For the week ending 20 March 2010 / 4 Nisan 5770

A Question About a Question

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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"Why is this night different from all other nights?"

This is how the Pesach Seder begins as the youngster who has practiced so long in school finally gets a chance to ask his father four questions about the distinctive nature of Pesach eve.

The source of course is a mishna in Mesechta Pesachim (116a) in which these four questions are detailed. But if you take a look at that mishna and compare it with what is written in your Hagadah you are bound to have a question about one of those questions.

In addition to asking why on this night we eat only matzah and maror, and why we dip twice, the son following the mishna's direction should ask why on all other nights we eat meat cooked or broiled whereas on this night it may only be broiled. In our Hagadah, however, this question does not appear and another is there in its place!

The answer to our question about this question lies in another mishna in Pesachim (53a) which mentions the custom of refraining from eating broiled meat on the night of Pesach. But how do we reconcile this custom with the Torah command to eat the korban Pesach only with a broiled preparation?

When we had the Beit Hamikdash and were able to offer the Pesach sacrifice we were required to broil the slaughtered animal and eat it on Pesach night. It was therefore in place for the son to ask why only broiled meat was eaten that night. But we may not offer sacrifices when there is no Beit Hamikdash and eating any broiled meat on Pesach night gives the wrong impression that we actually violated the law and offered a sacrifice. All we can do is put a piece of broiled meat (zeroah) on the Seder plate as a reminder of the sacrifice, but we refrain from eating it that night — a custom followed by virtually all Jewish communities.

Now that we understand why the question regarding broiled meat is missing, let us try to analyze what lessons we can learn from the fact that in its place the Hagadah has a question about why we recline while eating.

The Sefer Hachinuch suggests two possible reasons for the Torah's insistence on our ancestors' broiling the Pesach sacrifice. One is that as they were on the threshold of liberation from bondage it was important for them to internalize the awareness that they were not going to be mere freed slaves, but rather the "princes of the earth" who were destined to receive the Torah and be G-d's chosen people. Only aristocrats can afford the luxury of broiled meat, which may be the most delicious way of preparing meat but the least economical. The other reason is that the quickest way of preparing meat for consumption is broiling, so that the broiled sacrifice would be a reminder of the haste with which the Exodus from Egypt took place.

Although these reasons may seem to apply only to the generation of the Exodus, the command to broil the Pesach sacrifice was in force in later years as well because each Pesach is viewed as an experience of virtually reliving that Exodus in fulfillment of our Sages' instructions that "a person view himself as if he was liberated from Egypt."

Our inability today to offer a sacrifice and eat its broiled meat is perhaps a reminder that our lack of a Beit Hamikdash and our dispersion diminish the sense of aristocracy to which we would be entitled if not for our sins. But despite the lack of respect for our nation in this final exile, we relive aristocracy on Pesach night by reclining in aristocratic fashion when we drink our four cups of wine and eat our matzah. It is therefore fitting that in place of the question regarding broiled meat we substitute a question about reclining.

The other explanation of the Chinuch regarding the speed with which our Exodus from Egypt took place also fits in with our situation in exile. How can we eat broiled meat symbolizing the speed of liberation when our final redemption is so long delayed? And yet we call attention to our reclining in royal fashion as an expression of our still special status as G-d's chosen people, confidently concluding our Seder with the singing of "Next year in Yerushalayim."

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