"This is the poor bread that our fathers ate in Egypt. Let all those who are downtrodden come and eat. All those in need come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice. . .," we begin tonight’s Seder.
What sense does it make to issue this invitation at the Seder, when our doors are shut and there is no one to hear the invitation? And what is so important about this Amoraic material (i.e., from the later sages of the Talmud) that it was added as a preamble to the body of the Haggadah, which is of Mishnaic origin?
The invitation to come and share the meal is, a reminder of a public announcement that was originally made long before Seder night. It is repeated at the Seder to remind us of the central role of acts of tzedaka and lovingkindness in bringing the Redemption.
The Bais Halevi explains with a Midrash. A King had sons who fell into bad company. As a punishment, he stripped them of their royal vestments and sent them into exile. From their exile, they requested a high official to intercede on their behalf with their father. But the King rejected all the official’s entreaties, even claiming that the boys were not really his sons. To the latter assertion, however, the official replied, "You cannot deny that they are your sons, for they look just like you."
A prince is identifiable in two ways: either by his royal attire, which attests to his lofty status, or by his obvious resemblance to the king. The mitzvos are described in Kabbalah as the clothing of the soul. When Jews are occupied with the performance of His mitzvos, they are clearly identifiable as God’s nation by virtue of those mitzvos.
But even when we are "absolutely naked" as the prophet Yechezkel (quoted in the Haggadah) describes the Jewish people on the eve of their Redemption, they bear a unique connection to G-d. If no longer identifiable as "God’s nation," they remain "His children." As Moses tells Pharoah, in G-d’s name, "Israel is my son, my firstborn."
The long Exile has stripped us of the mitzvos, our royal attire. Many mitzvos cannot be fully performed in the absence of the Temple. And many Jews due to prolonged association with "bad company," i.e., assimilation, have long since given up observance of the mitzvos.
Yet our unique connection to G-d has not been completely severed. G-d created the world only in order to give to beings external to Himself, and when we manifest the same quality of giving, we are still recognizable as His children.
On the basis of that intrinsic connection to G-d we were redeemed from Egypt, and so will we be redeemed in the future Redemption. "Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through tzedakah" (Isaiah 1:27). Thus the Seder begins with a reminder of the importance of sharing with those less fortunate than ourselves, for only the quality of tzedakah links us to G-d and makes us worthy of redemption.
HEAVEN knows that the Jews of Israel are in need of Divine deliverance today In our present situation, acts of generosity to our fellow Jews, even a bit more civility and fellow feeling, may well be the most important thing that we as individuals can do.
Three weeks ago, we read about precisely the type of extraordinary deeds of which we are so much in need. Lt. Pinchas Cohen of Ofra was killed by friendly fire, during a nighttime action in the Gaza Strip.
Whenever there is any suggestion that soldiers have been lost due to IDF bungling, it is common for parents of the deceased to obsessively pursue those responsible, often for years. That is both understandable, and even justified by the need to prevent repetition of the same mistakes.
Yet when Pinchas Cohen’s parents were told by his commanding officer that those responsible would be brought to justice, they and his young widow requested that the army take no further action. Even at the moment of their most intense grief, they were still able to empathize with the emotional torment that the soldiers who fired the fatal bullets would bear the rest of their lives.
The Cohens, whose older son serves as an officer in the same elite Givati unit and whose younger son also participated in the action in which his brother fell, stressed in their statement that in the current war it is essential that officers and soldiers be given every encouragement and not live in constant fear of punishment for mistakes made in the heat of battle. "Will their punishment bring back my son?" asked Yitzchak Cohen simply.
A few days after Pinchas Cohen was killed, an unsung Jew, named Rabbi Michel Gutfarb, passed away in Jerusalem on his 45th birthday, 25 years after he was first diagnosed as suffering from lymphoma. None of the conventional treatments – chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplants – worked for long, yet he held on for decades in defiance of his doctors’ predictions, even managing to marry and raise a family.
Most remarkable, he ran a tzedakah empire that reached from Migdal HaEmek to Dimona. His career as a gabbai tzedakah began at 17, when a lonely, sick Jew to whom he brought food, left him tens of thousands of dollars. The money was promptly used to marry two orphans.
Until almost the very end, Reb Michel was still writing over 2,000 tzedakah checks a month for widows and orphans. He knew the families on his list, including the names of the children, and tried to deliver the checks himself, even when he was too weak to get out of the car.
Rabbi Gutfarb took nothing for his tzedakah activities, yet he was repaid with years of life, living proof that "tzedakah protects from death."
Few of us will reach the extraordinary levels of the Cohen family or Rabbi Michel Gutfarb, but each of us, in his own way, can garb himself in the "coat of tzedakah," until in the words of the prophet we are recognized by all as "the seed that G-d has blessed."