Linking Generations


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutz-By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Some of the most dramatic and compelling stories of the Second World War period revolve around the awful parting moments, when parents were being separated from their beloved children, roshei yeshiva from their talmidim, and rabbonim from their kehillos. Then the shots rang out.

During those heightened moments, the older generation passed on to the younger one a final message. They took advantage of their final moments to transmit a legacy. Baalei batim led from their homes by cruel soldiers, merchants ripped away from their sons at concentration camp entrances, and rabbonim torn sadistically from their flocks all passed on the very same message. Whether they were Hungarian, Polish or Lithuanian, the message was identical.

“You’re a Yid. The Ribbono Shel Olam loves you and He always will, despite the darkness all around. Happier, brighter times will come. There have always been resho’im and always will be, but Hashem’s love for us endures while they fade. It isn’t always easy to be a Yid, but it is always fulfilling and real. Be strong, my child.”

Those dramatic exchanges form the foundation of our emunah in this long, bitter golus. Lehagid baboker chasdecha ve’emunascha baleilos.

Boruch Hashem, we were never forced to condense our entire lives into one hurried sentence. At the Seder, however, we have the opportunity to leave our children with a single message, a clear, unequivocal statement of what we want from them and what we stand for and believe.

Chazal direct us on how we should conduct ourselves at the Seder. The Mishnah in Maseches Pesochim (115b) which we relate at the Seder states, “Bechol dor vador chayov adom liros es atzmo ke’ilu hu yotzah miMitzrayim In every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he left Mitzrayim.”

The wording of this statement is puzzling. Why do Chazal codify the obligation as a generational responsibility? The Mishnah and Haggadah should have stated that every year we are obligated at the Seder to view ourselves as if we have been freed from servitude. With the application of this chiyuv connected to the night of Pesach, it is intriguing that Chazal affirm the obligation as generational – bechol dor vador, and not as annual – bechol shanah veshanah.

While contemplating this question, think of Sedorim past, when you were a child. Most likely, central to the picture is the presence of a zaide, a voice that can address the younger people and tell them, “Yes, kinderlach, it’s still true, but Hakadosh Boruch Hu matzileinu miyodom.

My own earliest Seder memories take me to the Detroit home of my zaide, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, who exuded sweetness, joy and love that made Yiddishkeit along with its rituals and rules the only things anyone could want.

The images are still so clear, including that of snatching his Afikoman and, with all the certainty and zeal of a new Mishnayos-learner, asking for a set of Mishnayos in return. He bought me a set, which I still cherish. I was bursting with pride.

I knew no Yiddish and the zaide’s English was heavily accented, but he possessed the secret of midor ledor. He knew how to transmit the holy shprach of his rabbeim, the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Doniel of Kelm, to his American grandchildren.

With that, all the trappings of his Pesach table, including the macaroons he would give us from a blue-and-white can, the walnuts, the seltzer and the niggunim, are painted with colors of chavivus and simcha, forever associated with the thrill of being a Yid.

This picture and the one we tried to portray on the cover of the Yated Pesach edition is what Chazal were hinting at when they codified the fundamentals of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim as a generational obligation. At the Seder, when we read aloud that Mishnah and engage in fulfilling the annual obligation of sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, we have to know that the obligation is generational in nature. The older generation passes on to the younger generation the richness of the mesorah and the tales of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

This idea is reinforced by the version of the Mishnah as codified by the Rambam and as recited at the Seder by Sefardim, who follow his redaction of the Chazal. Rather than saying that the obligation is for every person, “liros es atzmo, to imagine oneself as if one has left Mitzrayim,” the Rambam writes in his Haggadah that the obligation is “leharos es atzmo, to demonstrate for others that one left.” This may be a further reflection of the role of parents and grandparents to transmit the joy and richness of freedom, and what it means to be a Jew, to all who have gathered at the Seder. It is not sufficient to feel that way yourself. You have to endeavor to pass on that feeling to your offspring.

With this we can understand as well why the Baal Haggadah writes in the popular portion of Vehi She’omdah, “shebechol dor vador omdim oleinu lechaloseinu.” Referring to the ever-present enemies of the Jewish people, we proclaim that in every generation they rise up to destroy us. In reality, those who seek to destroy us pop up on a regular basis. The challenge is not once in a generation. We are seemingly in a constant battle for our survival. The unending list of those who seek to do us harm is constantly evolving. Each year, it seems, a new rosha makes headlines by dint of threats and scare tactics. Usually, the aggressor is an outsider. Regrettably, sometimes, the belligerent antagonist is homegrown.

Every generation has an obligation to tell the next dor about the tribulations they experienced and how Hashem saved them. Every person is a survivor in one way or another of someone who was “omad aleinu lechaloseinu.” Every older person has an inspirational tale to tell the younger generation of how Hashem helped him face down his challenges and go on to thrive. Therefore, the Baal Haggadah wrote the paragraph of Vehi She’omdah with generational terminology.

Rav Yaakov Bender writes in this week’s Chinuch Roundtable about his own Sedorim, relating that his mother, the noted mechaneches, would join his family for Pesach. Each year at the Seder, Rebbetzin Bender would recount to her grandchildren anecdotes about how she survived the Holocaust. It was a highlight of the Seder, as the children learned how Hashem watched over her and, by extension, how He watches over them. The children would emerge from the Seder with a renewed sense of the privilege they have as links in a golden chain stretching back to Har Sinai.

Besides the chizuk in emunah, our children receive valuable chinuch to stand tall and proud, and a call to continue the chain.

Their zaides and bubbes stared down Poles, Russians, Nazis and Magyars. Their spiritual forebears in the yeshivos battled Maskilim, Communists, Bundists, Yiddishists, and secular Zionists. All of these foes have failed in their promises of change and a better tomorrow. We endured, while they have largely dissipated. Though we always emerged standing, some years taller than others, their progeny are present bechol dor vador, seeking to stem our growth and swallow us.

Perhaps another reason we refer to the enemies of our people in generational terms is because each generation has its own unique nisyonos. Every generation gives birth not only to tyrants with new delusions, but also to styles, language, technology and advances with the potential to demoralize us and disconnect us from Torah.

We must know that the Torah addresses each one. The Torah speaks to all generations. The Torah is not a victim of a generational gap, and never becomes outdated. No matter what questions are confounding a given era, the answers are in the Torah. Thus, we say that the Torah was given in seventy languages. Its Divine wisdom shines like rays of welcome light into all epochs of history and corners of the globe, its lessons a living reality for each one. We therefore say, “Udvorcha emes vekayom lo’ad.” The truth of Torah is eternal.

This might well be the depth of the connection forged by the Baal Haggadah between the thanksgiving we offer for the Torah, and the Arba’ah Bonim. We recite the passage of “Boruch hamakom, boruch Hu, boruch shenosan Torah,” praising Hashem for giving us the Torah, and follow it with paragraphs about the different types of children the Torah speaks to, “Keneged arba’ah bonim dibrah Torah.”

We thank Hashem that the Torah can be transmitted from generation to generation, that its notes and cadences can reach the ears of all types of children, and that it is relevant and meaningful to each Jewish child. It’s a celebration of the timeless and enduring relevance of the Torah.

This represents an obligation upon every parent to work to find the point where their son can be reached. No one is ever too far gone, too disinterested or too worn out to be written off and to be separated from Torah. There is something in the Torah for everyone. The Torah speaks to every child. Although sometimes it takes superhuman effort, no parent should ever give up on connecting with any of their children, as wayward as they appear to be. Boruch Hamakom.

In the years immediately following the Holocaust, yeshivos formed classes comprised of survivor children in order to better reach them. Chronologically, the poor refugees who populated those classes were teenagers, but there was nothing young about them. Their youth was spent running for their lives, being dragged from place to place, never knowing what the next day would bring. They dealt with every form of depravation possible, and then, when the smoke cleared and the war ended, in more cases than not, they were orphaned and all alone in this world. They had nothing, they knew no one, and hunger and loneliness were their constant companions. When they arrived in America, they were sent to yeshiva and urged to learn to try and compensate for the lost years.

It wasn’t easy acclimating to a yeshiva and trying to learn. It was difficult for many of them to sit in a constrained classroom in a school full of strange people speaking a strange language, especially when the American culture seemed so tempting.

One principal of a school with such students did his best to provide inspiration for them and motivate them to appreciate the meaning and depth that existed between the bais medrash walls they viewed as confining. Failing, he asked the Bobover Rebbe, who had survived the ravages of the war, to speak to the boys.

He was somewhat of a legend among the survivors. The boys were eager to meet someone who, like them, had experienced the war’s horrors.

The rebbe entered the auditorium and looked around at the students. There wasn’t much that he could say to them. He looked into their eyes and into their hearts, searching for a message that could reach them, in their place.

Finally, he stepped back and opened Sefer Mishlei, reading to them words written by Shlomo Hamelech, the wisest of all men. “Beni, al teileich bederech itom My son, do not walk in their ways, restrain your foot from their path…”

The rebbe then called upon a young talmid to join him at the podium. The boy came up to the front holding a violin. “Shpil, mein kind,” the rebbe said. As he played, plaintive sounds began filling the room. The rebbe began singing, matching the tune with words.  “Beni, Beni, Beni,” he sang, his tone and expression making it clear that he was talking to them, all of them, expressing a gentle, melodic plea on behalf of their martyred fathers and mothers. His wistful song and his talmid’s music echoed across the room.

Again and again, he sang the words, verses that were so very real and relevant to them and their struggles. They could not sing along; they were sobbing. They were overcome by the message and the love.

Finally, much later, the violin was put down and the rebbe looked out at the boys, his new friends, his sons. They weren’t alone. They weren’t floundering anymore.

The Bobover Rebbe rebuilt here what he had lost, because he found a message that was firmer than the changes all around. My zaide, who learned in Radin and Kelm, was forced to send his own children to public school after the war, but he managed to plant Yiddishe pride in generations of loving children and ainiklach, raising a family of gedolei Torah, because he held on tight, confident in the strength of the music and melodies that his life played out.

Chazal teach that even as slaves in Mitzrayim, the Bnei Yisroel remained loyal to their heritage. The fact that “lo shinu es leshonom shemom umalbushom tells us much about their confidence in the words of Hashem and their certainty that they would be freed. We have to remain focused, despite the distractions of temporary turbulence all around us, knowing our place in a sacred chain that goes back midor dor, leading to Moshiach.

The statement thanking Hakadosh Boruch Hu for giving us the Torah which speaks keneged the Arba Bonim is preceded by the story of Rabi Elazar ben Azarya, who is quoted as remarking that he was like a seventy-year-old man, yet he did not merit for Yetzias Mitzrayim to be proclaimed at night as well as by day. We know that when he said that, he was only eighteen years old. Chazal say that he miraculously took on an older, wizened appearance so that he would be able to assert authority as the new av bais din.

Perhaps there is another dimension to that part of his statement.

All the drashos of Chazal which derive halachos from pesukim are not the original creations of the Tanno’im and Amora’im in whose names they are quoted. Rather, they are teachings that were passed down from rebbi to talmid, from generation to generation, all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai. The Mishnah and Gemara attribute the lessons to the Torah giant among Chazal who brought it to the bais medrash.

Perhaps Rabi Elazar ben Azarya was of the sentiment that the parsha of Yetzias Mitzrayim should be recited at night, but he had no mesorah for it from the dor that preceded him. It was only after Ben Zoma revealed the lesson from a posuk that Rabi Elazar was able to announce it as halacha. This is reflected by his statement that it was as if he was seventy years old, meaning that he confirmed his ruling through a mesorah transmitted by the previous generation. This, once again, reinforces the generational nature of the Seder.

Rav Zundel Kroizer, in his peirush on the Haggadah, explains the dispute between Rabi Elazar ben Azarya and Ben Zoma with the chachomim who say that there is no obligation to recite Yetzias Mitzrayim at night. He says that the chachomim agree that there is a steady mitzvah to remember Yetzias Mitzrayim, at night as well as by day. The point of contention was whether it is sufficient to remember Yetzias Mitzrayim or if it must be spoken.

Perhaps we can add that this is the reason we mention it at the Seder. We are reminding everyone present that it is not sufficient to remember Yetzias Mitzrayim for yourself. It is not enough to be thankful for the Hashgochah Protis that you yourself have experienced. You must speak about it and proclaim it for all to hear. Bechol dor vador.

The Mechiltah teaches that it was on the night of the Seder that the visiting malochim told Avrohom and Sorah that she would give birth to Yitzchok the following year.

Additionally, the Zohar and Pirkei D’Rabi Eliezer teach that it was on the night of the Seder, that Yitzchok transferred the brachos to Yaakov.

Rav Chaim Vital is often quoted as having said that the energy of a Yom Tov which caused a miracle whose occurrence is being celebrated is present each year on that day.

Leil haSeder, heralding back to the avos, is a night laden with the spiritual power and ability to transfer our heritage and blessings to our children. We have to do what we can to maximize the opportunity the evening presents to us.

Those figures, fathers bestowing farewell messages to children in Auschwitz or elsewhere, seemed so tragic, but now we know that they were really triumphant, for this is our mission – to transmit these riches and safeguard them for another dor. It’s the only thing that endures.

No matter our station in life, we sit at the Seder like kings and queens and transmit our blessings and beliefs, our Torah and mesorah, to the next generation. We talk of Paroh and the others who were “omdim aleinu.” We note that they are gone and forgotten, as those who plot and work against us will shortly be. We discuss divrei Torah, we tell tales, enjoy each other’s company; proudly display our matzos, raise our kosos; and sing songs of victory and jubilation, as Jews have done bechol dor vador forever and ever, lehovi limos haMoshiach, bekarov beyomeinu. Amein.

Have a kosheren and freilichen Yom Tov.

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  1. During those heightened moments…
    These were not merely “heightened” moments. These were moments — for those who did — that laid aside olam hazeh and made manifest the sheker of this world. These were spiritually seminal moments wherein the soul triumphed all that is material and transient and temporal and established HaShem’s Soverignty and sole and singular rulership of creation. These were the moments when Hashem said, “See what creatures I have created in My world.”

    anyone have more info on Rabbi Levin from Detroit. SOunds like a holy man but can;t find info on him online.

  3. “including the macaroons he would give us from a blue-and-white can”

    How beautiful that he even remembers this level of detail about the food containers. I cannot imagine the spiritual intensity of the “meat” of his Seder.

    I was not so fortunate as to have such Sedorim growing up. I draw inspiration from anecdotes like this to create my own family’s Seder experience.