Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pesach 5631 Second Ma'amar

What Should We Think when Performing Mitzvos Whose Reason We Do Not Know?

In the Hagadah the wise son asks, “What are the testimonies, statutes and laws that God our Lord commanded you?”  The Sfas Emes understands that the wise son is asking to understand the reasons for the laws, not the actual laws.  It is to be assumed that he knows the laws.  The question arises, how can he ask for a reason for the statutes?  Statutes do not have a reason.  Included in statutes, for example, are the red heifer, sha’atnez (garments made from wool and linen) and eating non-kosher animals.  These mitzvos have no apparent reason.  How, then, can the wise son ask for the reason for these mitzvos?

David HaMelech, though, taught us, “מַגִּיד דְּבָרָיו לְיַעֲקֹב חֻקָּיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו לְיִשְׂרָאֵל/He told his words to Ya’akov, His statutes and laws to Israel.” (Tehilim 147:19)  We see that really, statutes have meaning as well.  How can we come to know the reasons for the statutes?  The Sfas Emes explains that the way to attain an understanding of the statutes is by doing them even without understanding but with the faith that they have meaning.  By performing these mitzvos without knowing or understanding the reason, we will merit knowing the reason as well.[1]  

The mitzvah of eating matzah alludes to this.  Matzah is made of nothing but flour and water.  It contains no additional spices or flavors.  It has no additional taste.  In Hebrew the same word is used for taste and for reason – טַעַם.  We eat the matzah without adding any other flavor to it to show that the mitzvah itself, sans any reason, is enough for us.

Appropriately, the answer we give the wise son is, “one is not to eat any dessert after the Pesach-lamb.”  He wants to know the טַעַם/reason for the mitzvos including the statutes.  We tell him that the way to know the reasons is to do them without knowing the reason but with faith in God who commanded us.  We give him a hint when we tell him not to add to the טַעַם/taste of the Korban Pesach.”

Even though we do not bring the Pesach lamb as a sacrifice today, this halachah applies nowadays as well.  We eat matzah at the end of the Seder to commemorate the Korban Pesach.  We do not eat anything after the matzah so that only the taste of the matzah lingers.  This year let us contemplate, as we eat the Afikoman, the words of the Sfas Emes.  Let us associate the טַעַם/taste of the Afikoman with the טַעַם/reason for the חוּקִים/statutes and may we merit understanding them as well.

[1]See Parshas Parah 5631 First and Second Ma’amarim 2 for more detail on the reasons of חוקים/statutes.

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