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A taste of Pesach

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The summer of 656 CE was hot and bloody. In the Arabian Peninsula temperatures ran high, but tempers flared even higher as an armed revolt erupted against the third Caliph since Mohammed. Only thirty four years had passed since the Koran had been written and already there existed scribal variations. Othman the Caliph issued an official text and declared all the others to be unkosher. This incensed the faithful of other tribal groups and a civil war arose which still plagues the Muslem world today. In contrast, the Five Books of Moses have enjoyed more than thirty three hundred years of consistency. Torahs today read exactly as they did when the Jews first crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. Irrespective of exile, persecution and public Torah burnings, communities long cut off from each other still share an exact replica of the original.

It is no wonder than that our Sages were able to place their finger at a specific spot and declare it to be the MIDWAY POINT of the Torah. Indeed they did so in this week’s Biblical portion which discusses an argument between Moses and his older brother Aaron. The actual verse reads, “Doroish, Dorash Moishe”, which literally translates as, “inquired, he (Moses) inquired.” Between these two “inquiries” is the half way mark of our Holy Scripture.

That chapter continues for several more sentences and subsequently concludes, “Va-yishma Moishe Va-yitav B’einov.” Simply translated it means, “And Moses listened and it was good in his eyes.” Rashi, to whom we are so indebted for his incisive commentary explains that Moses wasn’t embarrassed to admit that there was still much he didn’t know and that one was never too old or too wise to listen, Va-yishma.

People often pose the following query, “What is the definition of Judaism?” Although there are more responses in Rabbinic literature than there are chometz crumbs presently in my home, I would like to add one more answer.

Moses’ first meeting with G-d begins with a question, “Why is the bush not consumed?” The first Jewish holiday, Pesach, focuses not on one but on four questions. The Talmud opens with a question and a Jew answers a question...with another question.

But sincere questioning and honest inquiries are only half the Torah and thus only half of what it takes to be a committed Jew. The other half is Va-yishma; one must be willing to listen. Interestingly enough this sentiment is expressed by the19th century scholar, the Malbim. In analyzing the dialogue of the wicked son of the Hagaddah, the Malbim highlights the fact that the answer given to the Rasha is in the third person. In Hebrew the text states, “Ilu hoyoh shom... If HE had been there HE would not have been redeemed...”

Grammatically, as the Rabbi points out, the words should have read, “If YOU had been there.” Unfortunately this is no copyist’s error. The Rasha is wicked because he only stayed long enough to ask his question. He refused to wait around for the answer. Thus it states, “If he had been there...”

So pose your most difficult question. Torah don’t mind. In fact, Judaism welcomes your sincere queries. But one who knows only how to ask and is not interested in the solution, is not even half a chacham (the wise son). Indeed, the Hagaddah classifies him as nothing more than a rasha.

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