Brisker Rav and Chazon Ish on the Oaths
When Excessive Prayer Becomes Permitted
Two Reasons Why We Eat Matza
If the Holy One, blessed is He, had not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. (Hagadah)
The Satmar Rav commented: We see here that the Jewish people would have preferred to stay slaves in Egypt than to redeem themselves. For it says that if Hashem had not redeemed us, we would still be slaves, and it is assumed as obvious that we would never have tried to rise up and rebel against Pharaoh. (Machzor Divrei Yoel)
The Torah spoke of four sons: one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know to ask. (Hagadah)
This is our version of the text, but the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 70b) calls the third son “foolish” (tipesh) instead of “simple”. The Satmar Rav commented that from here we can learn the true meaning of the statement of Chazal (Bava Basra 158b) that “the air of Eretz Yisroel makes one wise.” People think it means that anyone who goes there becomes wiser, but the truth meaning is that Eretz Yisroel has the power to accentuate and strengthen any person’s tendencies. If he is wise, he will become wiser; but if he is foolish, he will become even more foolish there. Thus the son we call “the simple son” - in the Talmud of Eretz Yisroel is called “the foolish son”. (Toros Ve’uvdos Mibeis Raboseinu, p. 333)
What does the wicked son say? “What is this service to you?” And so you blunt his teeth and say to him, “Because of this Hashem acted for me when I went out of Egypt” – for me and not for him, for had he been there, he would not have been redeemed.
The Chasam Sofer explains this based on the statement of Chazal (quoted by Rashi on Vayikra 25:43) that one may not tell a Jewish slave, “Shovel under the vines until I return,” because this is a job whose end time is unknown. But it is permitted to tell him to shovel for one hour or even several hours, as long as there is a set limit to it, for “drawn-out hope makes the heart sick” (Mishlei 13:12). The reason for this law, suggests the Chasam Sofer, is that the Torah says, “For to Me are the children of Israel slaves; they are My slaves.” Thus it is not proper that one Jew should work for another with that type of servitude reserved for the service of the Creator. Our greatest accomplishment is that we sit and wait with unfailing trust for the redemption of Hashem, although we do not know when it will come. Waiting without a known limit is our service of Hashem; we may not serve a human being in this fashion.
Waiting indefinitely is such an important Jewish trait, says the Chasam Sofer, that any display of this trait evokes Divine favor. For example, the Midrash says (Shochar Tov Mishlei 10) that when the rabbi is speaking and the people are listening, Hashem forgives the sins of the Jewish people. The reason is that when the ignorant masses hear the rabbi’s complex Torah discourse and do not understand a word, yet they wait patiently for the stories and mussar at the end of the speech, they are exercising their ability to wait, and this shows that they are well-trained in the service of Hashem.
For the same reason, there is a custom to teach children to recite the names of the different stages of the Seder. The point is to teach them patience, that they must sit at the table and wait till all the stages are completed, and only then may they eat the meal.
The opposite of this virtue was exemplified by the members of the tribe of Ephraim, who could not wait for the end of the Egyptian exile, and left early: “The children of Ephraim, armed and shooting their bows, turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of G-d, and in His Torah they refused to walk.” (Tehillim 78:9-10; see Rashi there) Thus their inability to wait eventually let them to reject the entire Torah.
This wicked son as well cannot stand to wait, and therefore he asks, “What is this long service to you? Why do you have to drag it out so much? It’s already time to eat.” We reply to him: “Because of this – in the merit of our waiting for the redemption and not leaving early like the tribe of Ephraim – Hashem redeemed us from Egypt. If you, the impatient son, had been there, you would not have been redeemed.” (Drashos Chasam Sofer v. 2 p. 258)
If He had given us the Torah but not brought us into Eretz Yisroel, it would have been enough.
The Chofetz Chaim writes that from here we learn that it is possible for our people to exist even in exile, as long as we fulfill the commandments of the Torah. But in the reverse situation – to live in Eretz Yisroel and not fulfill the Torah – we cannot survive; that is why the author of the Hagadah did not say, “If He had brought us into Eretz Yisroel but not given us the Torah, it would have been enough.” To hold onto the Land without Torah is impossible. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Vaeschanan)
The Chofetz Chaim elaborates further with an analogy: A man consists of a body and a soul. The soul alone cannot live in the physical world, it must have a body. Nevertheless, the soul alone is a complete and indepently existing entity. The body, on the other hand, when separated from the soul is no more than a piece of earth. So too, the soul of the Jewish people is the holy Torah; the body is Eretz Yisroel. Certainly without a body it is very bitter: we cannot keep the mitzvos that depend on Eretz Yisroel, the wicked gentiles take away our livelihood and persecute us. We are broken physically and spiritually. Certainly it is bitter – we cannot stand it any longer in exile – and yet we are holding out. But Eretz Yisroel without Torah is just a piece of earth. (Kol Kisvei Chofetz Chaim, p. 27)
The Satmar Rav once commented on the word choices of the author of Dayeinu. “If He had given us the Shabbos… If He had given us the Torah… If He had brought us into Eretz Yisroel…” Seemingly, he should have continued to use the word “give”: “If He had given us Eretz Yisroel…” The answer is, when it comes to Eretz Yisroel it is not enough if it seems like Hashem is letting us have it. We must wait for Hashem Himself to actually bring us into the land; until then, we are forbidden to enter. (Machzor Divrei Yoel)
And a branch will come forth from the stem of Yishai, and a sapling from his roots will bear fruit. (Yishaya 11:1)
In this Haftorah for Last Day of Pesach we read about the coming of Moshiach. The Gemora (Succah 53a) tells us a strange story. In the presence of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, Levi performed the feat of “kidah” - bowing down and kissing the earth without supporting his weight with anything but his thumbs, and then raising himself up in the same manner. As a result of this Levi became lame. Rashi explains that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi was the leader of the generation and was constantly worried about all the problems facing the Jewish people, so people used to do tricks in his house in order to cheer him up.
Reb Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchoiv (d. 1831) explained that Levi’s act contained a hidden message: that the future redemption will come completely from above, without any help or support from human beings, for so were we forsworn by the deer and hinds of the field not to arouse the love before it is desired by Hashem. This is the meaning of the verse in Yishaya 63:5, “And I will look and there will be no helper, and I will be silent and there will be no supporter; so My arm will save for Me, and My anger will support Me.” (Ateres Tzvi, Bereishis p. 33)
I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, with deer and hinds of the field, that you not arouse or awaken the love before it is desired! (Shir Hashirim 2:7)
What is the meaning of these three oaths? One, that Israel should not go up as a wall. Two, that the Holy One, blessed is He, made Israel swear not to rebel against the nations of the world, and three, that the Holy One, blessed is He, made the gentiles swear that they would not subjugate Israel too much... The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Israel: If you keep the oaths, good, but if not, I will permit your flesh like the deer and hinds of the fields. (Kesubos 111a)
Reb Tzvi Dov Abraham, rav of Kedushas Levi in Monsey, related that he was once sitting with the Chazon Ish in his room when a man came in, his mouth full of praise and amazement at the Zionist State. We see with our eyes that it is the beginning of the redemption, he said, and spoke at length. The Chazon Ish said, “Bring me a Gemora Kesubos.” They brought a Gemora Kesubos and he showed on page 111a the Three Oaths and their punishment. Then, holding his finger on the place, he said to the man, “Es shteit az men vet azoy ton vet azoy kumen, men hot azoy geton un es iz azoy gekumen, un ir zogt az es iz aschalta degeulah!” (It says that if we do this, this will happen. They did it, and it happened. And you say it’s the beginning of the redemption!) (Mishkenos Haro’im, p. 1195)
Reb Dovid Shmidel related that someone once asked the Chazon Ish, "How could it be that all the nations of the world stood by silently while the Germans killed millions of Jews?" The Chazon Ish replied, "Is it not an explicit Gemora in Kesubos that if the Jewish people violates the Three Oaths, Hashem will permit their flesh like the deer and the hinds of the field?"
Reb Meir Soloveitchik related that the Brisker Rav once asked: Why is the wording of the last oath different from the first two? In the first two (Shir Hashirim 2:7 and 3:5) it says “If you arouse and if you awaken,” and in the last one (8:4) it says “Why do you arouse and why do you awaken?” The answer is, he said, that the first two oaths are said to the Jewish people before they make any attempt to throw off the yoke of exile. "Do not do it..." for if you do it will be bitter. But Shlomo Hamelech foresaw in his ruach hakodesh that there would come a time when the Jews would indeed try to force the end. After they have already tried, and seen the bitter consequences ("I will permit your flesh") Hashem calls to them: Why do you continue in your folly of fighting with the nations? Don't you see what the results are? Why are you asking for more? (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, v. 4 p. 187)
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kahn, the Toldos Ahron Rebbe, wrote in 5754 (1994): “We always saw the constant state of war and terrorism in Eretz Yisroel as the fulfillment of the punishment of the Oaths. Until recently, this punishment was confined to wars, or terrorist acts against the settlers and those on the borders. But now we are seeing a new phenomenon: Jewish blood is spilled like water in the streets of the city. Moreover, these random terrorist acts seem to have no logical reason for them, since the peace process is in progress. But the answer would seem to be that when the accusation was made in heaven that the Jewish people violated the Oaths, defending angels spoke up and said, ‘There is a large population of religious Jews who have nothing to do with this violation – why should they suffer?’ But now that many religious Jews have begun to speak of Eretz Yisroel as if it is ours and it is forbidden to return it, thus aligning themselves with the Zionist ideal, the angels no longer have any defense, and the punishment for the Oaths comes back into force, may Hashem have mercy.” (Igros Divrei Emunah, p. 225)
And He saw our affliction, our toil and our pressure." Our pressure – this refers to forcing. (Hagadah Shel Pesach)
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (1786-1869), in his commentary Maasei Yedei Yotzer, explains that the Jewish people was not deserving of redemption at that time, but with their outcry to G-d they "forced" the end of the exile and were redeemed prematurely. Seemingly, he asks, this would violate the Three Oaths (Kesubos 111a). One of the oaths is not to force the End, and Rashi says that this refers to excessive prayer for the redemption. He answers that the nations were also given an oath: not to afflict the Jews too much. The Egyptians violated this oath, and so the Jews were also permitted to violate their oath.
The Satmar Rav comments that this resolves an important question regarding this comment of Rashi. If it is really prohibited to pray excessively for the end of the exile, then why do we never find the commentators and halachic authorities specifying an exact definition of how much is "excessive"? And it would seem that we do pray a lot for the redemption, mentioning it numerous times in our prayers, three times a day. But according to Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, the answer is that this oath has been null and void almost from the start, because during every phase of the exile, beginning with the destruction of the Temple, the gentile nations have violated their oath and afflicted the Jews too much. It is therefore permitted for us to pray for the redemption as much as we want, and that is why the commentators do not bother to define the limit.
However, this does not mean that the other oath on the Jewish people, which forbids them to ascend to the Holy Land en masse and take it over, is dependent on the gentiles keeping their oath, as Zionists have claimed. If this claim were true, the Jewish oath would have become null and void shortly after the destruction of the Temple, and we would not find the Amoraim Rav Yehuda and Rabbi Zeira discussing whether the oaths prohibit Jews to go from Babylonia to Eretz Yisroel. And as we say in the Hagadah, "In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us." In every generation they have "afflicted the Jews too much" and yet in every generation halachic authorities such as the Rambam, the Rivash, the Rashbash and the Aruch Hashulchan have treated the oaths as binding.
Furthermore, it is clear that the Jews' oath was not made for the gentiles' benefit, since we see that, according to the Yefeh Kol and others, the oath prohibits taking over the land even with the gentiles' explicit permission. Rather, the Jews' oath was meant to preserve our state of exile until the coming of moshiach, sent by G-d at the time He deems correct. To attempt to end the exile before its time is thwarting G-d's plan and is tantamount to heresy. Thus the oaths cannot be understood as a covenant or treaty between the Jews and the gentiles; the Jews' oath is a completely spiritual matter with no connection whatsoever to what the gentiles do.
However, in the case of the oath prohibiting forcing the End, which according to Rashi means excessive prayer, we cannot say that violating the oath is tantamount to heresy, since on the contrary, prayer strengthens the Jew's belief that G-d controls all events and only He can end the exile. Therefore, as long as the gentiles treated the exiled Jews in accordance with G-d's decree and did not exceed their limit, G-d did not want us to pray for the end of exile, since the exile was His plan and is for our benefit. But when the gentiles exceed their limit, their actions emanate from their own free will and not from G-d's decree, and so we may pray to G-d to save us from them. (Vayoel Moshe 1:79)
The question still remains: when the nations exceed their limit, why are we permitted to pray for the coming of moshiach and the final redemption? We should just pray that they stop afflicting the Jews too much, so that the exile planned by G-d can continue for our benefit. Furthermore, the nations have exceeded their limit from the very beginning, and yet we see that the exile has continued for almost 2000 years. Clearly this is G-d's plan, so why are we allowed to pray for the redemption?
We can answer these questions when we realize that the concept of the interdependence of the oaths really has its source in the Midrash. "Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina said: There are two oaths here, one to Israel and one to the nations of the world. He adjured Israel not to rebel against the yoke of the kingdoms, and he adjured the kingdoms not to harden the yoke upon Israel, for if they harden the yoke upon Israel they cause the End to come prematurely" (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:7). Of course, this Midrash does not say what the Zionists claim it says, that if the nations harden their yoke it becomes permitted for Israel to rebel against them and bring the End prematurely. It says that if the nations harden the yoke then G-d will bring the End prematurely. But we see an important thing here: that at a certain point, G-d's reaction to the nations' affliction of the Jews is not just to stop that affliction, but to bring the final redemption.
The reason for this is explained by the prophet Yechezkel (36:20-24): "They came among the nations, and they desecrated My holy name, when it was said of them, they are the nation of Hashem, and have come out of His land. And I had pity on My holy name, which the House of Israel desecrated among the nations where they came. Therefore, say to the House of Israel, so says Hashem G-d: Not for your sake do I act, House of Israel, but for My great name which you have desecrated among the nations where you have come. And I will sanctify My great name, desecrated among the nations, which you have desecrated in their midst, and the nations will know that I am Hashem, said Hashem G-d, when I become sanctified through you before their eyes. And I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land." Rashi (v. 20) says that the desecration of G-d's name lay in the fact that the nations said, "These are G-d's people, and yet G-d could not save them from going into exile." According to this, the redemption should have happened right away, to correct this desecration of the name. But G-d has a purpose for the exile, and so He lets the desecration of His name pass, up to a certain point. As the Talmud (Gittin 56b) says in a play on words, "Who is like You among the mute, Hashem?" G-d remains mute and does not take action to correct the desecration of His name, so that the purpose of exile can be fulfilled. However, the nations are warned that if they harden the yoke on the Jewish people enough, their desecration of G-d's name may reach the point where it outweighs the benefit of exile, and then G-d will bring the End prematurely.
Therefore, as soon as the nations first exceeded their limit, it became permitted for the Jews to pray hard for the redemption. This prayer is not viewed as contradictory to G-d's plan, for we can never know – perhaps the desecration of the name has reached the point at which it outweighs the benefit of exile. But in retrospect, we see that G-d has caused the exile to last this long, because evidently the nations' desecration in the past did not yet reach that point.
This matzo that we eat - what is its reason? Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to rise before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them, as Scripture (Shemos 12:39) states: "And they baked the dough that they took out of Egypt as cakes of unleavened bread, for it could not be leavened, for they were expelled from Egypt and they were not able to tarry, and also provisions they did not make for themselves."
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (1786-1869), in his commentary Maasei Yedei Yotzer on the Haggadah, page 64a, asks: If the reason for eating matzo is to remember the haste of the Exodus, then why did the Jews eat it while still in Egypt, when the Exodus had not yet taken place? Furthermore, why was the haste chosen as the central point we must remember, as opposed to any of the miracles that took place during the Exodus?
He explains that the exile and redemption from Egypt serve as a model for our current exile and the redemption for which we are waiting. During the current exile, Hashem made us swear with the following words (Shir Hashirim 2:7): "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or deer of the field, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired." The Midrash explains that this was an oath not to force the end of exile, because if we do, it will cause bad things to happen to us, G-d forbid. However, Hashem was concerned that after being in exile for a very long time, we would feel as if He had abandoned us or, at least, that He was not in any hurry to redeem us, because He is not in exile and does not feel our pain. We might therefore decide to push for redemption on our own, in order to remind Hashem of our situation.
Therefore Hashem showed us during the Egyptian exile that He was in a greater hurry to redeem us than we were ourselves. The Torah says, "They were not able to tarry," impying that the Jewish people wanted to spend a little extra time in Egypt, but Hashem did not let them stay. He took them out as soon as possible and as quickly as possible. The lesson for us is that if Hashem is not redeeming us now, it is only because redemption is impossible; as soon as it becomes possible He will redeem us without any delay. Therefore we need not push for the redemption with actions of our own.
This is why the oath in Shir Hashirim, warning us not to "arouse or awaken the love before it is desired," is followed immediately by the following verse: "The voice of my beloved, behold it has come, skipping over the mountains and jumping over the hills” (Shir Hashirim 2:8). The Midrash there says, “The voice of my beloved – this refers to Moshe. When he came and told Israel, ‘In this month you will be redeemed,’ they said, ‘Moshe our teacher! How can we be redeemed? Didn’t the Holy One, blessed is He say to Avraham that they will enslave us for 400 years? It has only been 210 years so far.’ He said to them, ‘Since He wishes to redeem you, He does not look at your calculations. He skips over the mountains – the predestined end-times.” The proximity of this verse to the oath is meant to teach that just as in Egypt Hashem shortened the exile as much as possible, today as well we can rest assured that He will take us out of exile as soon as possible, and therefore we must not attempt to push for the end early.
Now, the Torah gives another reason why we eat matzo - it is the bread of poverty (Devarim 16:3). And Chazal say that just as a poor man usually eats a piece of bread rather than a complete loaf, the matzo we eat must also be a piece, not a whole (Pesachim 115b). And we say in the Haggadah, "This is the poor bread that our fathers ate in the Land of Egypt." Why isn’t this reason mentioned in answer to the question "this matzo that we eat"?
The answer is that the two reasons applied at different times of history. When the Jews were powerful and in their land, and even at the very end of the Egyptian exile, when they were about to go free and felt very powerful and important, they needed a reminder of their humble past. If not, they might say, "Our strength and the power of our hands brought us this wealth" (Devarim 8:17); or even if they remembered that Hashem gave them everything, they might forget Moshe's warning (Devarim 9:4) and think that He gave it to them because of their own righteousness. Therefore Hashem commanded that they eat matzo, to remember how they were slaves, so that they should say to themselves, "If it was our own power or righteousness that got us here, why weren't we able to do it earlier? It can only be that Hashem, in His kindness and mercy, redeemed us."
However, during exile this reason does not apply. We are so weak and we suffer so much that there is no fear that we might think thoughts of arrogance and pride. Rather, we eat matzo now for the other reason: to recall the haste with which Hashem took us out of Egypt, and to learn from this that He will take us out of the current exile as quickly as possible.
Now we understand the words of the Haggadah: "This matzo that we eat - what is its reason?" Matzo has two reasons, but the matzo that we eat today, during exile, is to remind us of the haste of the redemption.
Both reasons for matzo are written in the following verse: "For seven days you shall with it eat matzos, bread of poverty, for in haste you went out of the Land of Egypt, so that you will remember the day you went of the Land of Egypt all the days of your life." The Haggadah says that "the days of your life" refers to the daytime, and the word "all" comes to include nighttime. The Maasei Hashem explains daytime as a metaphor for the times when the Jewish people dwelt in its land, and nighttime as a metaphor for exile. Thus, the Torah is saying that because of these two reasons for matzo, we eat matzo and recall the Exodus "all the days" of our history - both in the good times and during exile.