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Parshas Tzav [Hagadol] 5772

The Better and the Bitter

In just one week’s time, Jews all around the world will be sitting together for yet another Passover Seder. One of the most prominent features of the Seder is the part in which we highlight the three main ritual foods eaten on Passover – Pesach (the Passover sacrifice that was eaten at the Seder when the Holy Temple still stood in Jerusalem), Matzah (the Unleavened Bread), and Maror (the Bitter Herbs).

As we say at the end of the long Maggid section of the Passover Haggadah: “Rabban Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not discuss the following three things on Passover has not fulfilled his obligation. They are: Pesach, Matzah, Maror. “

The difficulty is with the order in which these three are said. After all, the Jews were first enslaved by their Egyptian oppressors, symbolized by the Bitter Herbs, and only after that did G-d “pass over” their homes during the Plague of the Firstborn, symbolized by the Passover sacrifice, and escape from Egypt to freedom, symbolized by the Unleavened Bread. So why then is the bitter Maror mentioned last?

We can answer this question with another question (which is the Jewish thing to do anyway). In this week’s Torah Portion, Parshas Tzav, we find the laws of various sacrifices, including the Korban Todah, the “Thanksgiving Offering”.

When the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem) was standing, a person who survived a potentially life-threatening situation – e.g. crossing a desert or a sea, imprisonment or serious illness – brought a Korban Todah to express his gratitude to G-d for saving him (see Leviticus 7:12-15).

The Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah (9:7) states: “Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi, and Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Menachem Degalia said: In the future (the Messianic Era) all sacrifices will be nullified except for the Korban Todah.”

[The commentators clarify that this statement refers only to individual sacrifices which are generally brought as atonement for sins, and since there will be no more sinning in the Messianic Era, the sacrifices will become unnecessary and will thus be nullified. However, communal sacrifices, such as the Mussaf offering brought in the Temple on Shabbos and the Festivals, will certainly not be nullified when the Messiah comes.]

The question we can ask is why we will even need a Korban Todah in the Messianic Era – after all, our tradition teaches that there will be no more pain and suffering nor any life-threatening ordeals when the Messiah comes. So why will the thanksgiving offering not be nullified along with the other sacrifices?

The beautiful answer is that when the Messiah comes, we will be given such total clarity, that we will be able to look back at our individual lives and at our collective history as a people and actually thank G-d for all the suffering and ordeals that we went through in the past, realizing then that all those tzaros that we thought were so bad were really the best thing for us and exactly what we needed in order for us to grow in the way that G-d expected from us.

A story is told about a young student of the Ramban (the great 13th–century Torah sage and philosopher, otherwise known as Nachmanides) who was very ill and who came to his Rabbi for advice and support. Ramban told him that in the upper realms of heaven there is a special chamber in which G-d’s Divine Presence dwells and where decisions and judgments are made for this world. He then handed his student a special Kabbalistic amulet, and told him that as he ascended heavenward after leaving this world, this amulet would allow him access to that special chamber. Once there, he should ask of G-d all the many questions that Ramban had about the way G-d runs the world, and especially why he had to make this young man suffer and die at such a young age. Ramban wrote down all his questions on a piece of paper and handed it to the student, and he requested that the student come back to him later in a dream to tell him the answers he would receive. The student died, and soon after that he appeared to his Rabbi and told him what happened. The amulet got him in to that upper chamber just as Ramban had said it would, and he was about to start asking G-d all the Ramban’s questions – but then he realized that there were no questions at all, for in the “World of Truth” everything is just and perfect and fair since G-d knows best.

With this we can understand why we mention the Maror after the Pesach and the Matzah at the Passover Seder. It is sometimes only after we have been redeemed from our difficult situation and things have become better for us that we can have the clarity and the hindsight to realize that even the bitter times were also part of G-d’s plan and exactly what we needed at the time. And then we can thank G-d not just for the Pesach and the Matzah, but even for the Maror – just as our ancestors did way back in Egypt.

Let us hope that we will live to see the Messianic Era when G-d’s Divine Plan for the world will be revealed to mankind, and all our questions will be nullified. Amen!

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