Perhaps we can add one more interpretation
lmost everyone has their favorite part of the Seder. Ask my children what mine is and they will probably tell you it is the singing of Al achas kamah v’chamah, which immediately follows Dayeinu. We sing it to the niggun I learned in first grade from the unforgettable and legendary Rabbi Rephoel Andrusier a”h, then of Boston, Massachusetts, and later of Camp Agudah fame. Even if chatzos is looming, I will not be denied the indescribable simchah I feel during these precious moments, all the way to the very last ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay, ay.
I have often wondered what it is that makes this little ditty so important to me and what its power is to bring me such ecstasy more than 50 years since I first sang it.
One of the more studied portions of the Haggadah is the section dealing with the arba’ah banim. The rasha asks, “Mah ha’avodah hazos lachem?” (What is this work that you are doing?) Countless interpretations have been suggested to address the depth and even the simple understanding of this question, which some explain is not a question at all, but rather a statement of rejection of all that the Torah has to offer.
Perhaps we can add one more interpretation.
If we look in the Chumash and follow the narrative preceding the rasha’s question we will discover that the word “lachem — for you” appears no fewer than ten times before the question of “Mah ha’avodah hazos lachem.” For example, we find this word used in the context of the mitzvah to reckon Nissan as the first month (“Hachodesh hazeh lachem”), the directive to smear the blood of the Korban Pesach on the doorposts (“V’hayah hadam lachem l’os”), the command to bring a sheep into the house for the Korban Pesach (“Mishchu u’kechu lachem tzon”).
What is the significance of the rasha’s use of this oft-repeated word, “lachem”?
The answer may lie in Rashi’s commentary in the beginning of parshas Lech Lecha, where Avraham Avinu is commanded to leave his homeland for an uncharted and unknown future. Rashi interprets the word “lecha” as l’tovas’cha ul’hanaas’cha, for your own good and benefit. Two additional mentions of lachem in the parashah of Korban Pesach refer to the preparation of food for Yom Tov, and Klal Yisrael reaching Eretz Yisrael and bringing the Korban Pesach there. It is easy to understand how preparing delicacies for Yom Tov or entering Eretz Yisrael is lachem. Similarly, Sforno explains that the mitzvah of Hachodesh hazeh lachem demonstrates that we are now in charge of our own time, as opposed being subject to Pharaoh’s whims. That is clearly lachem. But is blood dripping down the doorpost really lachem? And how about having to examine the lively little sheep you plan on using for the Korban Pesach for four days before Erev Yom Tov? Where is the lachem there?
The rasha’s intention is: This avodah has no geshmak. It doesn’t speak to me. It’s messy, it’s smelly, and it’s hardly my idea of a holiday. This is why, had he been in Mitzrayim, he would not have had the merit to leave, for the whole purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was for the sake of “Taavdun es haElokim al hahar hazeh”: to embrace Hashem’s avodah as the sweetest and most pleasurable gift.
This puts the onus on us, the adults in the room. We must create the atmosphere that conveys to our children that it is all lachem — from the cleaning to the preparing to the discomfort of eating in the basements or on the porch in the weeks leading up to Pesach, and to the Seder itself. It is all lachem.
I recall seeing a commentator explain that the response of “and you also knock out his teeth” given to the rasha is really a “lashon sagi nahor,” directed at the father. The Gemara at the end of Maseches Sotah teaches that teeth are an allusion to children. What the Haggadah is really doing is admonishing the father and saying, “You, too, are at fault. Knock out your teeth.” In other words, the failure of your child to follow the straight path may be due to your inability to give over the feeling that everything, even the most difficult avodah, is also lachem, for our own good and benefit.
How tragic is it to read of a sh’eilah a father brought to his rav regarding an oath his son made never to recite Bircas Hamazon, after his father kept badgering him over small and insignificant details of the proper way to bentsh. The father wanted to know if the oath was valid.
Whose responsibility was that?
Had Klal Yisrael not felt that all the work that accompanies the Korban Pesach was an avodah that is truly lachem, there would have been no purpose and meaning in exchanging their status as avdei Pharaoh for the status of avdei Hashem.
The impressions left on young children are forever, as Chazal (Shabbos 22a) taught that girsa d’yankusa remains with us far longer than what we learn as adults. The lachem in Rabbi Andrusier’s first-grade class was palpable, and remains palpable down to the roots of my neshamah decades later. Between the rebbi’s booming voice and the dancing around the room, you just loved Dayeinu and its subsequent “Al achas.” I can still feel it today.
Inasmuch as the message can only be absorbed through our own display of satisfaction and simchah, there is another layer to the formula for transmitting this fundamental foundation of love for our Torah and mitzvos. It is the messenger himself and his ability to connect with the recipient.
The Pnei Menachem of Gur ztz”l described (as recorded in Tuvcha Yabiu, Parshas Bo) how, despite the busy schedule of his father, the Imrei Emes, and the latter’s devotion to his chassidim before Pesach, he would give his children extra attention in the days before Yom Tov, particularly on Erev Pesach itself. In order to further strengthen the father-son bond, the Imrei Emes would tuck the future Rebbe into his (the Rebbe’s) bed in the afternoon so that the child would be well rested for the Seder. Although the Pnei Menachem comments that his father’s intentions were really to keep his son out of the Rebbetzin’s way (which would be commendable as well), the true intention was not lost on anybody: A child feels that loving bond — whether he is a future leader of Klal Yisrael or a lesser-known member of the tribe. The stronger that feeling, the greater the chances that the message won’t be lost on him — not now, and not later.
Many years after graduating first grade, I found myself in Brooklyn, taking my nephew to school as a talmid in Yeshiva Torah Temimah. I had been advised to enter the classroom and give shalom to the rebbi, who might know me. I don’t recall if he was tipped off or not, but as soon as I entered the room, Rabbi Andrusier jumped out of his chair and lovingly embraced me. I could just feel the simple love of first grade all over again. After a few minutes of catching up on the many years since we had last seen each other, I informed him of how I still sing “Al achas” at the Seder. No wonder! It was the legacy of love given over by Rabbi Andrusier. We had connected again!
Let’s utilize every moment we have to strengthen those bonds with anyone who will absorb the message of the season. They may be our own children, or maybe someone else’s. But the impression will last forever.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 703. Rabbi Henoch Plotnik is the mara d’asra of Congregation Bais Tefila and a ram in Yeshivas Meor HaTorah in Chicago.
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