Bnei Brak Wise Men
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Bnei Brak Wise Men

Bnei Brak Wise Men

"Whoever talks at length about Exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy."

by

Information Versus Wisdom

And even if all of us were wise, all men of understanding, all elderly, all of us knowing the Torah, there is still a mitzvah upon us to tell about the Exodus from Egypt. And whoever talks about it at length is praiseworthy.

All mitzvot have their rationale and reason. Some are easier to understand than others. Unfortunately, people sometimes mistakenly think that mitzvot are dependent on our understanding.

The primary mitzvah of the Seder is to talk about the Exodus from Egypt. One might therefore think: Once I understand the basic story and lessons, there is consequently no further need for discussion. It would surely seem that there is a limit to what can be derived from any account in history. Once that limit has been reached, what purpose can there be in discussing it further? Increasing this discussion seems not only far from praiseworthy, but rather boring!

This thought is only folly and arrogance. We may possess a lot of knowledge and information, but if we think we fully understand the depths of Torah ― to the extent that we no longer need the mitzvot ― then unfortunately, we understand very, very little.


Wisdom and Growth

Rabbi Tom Meyer

And even if all of us were wise, all men of understanding, all elderly, all of us knowing the Torah, there is still a mitzvah upon us to tell about the Exodus from Egypt. And whoever talks about it at length is praiseworthy.

What does it mean to be "wise?" Wisdom is intuitive insight. You just look at things and grasp the meaning and truth.

What is "understanding?" That's being able to draw principles and lessons from the information you receive. That's deeper because it involves intellectual analysis.

The Haggadah also lists the "elderly?" They are wise from life experience.

And then there's "knowledgeable in Torah." That's having a strong tradition to back you up.

Even the wisest Jew has to talk about what it meant to leave Egypt. And even someone sitting at the Seder alone ― no children, no guests, nobody else ― still has to talk to himself about leaving Egypt.

Why? Because we all need to work on getting out of the body. And even though you work the whole year, remember this is a yearly cycle. Next year you're going to work on it another way. We need to constantly focus and grow. The process lasts a lifetime. No matter how big you are, you can always grow.

"And whoever talks about it at length is praiseworthy." The more you work on it, the better you are.


The More the Better

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

And even if all of us were wise, all men of understanding, all elderly, all of us knowing the Torah, there is still a mitzvah upon us to tell about the Exodus from Egypt. And whoever elaborates on it is praiseworthy.

The Torah (Deut. 16:3) commands us to recall the Exodus every day. If so, what's the special mitzvah of Passover night?

The difference is that it's usually enough to just mention the Exodus, but at the Seder, the more the better.

In fact, Jewish law states that when the entire Seder is over ― when all the food has been eaten, the wine has been drunk and the songs have been sung ― a person should still stay at the Seder table, elaborating on the Exodus story, until sleep overtakes him. On this night, the more the better!


Turning Ideas into Reality

Rabbi Stephen Baars

It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining in Bnei Brak. They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all that night until their students came and said to them: "Our teachers, the time has arrived to read the morning Shema."

Every year we celebrate Passover and every year we go through the Haggadah. By the time we reach adulthood we should have covered the Haggadah in significant detail. Surely then, these great Sages had learned all or most of the ideas of the Exodus. What was so meaningful about the Exodus that it engaged these Torah scholars until the wee hours of the morning?

The Haggadah gives us a clue: They were "reclining" as they discussed the Exodus, as a way to better experience the emotional feeling of freedom. Their discussion was not simply a university-style discourse on abstract philosophical concepts or historical ideas ― but an experience they attempted to integrate and relive.

This is the Jewish concept of a true "intellectual" ― someone for whom ideas are not mind games, but tools for living. Wisdom is to be taken seriously and applied. Ideas are not to be stored in a mental filing cabinet and pulled out at dinner parties to keep everyone entertained. They are to help us change and grow. Ideas are real.

A new idea means new realities. A true intellectual cannot go on living the same old way when he understands a new idea.

We must approach the Haggadah as a tool to be applied, rather than just an interesting history lesson or a nice family experience. Each concept, each fact, each idea has the potential to change and improve your life. Every sentence should be looked at with the excitement of: "How is this relevant and vital to me?"

With this attitude, not only the Haggadah, but all of life can have fascination. Every day we encounter new ideas. For the intellectual, every conversation is pregnant with potential and life-enhancing ideas. The simplest topic can have the deepest point, which in turn can affect one's entire life. Life is fascinating if you try to learn and apply its lessons.

At the Seder, when you hear an idea, go further than saying, "that's interesting." If the idea is true, then ask, "How do I apply it to my life?"


Talking All Night

Rabbi Tom Meyer

It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining in Bnei Brak. They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all that night until their students came and said to them: "Our teachers, the time has arrived to read the morning Shema."

The Haggadah proves that no matter how great and wise you are, you can still grow. These great rabbis were talking all night about the Exodus. When they finished their meal, they continued to discuss and probe. They talked about freedom: "Are we trapped? What's holding us back?"

They talked about the Red Sea: "What would you have done as you were crossing the sea? Would you have jumped in? How would you have felt walking through the water?"

And they talked about the blood on the door post. Actually most people think the blood was on the outside of the post, so the angel of death would pass over. Really, though, the blood was on the inside of the post. The Jews sat there that first Passover night, staring at the blood. They were going to walk out of Egypt in the morning and enter into a covenant with God.

How would you have felt that night before you left?

The rabbis worked all night on these ideas. We should, too.


Spared from Slavery

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

It once happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining in Bnei Brak. They were discussing the Exodus from Egypt all that night until their students came and said to them: "Our teachers, the time has arrived to read the morning Shema."

Did you ever wonder how ― during the months before the Exodus ― Moses and Aaron were free to go in and out of Pharaoh's palace?

That's because of the Twelve Tribes, all were enslaved except for the Tribe of Levi. How so? When Pharaoh enlisted the Jewish labor ― which was initially voluntary ― all the Jews showed up except for the tribe of Levi. They chose to continue learning Torah instead. As such, when Pharaoh switched the work from voluntary to mandatory (i.e. slavery), the tribe of Levi remained free. Moses and Aaron were from the tribe of Levi.

The commentary "Simchat HaRegel" points out something unusual about the five Sages the Haggadah lists here: Four of them were from the Tribe of Levi, and the fifth ― Rabbi Akiva ― was the child of a convert. None of their ancestors were enslaved! Nevertheless, even they spoke at length about the Exodus from Egypt.


All the Days of your Life

Rabbi Tom Meyer

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah said: "I am like a man of 70 years, and yet I was never able to merit to prove that one is obligated to mention the Exodus at night, until Ben Zoma explained it thusly: It says in the Torah, ‘In order that you shall remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt, all the days of your life.' ‘The days of your life' refers to the days; ‘All the days of your life' refers to the nights." And the Sages say: "'The days of your life' refers to this world; ‘All the days of your life' indicates the time of the Messiah."

We say the Shema every morning and every night, and in the third paragraph we mention the Exodus from Egypt. But Rabbi Elazar says he was never able to prove the obligation to mention the Exodus at night, until Ben Zoma expounded on the verse, "all of the days of your life." The Torah is very concise, and the word "all" is extra. It comes to include the entire day. A "day" is really a combination of two units: morning and evening.

So Ben Zoma proved that you have to spend one minute each morning and each evening focusing on the Exodus from Egypt. Why? Because although Passover is the beginning of the yearly cycle, and we may start the year off right (recognizing that our biggest obstacle to freedom is our own egomania), in the course of the year we can forget. So the Torah says: For such an important concept, it pays to focus for a few seconds every morning and evening.

The Haggadah says that the Sages present another concept: "The days of your life" indicates the world in its present state, and "all the days of your life" includes the time of the Messiah. This means that when the Messiah comes, don't think we'll just sit around drinking Coca Cola all day. We're still going to keep growing and working on ourselves. It will be easier in the Messianic era because the monster ego will be worn out a little. Everybody will have knowledge of God, and prophecy will return. But when the Messiah comes, you're still going to grow.


A Big Miracle

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah said: "I am like a man of 70 years, and yet I was never able to merit to prove that one is obligated to mention the Exodus at night, until Ben Zoma explained it thusly: It says in the Torah, 'In order that you shall remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt, all the days of your life.' 'The days of your life' refers to the days; 'All the days of your life' refers to the nights." And the Sages say: "'The days of your life' refers to this world; 'All the days of your life' indicates the time of the Messiah.'"

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says: "I was never able to merit to prove that one is obligated to mention the Exodus at night." Why was it so important to him that there be a mitzvah of mentioning the Exodus at night?

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger offers a fascinating explanation:

Notice how Rabbi Elazar says "I am LIKE a man of 70 years." He said that because he was actually a very young man. He was 18 years old and then suddenly became head of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court. He had tremendous wisdom for his youth, but he was afraid that people wouldn't respect him. So he prayed to God and his hair miraculously turned white overnight. So he says, "I'm only like a 70-year-old man."

Now there is a discussion in the Talmud (Shabbat 53b) over whether an open miracle shows the greatness of the recipient, or perhaps it demonstrates an individual's low level, in that God's natural wonders weren't enough for this person and they had to be changed.

At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the events at night (e.g. the plague of the First Born) was beyond the laws of nature, whereas the events of the daytime (simply walking out of Egypt), were not.

So Rabbi Elazar ― for whom God made an open miracle by turning his beard white ― was happy to find a source mandating the mention of the Exodus at night. This shows that events which go beyond the laws of nature are truly greater!

By the way, Solomon became King of Israel at age 12.

Published: April 2, 2003


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