclusive commandment to be holy. If anything, these insights might bring us to this point in the text even more perplexed than before our survey of the known categories of holiness: We do not understand the source of this holiness, the connection it creates between God and the community, or how to attain this mandated holiness. Our confusion is quickly resolved. The Torah supplies us with practical steps, active measures to help us create this new category of holiness; the laws taught in this section, the commandments that are attached to this commandment to be holy, are considered the essence of Judaism. Within this essential section we find one commandment which is considered the essence of all the others:

רש"י על ויקרא פרק יט פסוק יח
ואהבת לרעך כמוך - אר"ע זה כלל גדול בתורה:
Love your neighbor as yourself – Rabbi Akiva taught: This is the greatest principle of the Torah. Rashi on Vayikra 19:18

While this commandment is clearly central and important, it is unclear how the fulfillment of this commandment brings holiness; it seems to be “only” a question of basic interpersonal behavior, of decency.[4] Additionally, a priori we would have thought that holiness, defined by Rashi[5] as "separateness", would be more aptly expressed in precepts that address man's relationship with God than in a principle of interpersonal conduct.

Standing On One Foot
How does Rabbi Akiva arrive at his conclusion that this is the most central principle of the Torah? It is safe to assume that Rabbi Akiva extrapolated from the famous story of Hillel the Elder's meeting with a potential convert:

תלמוד בבלי שבת לא.
שׁוּב מַעֲשֶׂה בְנָכְרִי אֶחָד שֶׁבָּא לִפְנֵי שַׁמַּאי. אָמַר לוֹ, גָּיְּירֵנִי עַל מְנָת שֶׁתְּלַמְּדֵנִי כָּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָה כְּשֶׁאֲנִי עוֹמֵד עַל רֶגֶל אַחַת, דְּחָפוֹ בְאַמַּת הַבִּנְיָן שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ. בָּא לִפְנֵי הִלֵּל - גַּיְּירְיהּ. אָמַר לֵיהּ, דַּעֲלָךְ סְנֵי לְחַבְרָךְ לָא תַּעֲבִיד, זוֹ הִיא כָּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָה, וְאִידָךְ - פֵּירוּשָׁא הוּא, זִיל גְּמוֹר.
On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builders cubit which was in his hand. When (the non-Jew) went before Hillel, the latter said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary; go and learn it. Talmud Bavli Shabbat 31a

While Hillel’s statement is framed in negative language and Rabbi Akiva’s is in the positive, they seem sufficiently similar to convince us that Rabbi Akiva's source is Hillel's teaching.

Be that as it may, Hillel's response is neither simple nor easily understood. It is more minimalistic than the approach of Rabbi Akiva, for Rabbi Akiva's statement engenders action, whereas Hillel instructs only passive behavior, avoiding what is distasteful.[6]

In fact, Shammai's response may actually have been the correct one – despite the fact that a rather negative reputation has been developed for Shammai and his school, who were seen as intolerant and impatient in this case. Indeed, we have every reason to believe that Shammai was a wonderful person, a welcoming and sociable scholar. His favorite phrase[7], his watchwords, are recorded in the Ethics of the Fathers as follows:

משנה מסכת אבות פרק א משנה טו
שמאי אומר עשה תורתך קבע אמור מעט ועשה הרבה והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות:
15. Shammai used to say: Make thy [study of the] Torah [a matter of] established [regularity]; speak little, but do much; and receive all men with a pleasant countenance.

Perhaps we should see Shammai's response not as an expression of antipathy towards a man in need, but as a defense of the honor of Torah and Judaism. Shammai clearly felt that the very question was impudent and insulting; to attempt to sum up any religion or system of thought in a few sentences is chutzpah. For this reason, the Talmud specifies that Shammai rebuffed this impudence "with the builder's cubit”, a critical tool in construction of solid buildings. Any sturdy edifice needs a good foundation; Shammai's lesson seems to be, if you stand on one foot you will soon fall down. A building built on one foot will not stand; a philosophical and religious education requires dedication, real study, real open-minded enquiry. Therefore, Shammai chastises the fellow with a builders' tool: Learn Torah properly; do not settle for fleeting "sound bites". Start with the essential foundations and build upon them systematically. Conversely, it is hard to believe that any Jewish court would accept a convert whose only knowledge of Jewish thought is expressed by Hillel's three-word-long axiom; surely Hillel’s parting words – “the rest is commentary, go and learn” are, in terms of the potential conversion, more important than the elevated thought which precedes them.

Your True Friend
How does this help us to understand the relationship of loving one's neighbor to the central topic of the discussion, the holiness of the community?[8] We may find an answer in Rashi's comments on this Talmudic story. When Rashi explains Hillel's statement, “what is distasteful to your friend (chavercha),” Rashi writes:

רש"י שבת לא.
דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – ריעך וריע אביך אל תעזוב (משלי כז) זה הקדוש ברוך הוא, אל תעבור על דבריו שהרי עליך שנאוי שיעבור חבירך על דבריך…
'Your friend (neighbor) and your father’s friend (neighbor) do not abandon (Mishlei 27);' this refers to God. Do not go against His word, just as it is distasteful to you when your friend goes against your words…Rashi Talmud Bavli Shabbat 31a

By citing a verse in Mishlei, Rashi brings God into the equation which otherwise would have referred only to the relationship between two people. Hillel uses the word chaverecha, your friend, whereas Rashi introduces a similar but not identical word to describe this relationship – re'echa. In this way, Rashi opens a window to his own understanding of Hillel's statement: the Torah verse "Ve'ahavta lre'acha kamocha"- Love you re'ah as yourself – was on Hillel's mind when he formulated this as a central principle of Torah. In fact, this is Hillel's explication of that Biblical verse: The shift of language between haver and re'ah serves to include commandments between man and man as well as commandments between man and God – all in one short statement.

Neither Rashi nor Hillel took undue liberties when choosing their words. Their inclusion of God in this principle is not at all forced or far-fetched once we recall that the Biblical verse does not end with the words “as yourself”; rather, the conclusion of the verse is, “I am God”. God is part of the equation. God is involved in the man-to-man relationship. God is manifest when neighbors and friends get along, when people treat one another with mutual respect and caring. The "greatest principle of the Torah", then, must be read as a rejoinder to behave towards one another in a manner that brings God into our personal and collective lives. This is the path to holiness; indeed, loving your neighbor as yourself becomes the epitome of holiness. The centrality of this brotherly love is such that we would expect to find this element at Sinai itself; as we shall see, the concept of "ve'ahavta l're'acha kamocha" is, indeed, evident at Sinai, though not in as explicit a form as the statement here in Vayikra.


Dayenu!
At the Pesach seder, as we recount God's many acts of kindness to us, one of the more curious statements is, “Had we been brought close to Mount Sinai and not been given the Torah – Dayenu, - it would have been enough." Yet what value would the encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai have had without the Revelation for which that encampment prepared us? What is the value of being near the mountain – if not to receive the Torah?[9]

The description of the scene at the foot of Mount Sinai includes a textual oddity which is difficult to detect in translation:

שמות פרק יט
(ב) וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר:
2. For they had departed from Rephidim, and had come to the desert of Sinai, and had camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.” Sh’mot 19:2

Each verb in this verse is conjugated in the plural, with the exception of the encampment at the mountain, which is conjugated in the singular. They encamped as one. At the foot of the mountain, the Jewish people found unity.

רש"י שמות פרק יט פסוק ב
ויחן שם ישראל - כאיש אחד בלב אחד, אבל שאר כל החניות בתרעומת ובמחלוקת:
Insert translation: And Israel camped there: As one man with one heart…
Unity and love are mandated by the Tenth Commandment (as taught by Rav Levi), but the Revelation itself was predicated on the unity that the People of Israel displayed at the foot of Mount Sinai. More than just an introduction to the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Revelation was all about unity.[10] When this unity was fractured, the results were catastrophic: When there is no appreciation of kedushat ha'adam – holiness of man, kedushat hamakom – the holiness of place- is lost. The Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash, which housed the holiness of Sinai, could not endure without the unity of Sinai.[11] Our service of God is predicated on our love for one another. For this reason, we preface our morning prayers with a statement of our willingness to accept upon ourselves the commandment to love our neighbors.

The idea of loving our fellow man is expressed by the verse “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The expression of our love of God is the Shma: “Hear O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One," followed by the verse "Ve'ahavta et Hashem" . Both of these statements, the foundation stones of our faith, are profoundly intertwined in the life of Rabbi Akiva -- the same Rabbi Akiva who established that loving one's fellow man was "the most important essential principle of the Torah", and the very same Rabbi Akiva who died with the final word of the Shma on his lips – "echad", One.
Rebbi Nachman of Breslov notes that there are 49 letters in the first two lines of Shma ("Shma" and "Baruch Shem"). These represent the 49 days of the Omer, the days between Pesach and Shavuot when the Jewish People march toward Mount Sinai to accept the Torah. This spiritual journey is arduous; it is made of hard work on our interpersonal relationships, for we cannot receive Torah until we are unified. Until we have ahava, (love) for one another, we cannot declare God as One – Ehad (One). The Hebrew word ahava has a numerical value of 13, equal to the numerical value of the word Ehad.[12] The parallel is instructive: One who truly loves God will love[13]. Rabbi Akiva was such a person; such was his love of God, and so his love of all mankind.[14]
The main symbols of our relationship with God are intertwined with the symbols of unity: The Beit HaMikdash was built in the area which united the Twelve Tribes, and within the Beit Hamikdash stood the Keruvim, a physical representation of the love between God and the Jewish People. The hands of the Keruvim were raised toward heaven, representing our love of God, but they faced one another, representing our love for one another. When the Jewish People ignored the Word of God, ignored holiness, the Keruvim turned their backs to one another. Most significantly for our discussion, the Keruvim stood on one foot: While focused on one another and on Heaven simultaneously, they did not fall. Perhaps we, too, can learn the entire Torah while standing on one foot – by behaving like the Keruvim, focused both on heaven and our fellow man.
[1] See Ramban Vayikra 19:2
רמב"ן ויקרא פרק יט פסוק ב
והענין כי התורה הזהירה בעריות ובמאכלים האסורים והתירה הביאה איש באשתו ואכילת הבשר והיין, א"כ ימצא בעל התאוה מקום להיות שטוף בזמת אשתו או נשיו הרבות, ולהיות בסובאי יין בזוללי בשר למו, וידבר כרצונו בכל הנבלות, שלא הוזכר איסור זה בתורה, והנה יהיה נבל ברשות התורה:
לפיכך בא הכתוב, אחרי שפרט האיסורים שאסר אותם לגמרי, וצוה בדבר כללי שנהיה פרושים מן המותרות. ימעט במשגל, כענין שאמרו (ברכות כב א) שלא יהיו תלמידי חכמים מצויין אצל נשותיהן כתרנגולין, ולא ישמש אלא כפי הצריך בקיום המצוה ממנו. ויקדש עצמו מן היין במיעוטו, כמו שקרא הכתוב (במדבר ו ה) הנזיר קדוש, ויזכור הרעות הנזכרות ממנו בתורה בנח ובלוט. וכן יפריש עצמו מן הטומאה, אע"פ שלא הוזהרנו ממנה בתורה, כענין שהזכירו (חגיגה יח ב) בגדי עם הארץ מדרס לפרושים, וכמו שנקרא הנזיר קדוש (במדבר ו ח) בשמרו מטומאת המת גם כן. וגם ישמור פיו ולשונו מהתגאל ברבוי האכילה הגסה ומן הדבור הנמאס, כענין שהזכיר הכתוב (ישעיה ט טז) וכל פה דובר נבלה, ויקדש עצמו בזה עד שיגיע לפרישות, כמה שאמרו על רבי חייא שלא שח שיחה בטלה מימיו:
באלו ובכיוצא בהן באה המצוה הזאת הכללית, אחרי שפרט כל העבירות שהן אסורות לגמרי, עד שיכנס בכלל זאת הצוואה הנקיות בידיו וגופו, כמו שאמרו (ברכות נג ב) והתקדשתם אלו מים ראשונים, והייתם קדושים אלו מים אחרונים, כי קדוש זה שמן ערב. כי אע"פ שאלו מצות מדבריהם, עיקר הכתוב בכיוצא בזה יזהיר, שנהיה נקיים וטהורים ופרושים מהמון בני אדם שהם מלכלכים עצמם במותרות ובכיעורים:
[2] Bereishit 2:1-3
בראשית פרק ב
(א) וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל צְבָאָם:(ב) וַיְכַל אֱלֹקִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה: (ג) וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹקִים לַעֲשׂוֹת: פ
[3] Sh’mot 3:5
שמות פרק ג
(ה) וַיֹּאמֶר אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם שַׁל נְעָלֶיךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ הוּא:
5. And He said,' Do not come any closer; take off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.'
[4] See Rav Zadok, Hakohen in Pri zadik Kedoshim, section 11, and Kli Yakar Vayikra 19:18
ספר פרי צדיק פרשת קדושים - אות יא
והנה אמרו ז"ל [בתורת כהנים ומובא ברש"י] ואהבת לרעך כמוך זה כלל גדול בתורה, ומה שייכות זה לכלל כל התורה הלוא היא רק מצוה שבין אדם לחברו. ובגמרא (שבת לא.) בגר שבא להתגייר שילמדו כל התורה כולה על רגל אחת ואמרו לו דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד פירש"י ז"ל לחברך זה הקדוש ברוך הוא,
כלי יקר על ויקרא פרק יט פסוק יח
ואהבת לרעך כמוך. ארז"ל זה כלל גדול בתורה. ובמס' (שבת לא.) מעשה בההוא גר שאמר למדני כל התורה כשאני עומד על רגל אחד ולמדו הלל פסוק ואהבת לרעך כמוך כל דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד ואידך פירושא זיל גמור. וכפי הנראה שהגר היה גר צדק ולא היה מהתל התולים לומר בדרך שחוק שילמדו כל התורה בעוד שהוא עומד על רגל אחד ממש, אלא ודאי בקש ממש שיעמיד לו כל מצות התורה על יסוד אחד דהיינו רגל אחד אשר עליו יעמיד לו כל המצות כדי שלא יבא לידי שכחה המצויה בגר אשר לא למד מנעוריו כלום ממצות התורה, ע"כ בקש ממנו שימסור לו כלל אחד הכולל כל התורה ועל דרך המליצה אמר כשאני עומד על רגל אחד, וכוונתו למסור לו דבר הנאמר מהרה בלשון קצר והיינו ג"כ יסוד ורגל אחד וע"י שיזכור כלל זה יזכור את כל מצות ה':
ולמדו פסוק ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ה', כי כבר ארז"ל (מכות כד.) בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת שנאמר וצדיק באמונתו יחיה (חבקוק ב ד) וזה אינו סותר דברי הלל כי כל מצות התורה הם על שני סוגים האחד הוא, המצות שבין אדם למקום ב"ה ויסוד לכולם האמונה בה' השני הוא, המצות שבין אדם לחבירו ויסוד לכלם פסוק ואהבת לרעך כמוך. ומטעם זה היו הכרובים פורשים כנפים למעלה מחוי כלפי מעלה כנגד המצות שבין אדם למקום, ופניהם איש אל אחיו כנגד המצות שבין איש לחבירו, וכשאמר כאן על רגל אחד היינו יסוד אחד לכל סוג וע"כ אמר לו פסוק ואהבת לרעך כמוך ועל רגל זה העמיד לו כל המצות שבין אדם לחבירו, ואמר לו גם סוף הפסוק אני ה' דהיינו היסוד שעליו העמיד חבקוק כל מצות התורה והיינו האמונה בה', ומאמר אני ה' דוגמת דבור אנכי הכולל כל דברות ראשונות שבין אדם למקום ב"ה וחותם לכולם כבוד או"א כי מסוף דברו ניכר שראש דברו אמת, יען כי יוקח ק"ו מן כיבוד אב ואם אל כיבוד השותף הג' ית' שמו הלא הוא אביך קנך:

[5] As we saw above, Rashi states that holiness is defined by separateness from sexual sins. See his commentary to Vayikra 19:2, also see the comments of the Ramban, who notes that the Sifri makes a general correlation between holiness and separateness.
רש"י על ויקרא פרק יט פסוק ב
קדושים תהיו - הוו פרושים מן העריות ומן העבירה (ויקרא רבה) שכל מקום שאתה מוצא גדר ערוה אתה מוצא קדושה:
רמב"ן על ויקרא פרק יט פסוק ב
קדושים תהיו - הוו פרושים מן העריות ומן העבירה, שכל מקום שאתה מוצא גדר ערוה אתה מוצא קדושה, לשון רש"י אבל בתורת כהנים (פרשה א ב) ראיתי סתם, פרושים תהיו וכן שנו שם (שמיני פרק יב ג), והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים כי קדוש אני, כשם שאני קדוש כך אתם תהיו קדושים, כשם שאני פרוש כך אתם תהיו פרושים:
[6] The negative formulation may be in line with the teaching cited above in the name of Rav Levi (Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 24:5), where he showed that the teachings of Parshat Kedoshim are parallel to the Ten Commandments. The teaching which is aligned with “Love your Neighbor” is not to covet anything of your fellow man, a negative formulation.
“Thou shalt not covet... any thing that is thy neighbor's (Shmot. 20, 14) and here it is written, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Vayikra 19, 18).”
[7] The teachings included in Avot were the favorite statements of each particular Sage. See Yehoshua Heshel HaLevi of Vilna in Shoresh Davar, p.8, which is his introduction to his Ma'ayanei haYeshua.
[8] The Targum (pseudo) Yonatan incorporates Hillel's dictum in his commentary to the verse “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
כתר יונתן ויקרא פרק יט פסוק יח
… ותאהב לחברך, שמה אתה שׂנוא לך, לא תעשׂה לו אני ה':
[9] For a more extensive discussion of this idea, see my Notes on Parshat Yitro, 5769.
[10] See Sfat Emet Parshat Bhar 5641.
שפת אמת ספר ויקרא - פרשת בהר - שנת [תרמ"א]
הענין הוא כמאמר חז"ל ואהבת לרעך כמוך זה כלל גדול בתורה שהתורה ניתנה לכלל בנ"י שהיו באחדות כמ"ש ויחן שם ישראל פרש"י בלב א'.

[11] See Ramban Sh’mot 40:34
רמב"ן שמות פרק מ פסוק לד
(לד) ויכס הענן את אהל מועד - אמר כי הענן יכסה את האהל מכל צד והוא מכוסה וטמון בו. וכבוד ה' מלא את המשכן - כי תוכו מלא הכבוד, כי הכבוד שוכן בתוך הענן תוך המשכן, כענין שנאמר בהר סיני (לעיל כ יז) אל הערפל אשר שם האלהים.
[12] See Liqutei Halachot, Laws of Bircot Hashachar - 5.
ספר ליקוטי הלכות - הלכות ברכת השחר הלכה ה
שמע וברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד הם מ"ט אותיות. כ"ה וכ"ד, בחינת מ"ט ימי הספירה…
ואז סופרין המ"ט ימים הנ"ל וכנ"ל, ועל - כן מתו כ"ד אלף תלמידי רבי עקיבא בימי העמר (יבמות סב) כ"ד דיקא כי לא המתיקו הכ"ד בתי דינים. והעקר מחמת שלא היה בהם אהבה שהוא בגימטריא אחד, כי אי אפשר להכלל שם כי אם על - ידי אהבה ואחדות שבישראל, כי אחדות שבישראל הוא אחדותו יתברך בחינת אתה אחד ושמך אחד ומי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ וכו'

[13] See Rav Tzadok M’Lublin Maamar Kedushat Hashabbat Maamar 5
ספר פרי צדיק מאמר קדושת שבת - מאמר ה
כי זהו שורש חיות הלב הישראלי בלב חכם לימינו וכמו שאיתא בשיר השירים רבה על פסוק ולבי ער, דהקב"ה לבן של ישראל כמו שכתוב צור לבבי. וצור הוא החוזק והתוקף שבלב היהודי שלא ינתק אפילו נוטלין את נפשו או יהודי או צלוב. וזה שאומרים אחר יחודא תתאה דברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד ואהבת וגו', בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך דאז מתיחדים כל חלקי לבבו ונפשו להיות דבוקים רק באהבת השם יתברך. ועל זה אמר בבראשית רבה ואהבת לרעך כמוך כלל גדול בתורה. ובפרק במה מדליקין דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד זהו כל התורה כולה ואידך פירושה. ופירש רש"י דלחברך קאי אהקב"ה דכתיב רעך וריע אביך. ומכל מקום אין יוצא מפשטיה ריעך ממש גם כן והכל אחד, כי מי שאוהב השם יתברך בכל לבבו ובכל נפשו ובכל מאודו להתאחד שורש נפשו במקורה. היא מתאחדת ממילא גם כן עם כל הנפשות דישראל שהוא שורש הכנסת ישראל שהם קומה אחת שלימה ברזא דהאדם היה כאחד כיחודו של עולם יחיד בתחתונים. דקודם החטא היה בו רק שורש הקדושה דנפשות הקדושות דכנסת ישראל. רק אחר שעירבב טוב ורע נכנס בו כוחות חיצונים שמהם נשתלשלו נפשות עכו"ם שיצאו גם כן מזרעו:

[14] It is important to note that in Pirkei Avot (3:14) Rabbi Akiva teaches: The reason man is to be loved – is because he was created in the image of God.
משנה מסכת אבות פרק ג משנה יד
הוא היה אומר חביב אדם שנברא בצלם.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Wicked Son in the Passover Haggadah

The Wicked Son in the Passover Haggadah*
Excerpt from "Emanations"
Rabbi Ari Kahn

The story of the four sons, popularized by the Passover Haggadah, has engaged centuries of readers. The questions of the four sons may be found in various sources and varying forms. The Haggadah version reads:

The Torah refers to four sons, one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know to ask.
[The] wise [son], what does he say: What are the testaments, the laws and the judgments which the Lord our G-d commanded you? And you shall tell him of the laws of Pesach…
[The] wicked [son], what does he say: What is this service to you [or, of yours]? To you and not to himself. And because he separated him self from the community [he] rejects that which is essential [i.e., is guilty of heresy]. And you will blunt his teeth and say to him 'Because of this [i.e., in return for my offering the Pesach sacrifice] G-d acted for me [or, in my behalf] in my leaving Egypt.' For you and not for him [the wicked son]; had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.
[The] simple [son], what does he say? What is this? And you shall say to him 'With a strong hand did G-d take us out of Egypt from the house of bondage. '
And for the son who knows not to ask, you shall open for him [i.e. prompt him], as it is said: "And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘Because of this G-d acted for me in taking me out of Egypt."

The questions posed by each of the first three sons are actually biblical verses which in the original are not associated with one another. The Midrash related in the Haggadah brings these verses together, and fashions "answers" out of other verses.

The Haggada’s sources for this passage are the Yerushalmi and the Mechiltot of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai [Rashbi]. In the latter two sources, the Midrash actually exists in two forms. It appears at one point in the form familiar to us from the Haggadah. At another point, only the wicked son is mentioned; no siblings are mentioned, nor are any other biblical verses cited. It is unclear, however, which of these two sources is the earlier one, which version of the four sons’ Midrash came first.

In the more familiar version, the reader is presented with a wise son whose question is respected and even encouraged, and then a wicked son whose "teeth are blunted" because of the question he poses. Yet what distinguishes these two questions from one another? The careful reader will note that the wicked son, accused of separating himself from the community, refers to the People of Israel in the collective other: "to you” and not "to us" or even "to me." However, the wise son uses almost identical language in asking about the laws and testaments "which the Lord our G-d commanded you." Why is one son condemned while the other is praised?

The verse from D’varim attributed to the wise son seems to question all law and ritual as such: In its original context, the question relates to the relationship between G-d's rule over Israel and all of Mosaic law. Yet the verse attributed to the wicked son is far more circumscribed, relating, as it does, only to the isolated ritual of the Pesach sacrifice. The wise son uses the phrase “the Lord our G-d”, and this alone may suffice to distinguish between the wise and wicked sons. But the distinction would have been sharper had the wise son said “the Lord our G-d commanded us”. Indeed, other versions of the Midrash have attempted to alleviate the problem posed by the wise son's reference to “you” rather than "us". The Yerushalmi, Mechiltah and the Haggadah of the Rambam simply change the biblical verse attributed to the wise son to a more palatable form: "What are the testaments the laws and the judgments which the Lord our G-d commanded us?"[1]. In this case, the wise son is not citing the verse, he is paraphrasing it.[2]

Whether motivated by exegetical necessity or literary cohesiveness, the alteration of the biblical text placed in the mouth of the wise son is less important than the question which remains unanswered: What is it about the "wicked son" which so infuriates Chaza”l and the compilers of the Haggadah? The answer must lie deeper than the language used in the questions of the sons; otherwise, the "wise son" would either have been condemned as well, or the text of his question would have been uniformly altered. The answer must lie in the point of view each son represents, for in each case, the essence of each son’s question, surprisingly enough, is overlooked. The Haggadah responds not to the content of the questions but to the point of view from which they are posed. Our sages, in either preserving or elaborating on this Midrash and including it in the Haggadah, hoped to convey a very specific message. The four sons represent points of view or ideologies which are more meaningful than simply the terminology in which their ideas are couched.

This is clearly seen in the case of the wicked son. The verse from Sh’mot quoted by the wicked son is not, in its biblical context, seen as a negative query:

And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say to you, ‘What does this service mean to you?,’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, who passed over the houses of the People of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians, and saved our houses.’ And the people bowed their heads and worshipped. (12:26,27)

The answer offered the child in Sh’mot is seen as a wonderful, educational response, with no hint of negativity. What made Chaza”l change the answer offered in the Torah, and paint the questioner in the Haggadah as wicked? Why would Chaza”l “overlook” the answer to this same question offered in Sh’mot, and replace it with an answer more appropriate for one so wicked? Clearly, it is not the words of the rasha which are problematic, rather the tone of voice which Chaza”l hear. The question, in and of itself, is one which would normally be encouraged; indeed, it is the goal of the parent at the seder to encourage the child to ask just such questions. The sages, nonetheless, heard something insidious in this formulation which led them to define the questioner as a “wicked son”.

We may go so far as to say that the sages had a specific typology of evil in mind when they formulated this Midrash, someone who would have cited verses, but would have twisted them to serve their own purpose.

We saw that it was the tone of voice of the rasha which represented his heresy. The biblical verse reads: ‘What is this service to you?’ The Mechilta’s response indicates the tone of the question:

רשע מה הוא אומר מה העבודה הזאת לכם לכם ולא לו ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל וכפר בעיקר אף אתה הקהה את שיניו ואמור לו בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים (שמות יג ח) לי ולא לך אלו היית שם לא היית נגאל. (מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בא - מס' דפסחא בא פרשה יח ד"ה "והיה כי")

‘To you’ and not to himself. And because he separated himself from the community and he rejects that which is essential [i.e., is guilty of heresy]…

Emphasis was clearly placed on the word “you”. The tone of voice in the Mechilta is quite different from the tone used by the rasha in the Yerushalmi, where the wicked son asks:

What is this service to you [or, of yours]? What is this toil with which we are burdened each and every year?(Pesahim 10:4)

The Yerushalmi emphasizes the word “service”. This wicked son clearly has some problem with the content of Jewish ritual, whereas the wicked son presented in the Mechilta seems very different. In fact, the subtle difference in the answers to each version of the question are indicative of the different ways each question was perceived. The Yerushalmi addresses the content of the wicked son's question:

Because of this, because of my offering the Pesach sacrifice, G-d acted for me. For me, and not for that man; had that man been in Egypt he would not have been worthy of redemption from there for eternity. (Pesahim 10:4)

In this case, our sages impart some of the significance of the ritual which the wicked son questions. The wicked son of the Yerushalmi is condemned for questioning the efficacy or relevance of Jewish ritual, whereas the Mechilta's wicked son is condemned for separating himself from the community. We may say, then, that the two sources represent two traditions; they portray two different wicked sons.

Interestingly, the Mechilta offers this teaching anonymously, while the Yerushalmi presents this teaching in the name of Rav Chiya. The version in the Mechilta is certainly the original source, as Rav Chiya in the Yerushalmi makes reference to it.


תני ר' חייה כנגד ארבע' בני' דיברה תור' בן חכם בן רשע בן טיפש בן שאינו יודע לשאל.. בן רשע מהו אומר מה העבודה הזאת לכם מה הטורח הזה שאתם מטריחין עלינו בכל שנה ושנה (בכי"ל שעה ושעה) מכיון שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל אף אתה אמור לו בעבור זה עשה ד' לי. לי עשה לאותו האיש לא עשה אילו היה אותו האיש במצרים לא היה ראוי להיגאל משם לעולם (תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת פסחים פרק י דף לז עמוד ד /ה"ד)

What is this service to you [or, of yours]? What is this toil with which we are burdened each and every year (Lieden manuscript reads “hour”)? Since he separated himself from the community you say to him…

Rav Chiya clearly utilizes the teaching in the Mechilta, as can be seen from his second sentence, “Since he separated himself from the community,” a statement which does not relate to the efficacy of ‘service’ and is a clear reflection of the Mechilta’s understanding of the wicked son’s crime of separation. Thus, Rav Chiya created a new teaching which compounded the rebellion of the rashsa: Not only is he guilty of separating himself from the community, he also questions the necessity of the Paschal service.

The sages who formulated the Mechilta had consciously created their own teaching in a similar manner. They rejected the biblical response to the son and insisted that such a question, such a questioner, is wicked, apparently reacting to the philosophical trends which must have been current during the formation of the Midrash and served as the model for this dialogue. There must have been dissidents on the fringe of the Jewish community who articulated their ideology in this manner.

We may attempt to identify each of these wicked sons historically, with early Judeo-Christian sects who deviated from the Jewish mainstream at the time our sources were developed. Scholars have traced the theological development of various distinct streams of thought which later branched off from Judaism completely. Two of the major trends of thought espoused by these groups are voiced precisely by the wicked sons in each of our sources: One Judeo-Christian sect considered itself completely "Jewish," but would not take sides politically in the struggle against Rome. To this sect, our Sages may very well have said:

To you and not to himself. And because he separated himself from the community and he rejects that which is essential [i.e., is guilty of heresy]…

The sages condemn this political neutrality as incompatible with Jewish identity: One who separates himself from Jewish destiny also cuts himself` off from Jewish history. He can- not remain in the religious community if he takes no part in the historical community and does not feel the historical continuity which begins with the Exodus and culminates in the final messianic redemption. Such a Jew, the sages of the Mechilta intimate, would not have been redeemed from Egypt; such a Jew would possibly have expressed sympathy for Egypt. He may even have refused to take part in the Exodus.

According to historians there were two occasions when the Judaic Christians separated themselves from the community. One was the battle against Rome in 68 CE which culminated in the destruction of the Temple. The second occasion was during the Bar Kochva rebellion some 60 years later. We can clearly see why the Judaic Christians failed to rally around Bar Kochva, a man labeled “The King Messiah” by no less of an authority than the great Rabbi Akiva. The Christians felt that they already had their Messiah and had nothing at stake in this parochial battle between the Jews and Rome.[3] At just the time of these events, the Mechilta was formulated. It then comes as no surprise that the rifts in the Jewish community are reflected in the Midrash.

The sages who later compiled the Haggadah created their own unique teaching by dropping off one letter which appears in the Mechilta. The Mechilta version has an extra letter (in the Hebrew text; in the English it becomes an entire word) as compared to the version in the Haggada. The Haggada equates the wicked son’s heresy with his separation from the community:

To you and not to himself. And because he separated himself from the community, he rejects that which is essential [i.e., is guilty of heresy].

In the Mechilta the word “and” (in Hebrew, the letter “Vav”) is added: he separates himself, in addition to already being guilty of heresy! First, this son accepted the Christian belief. Now, he separates himself from the community:

רשע מה הוא אומר מה העבודה הזאת לכם לכם ולא לו ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל וכפר בעיקר אף אתה הקהה את שיניו ואמור לו בעבור זה עשה ה' לי בצאתי ממצרים (שמות יג ח) לי ולא לך אלו היית שם לא היית נגאל. (מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בא - מס' דפסחא בא פרשה יח ד"ה והיה כי)

To you and not to himself. And because he separated him self from the community and he rejects that which is essential [i.e., is guilty of heresy]…

The Haggadah, in omitting the word “and”, subtly changes the message brought across by Rav Hiya in the Yerushalmi. The wicked son is now guilty solely of separating himself from the community; the issues of Christian belief are no longer the current problems which the sages sought to battle.


The wicked son of the Yerushalmi has other historical parallels in Judeo-Christian theology. We know of the early Christians' objection to the entire practice of sacrifice, and of the particular significance they credited to the Pesach sacrifice. It is not difficult for us to associate the Christian concept of the obsolescence of sacrifice after the crucifixion with the point of view of the wicked son in the Yerushalmi. In stressing the word “service”, he asks specifically why the sacrifice must continue to be offered year after year; implying that its utility is outdated. The new symbol of redemption, the “ultimate Paschal lamb”, has made continued sacrifice unnecessary according to this view. It is to this specific claim that the Sages in the Yerushalmi respond:

G-d acted for me; for me and not for that man. Had that man been in Egypt he would not have been worthy of redemption from there for eternity.

'That man', אותו האיש , the Christian answer to Paschal sacrifice, was not himself worthy of redemption; it would therefore be absurd to believe that his life or his death could redeem others. This is the theological answer to Judeo-Christian theology.

It is fascinating to trace Rav Chiya’s adaptation of the earlier teaching to match the rasha of his own day. In a sense, this process of adaptation has been applied for generations. The rasha remains a dissident, either at the edge of, or outside of the Jewish community. Mainly through artistic representations, we have clear evidence how the face of the rasha has evolved, to match that which was considered askance in a particular place or time.

The rasha in the Mechilta “won” over his relative in the Yerushalmi, and serves as the direct source for the formulation incorporated in the Haggadah, most likely for a number of reasons: The Mechilta enjoyed a greater sphere of influence, it represents the original formulation, and its teaching seems somewhat broader. Nonetheless, we have noted the slight change which was made upon incorporation in the Haggada, labeling the wicked son’s separation as his heresy as opposed to being in addition to his heresy. Ostensibly, this change was made in order to fashion a generic rasha who could be used as an example of infamy at Sedarim for millennia.

*The ideas for this article were formulated in 1985 and were published in 1986. Over the years I have returned to this theme in various lectures, and have finally re-written it. This version resembles the original piece, but has undergone numerous changes.
[1] See the comments of Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffman to Dvarim, where the change from “you” to “us”, is explained exegetically. Also see the discussion by Rav Kasher in Haggada Shelama.
[2] It is difficult to establish the authoritative version of these texts - see the discussion in the HaYerushalmi Kiphshuto by Saul Liebermann page 520.
[3] See Gedalyahu Alon, “The Jews in Their Land in The Talmudic Age” page 295 note 28, pp. 305-306