Pesach’s Perfect Pairing: Insights from the’Meshech Chochmah’ and Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik zt”l
By Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, OTS Amiel BaKehila Community Educator – North America
A surprising parallelism exists between Shabbat and Pesach. The Torah itself spotlights this resemblance. This interrelationship is prominently featured in the Ten Commandments. The mitzvah of the Shabbat is linked with our slavery and the Exodus from Egypt: “The seventh day is Shabbat to Hashem…and you shall remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and, your God has taken you out from there…therefore Hashem, your God, has commanded you to make the Shabbat day (Devarim 5:12-15).”
The Meshech Chochma, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843-1926), one of the most unique Torah giants in Eastern Europe in the 20th century, further highlights a fascinating example in which Pesach and Shabbat share commonalities. (Meshech Chochmah, Shemot 12:17)
Rabbi Meir Simcha indicates that the Torah employs the distinctive term ‘shomer’ regarding both Pesach and Shabbat. We find numerous example of this. Regarding Pesach: “U’shemartem et Ha’avodah ha’zot” – “…you shall watch over this service (Shemot 12:25), “Chag Hamatzot Tishmor”, “You shall watch over the Festival of Matzot’ (Shemot 23:15).”Sh’mor Chodesh Ha’Aviv”, “Watch over the month of springtime.” (Devarim 16:1).
Regarding Shabbat we also find numerous examples: “Shamor et Yom HaShabbat Lekadsho”, “Watch over the Shabbat day (Devarim 5:12). ‘Ve’shamru Bnei Yisrael et HaShabbat”, And the Jewish people shall watch over the Shabbat (Shemot 31:16). U’shemartem et HaShabbat , And you shall watch over the Shabbat (Shemot 31:14).
Perhaps the most striking example is the fact that Pesach is actually referred to as ‘Shabbat’: “Me’macharat HaShabbat” “You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Shabbat.” (Vayikra 23:15). This verse obligates the ‘Counting of the Omer’ which begins immediately after the first day of Pesach. Remarkably, the Torah uses the term Shabbat to refer to Pesach.
The numerous examples cited above beg the obvious question: How do we conceptualize the close connection between Pesach and Shabbat?
The Meshech Chochmah makes reference to the special relationship with Hashem that was forged on these days. Both Shabbat and Pesach are emblematic of the Jew’s faith in the Almighty. Shabbat affirms God as the Creator. Pesach serves as a perfect partner with Shabbat in that it proclaims Hashem’s providence and intimate relationship with mankind. When the Jew ‘watches over’ or observes Shabbat and Pesach, we are proudly and passionately giving testimony to these foundational principles.
Rabbi Norman Lamm, a close student of Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik zt”l (1903- 1993), quoted his master, the Rav, “The word Haggadah is not merely the name of the Passover booklet, or the commandment to repeat the story of salvation and redemption. The word ‘Haggadah’ is similar to the word Haggadat Edut, the giving of evidence at a trial,” The night of Pesach we act as witnesses giving testimony to God’s providence and protection. (Rabbi Lamm Reviews OU Haggadah’, OU.org)
Indeed, with the arrival of Shabbat we do the same. We serve as witnesses when we recite the passage Va’yechulu; Friday night following the Maariv amidah this passage is recited standing, out loud, and in unison with the rest of the congregation (Shluchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 268:7). The purpose of this recitation of Vayechulu, is to serve as a form of testimony, proclaiming our belief that God created the world. As such, some authorities require that it must be recited with at least one other person, which symbolizes the need for two witnesses in a court of law to give testimony together (Mishna Berurah 268:19).
On these sacred days we reach out to the Almighty with renewed love and passion. Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that we are only able to give testimony, ‘Haggadat edut,’ regarding the Exodus because we feel as if we were there and experienced salvation first hand. This is the meaning of the Haggadah’s declaration; “Chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim”; One is to feel as if they themselves had just left Egypt.’
Feeling God’s warmth and loving embrace on these sacred nights explains the unique custom on both Shabbat eve and following the Seder to recite the book of Song of Songs. It is the most beautiful love poem ever written, speaking of the love between God and his people. Rabbi Soloveitchik relays his own personal affinity for the night of the Seder. He said: “It is a night of great romance between the Almighty and the Jewish people.”
May we merit, even in these challenging days we are now facing, to find the beauty and ecstasy embedded in each Shabbat and as we gather, b’ezrat Hashem, in joy around the Seder table. We fervently pray for the ‘geulah shleimah’ to arrive soon.