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Bitterness and Blessing

Rabbi Stewart WeissNissan 12 5776
9
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Every time I open my Hagada, in prep for the Seder, another intriguing question jumps out at me.

A crucial section of the Hagada is the explanation of the three key elements of the Chag: Pesach, Matza & Maror. We know this is important because there in the intro, Rabban Gamliel says explicitly: "Whoever does not explain these items has not fulfilled his obligation!"

But I’m puzzled: Why is Maror the last food to be listed?

We know that the Seder once concluded with the eating of the Korban Pesach – today we use a Matza for that – so why aren’t either one of those items listed last, rather than the bitter herbs? What message is being sent to us?

I suggest that this rather odd arrangement is just one more element in the overall Seder theme of Hakarat HaTov - appreciation for all that G-d does for us. For only when we lose something important, when life does not turn exactly our way, do we comprehend just how much
we need Hashem and depend upon Him for all our needs.

Rav S. R. Hirsch expounds on this idea: "Only the Maror – as it symbolizes the bitter trials in one’s life – can demonstrate to the individual that G-d is his personal guardian. For only in periods of bitterness does one learn to appreciate the precious value of a family, a community, a nation. Only through this unique crucible of Maror do we acknowledge our helplessness and lack of independence, and learn to cast our burden on Hashem. It is, ironically, only by tasting the bitterness of the Maror that can we also taste the sweetness of the Pesach lamb and the Matza."

The answer we give to the Wise Child, the Chacham – "Ayn maftirin achar haPesach Afikoman - to refrain from eating dessert after eating the Afikoman, is clear in its message: After all our learning, after all our Jewish experience, what is most crucial is the taste left in our mouths. That intangible is often the most important factor – and the greatest single challenge - in the continuing transmission of our tradition.

We want the lingering taste, the "bottom line" feeling of Judaism to be positive & sweet, & so we do not want to end our Seder with a bite of Maror. Yet at the same time, we know that life – especially Jewish life – can be touched by sadness, suffering & hardship. And so we also do not want to "sugar-coat" reality. We grit our teeth, we taste the Maror, & then we give thanks for the overwhelmingly positive privilege of being Jewish.

Chag Kasher V'Sameach to all!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.

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