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Shabbat Parashat Tzav | 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: Maror Is Sweet

Harav Yosef Carmel

The mishna and gemara are clear that the telling of the story of the Exodus on the night of the Pesach seder progresses from the negative (“We were slaves to Pharaoh”) to the positive. Rabban Gamliel also stresses that the story must include mention of the maror, the bitter herbs that we eat that night. What is the significance of the maror in this story?

The Ritva explains simply. One can appreciate the liberation more completely if he starts out with the perspective of the lows that we reached. The contrast helps us be more thankful for the blessing of liberation. The Maharsha says that at the time that we celebrate our success, we should not be too taken with our status but should be humbled by the memory of our lowliness. Both of these approaches agree that the maror is not itself connected to the liberation.

Some of the great Hassidic thinkers took an approach that sees the maror as part of the liberation process for which we thank Hashem. The Noam Elimelech explains that if not for the bitterness of the subjugation, our forefathers would have assimilated in Egypt; the bitterness helped them remain unique and ultimately fit for redemption.

Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin says that the bitter herbs are a reminder of an extremely early negative element. After Adam’s sin, Hashem decreed upon him, “You shall eat from the grass of the field” (Bereishit 3:18). By eating the maror in a holy manner, we fix some of what was ruined at the time. As he says, even the bitter part was so that everything would eventually be “very good” (based on Bereishit 1:31).

The Sefat Emet takes us in a different direction. The maror teaches us to believe that the days of exile and affliction were for the best by enabling us to enter the covenant with Hashem. After the redemption from Egypt, we became like a new nation, indeed like a convert who takes on a new identity, as if reborn. We were not, he argues, in Egypt by chance, but to prepare to acquire shleimut (completeness). It is like one who puts silver in the fire to purify it. In other words, the enslavement was part of the plan for liberation.

He also gives another explanation. We developed an ability to sweeten the bitterness of the night, which is learned from the eating of the maror. This enables us to withstand all of the bitterness of our pain throughout the years of exiles and persecutions.

May He who stood up for our fathers and for us continue to save us from the hands of our enemies. 

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