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Pesach 5774 — 04/16/2014

Pesach 5774 — 04/16/2014

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks recently (September 2013) retired as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain after serving 22 years.  Besides being a Rabbinic scholar, he holds a PhD in Philosophy from King’s College, London, as well as numerous honorary degrees.  He has published a Pesach Haggadah (Koren Publishers, Jerusalem, ISBN 978-965-301-653-8 which is well worth having.  Besides a wonderful translation and fairly copious commentary, there are a number of essays on various themes regarding the holiday.  I would like to paraphrase one of them and add a little bit to it – how much I will add will become evident by the end.

There are four fours associated with the Pesach Seder:

  1. The four questions
  2. The four sons
  3. The four cups of wine
  4. The four expressions of redemption: I will bring you out… and deliver you … I will redeem you … and I will take you to Me as a nation (Shemot 6:6-7)

The only trouble with this neat formulation is that it is incomplete.  There is actually a fifth set of 4:

5.       The four verses from Deuteronomy (26:5-8) which form the backbone of the exposition of the Haggadah

Not only this, but each one of these now five fours, has a fifth member:

  1. In Temple Days the “fourth” question was why do we eat the Paschal Lamb only roasted.  When the Temple was destroyed and we no longer were able to bring the Pesach offering, the question about reclining was substituted.
  2. Many commentators have proposed that the “fifth son” is the one we have lost to assimilation.  He is not in the Seder because he didn’t even bother to come.
  3. The fifth cup of wine is mentioned in the Talmud, and opinions of Medieval scholars vary from one should not drink it, to one may drink it, to one should drink it.  When Elijah comes and will answer all unresolved questions we will know what to do with it; in the meantime, it is the “cup of Elijah” which we pour, but don’t drink.
  4. The four cups correspond to the four expressions of redemption.  Just as we have located a fifth cup, there is also a fifth expression of redemption: I will bring you to the Land… (Shemot 6:8)
  5. Finally, in the passage on which the Haggadah is based (the passage recited when bringing one’s first-fruits offering to the Temple) there is a fifth verse, which we do not expound: And He brought us to this place [i.e. the Land of Israel].

R. Sacks goes on to point out that all these “fifths” deal with the Redemption, or rather the lack of Redemption from which we still suffer in the diaspora, and in fact, in Israel as well as long as the Temple has not been rebuilt.  Thus:

  1. The fifth question, about the Paschal sacrifice, is relevant only when the Temple is standing and we can bring our offerings there.
  2. The fifth son is a symbol of the rampant assimilation from which our people suffers (see the recent Pew report)
  3. The fifth cup of wine symbolizes that fact that we are still awaiting Mashiach, and Elijah, his harbinger.
  4. The fifth expression of redemption is a promise that we will live in peace and fullness in our own, holy Land.  While Gd has granted us renewed sovereignty in the Land, we are certainly not living in peace or security or fullness.
  5. Although Gd brought us to the Land of Israel, until the last year or so the majority of Jews in the world did not live there, and of course, there is still no Temple to which to bring our first-fruits, or anything else.

R. Sacks concludes, “The missing fifths remind us of work still to be done, a journey not yet complete.”

Pesach is “the time of our freedom,” but it is well-recognized as only a beginning.  Starting with the second Seder, we begin to count the Omer, the count of days until we receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai (on Shavuot).  Freedom is great, but it is more than “freedom from.”  Far more important is what we are free to do, to become.  At Shavuot we find out why we are free, that is, what is our mission as a people.  That mission is to become a holy people, able to manifest Gd’s presence in the material world and be a “light unto the nations,” so that all may enjoy Gd’s blessings.  It should be obvious that we have not yet completed that mission, and we are still suffering the consequences of that incompletion.  Hence, one part is missing.

When one misappropriates sacred property inadvertently, one must repay the value of the property, plus pay a fine of a “fifth.”  This is not an additional 20% of the value however, as we would reckon a fifth.  It is rather a fifth of the entire amount (principal + fine), or 25% of the principal (25% is 1/5 of 125%).  Somehow, in order to make whole that which has been broken, or distorted, an additional “fifth” is required.

Our world began whole, given to us by a perfect Gd, but Adam sinned and introduced imperfection into the world.  At Mt. Sinai, our Sages tell us, we fully rectified the sin of Adam, but 40 days later sinned ourselves with the golden calf.  Our entire history has been a pendulum swinging between the poles of exile and imperfection on the one hand, and redemption and perfection on the other.  Somehow, we have never managed to get it right.  Rabbi Sacks is telling us that our job as a nation is to provide the missing fifth that will atone for all the past mistakes and lead us, and the whole world, to the glorious Messianic future.  Perhaps we can make a start at our Seders.  When we are focusing on the fours, let’s keep in our awareness the hidden fifths, waiting to come out into the full light of day.

May the fours be with you!

Chag Kosher v’Same’ach