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  • Shira Cohen

Winning Divrei Torahs, Day 2

On the second day of Shiriyah, we were lucky enough to have not one but two Dvar Torah winners: Sophomore Tamir Cohen along with Junior, and grade general, Jasmin Edalati. Their Dvar Torahs were both unique and embodied their grade’s theme. The Sophomores’ theme was the 4 Cups of Wine and the Juniors’ theme was the 4 Banim.

Tamir’s Dvar Torah was the following;

Over the course of the Pesach Seder, we drink four cups of wine, each of which acts as a symbol of one of the four leshonot of geula, or the four stages of our redemption. As the pasuk says, “VeHotzeiti, VeHitzalti, veGa’alti, veLakachti” – “I will take you out, I will save you, I will redeem you, and I will take you.”

I want to focus specifically on the second cup, the cup of salvation. This cup represents the geographic redemption of the Jewish nation from Egypt to Ramses, and we drink it during the Magid portion of the Seder. Consistent with the theme of redemption is the blessing of Birkat hageula, which we say right before drinking the cup.

Now, in general, the topics in Maggid range from the events dealing with our enslavement in Egypt to those dealing with our departure, with many others in between. Unfortunately, too often, we tend to view the exodus not as something that happened to our ancestors over 3000 years ago, not something that we can really relate to today.

When examining the Pesach story, it’s important to remember that Exodus was not simply an event that happened to us. It is an event that molded our Jewish identity. It is who we are. It is the life of each one of us, occurring again and again, in our wrestling match with the world, in our struggle with our own selves. The experience of leaving Egypt left a permanent mark on our souls, and we never stopped doing it. A Jew who has stopped exiting Egypt has ceased to allow his soul to breathe.

Perhaps this explanation can give us some insight into the depth of the Pesach Seder. On all chagim, we are obligated to do certain things, whether it be shaking a lulav or blowing the shofar. Yet, at the same time, there is something conceptually and substantively unique about Pesach. By all other chagim, we don’t necessarily have to view ourselves in the situation that we are commemorating. For example, during Sukkot, there is no obligation to sit and meditate on the significance of the Annanay HaKavod, or clouds of glory, that protected us in the desert. However, as the Mishna says with regards to Pesach, “B'chol dor vador chayav adam lir'ot et atzmo k'ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim.” In EVERY generation, it is the duty of man to consider himself as if HE HIMSELF was saved from Egypt. In other words, we have a mitzvah to think about the fact that God took us out of Egypt RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW in the year 5781. And it’s not just men who are supposed to do this. Unlike most other positive time-bound mitzvot, EVEN women are obligated in this mitzvah.

On top of that, even children are supposed to be involved in the mitzvah. So much so, that as the gemara relates, Rebbi akiva would always encourage his disciples to stay in the Beit Midrash and learn late into the night. However, there were only two days in the entire year where he would actually announce that the men should stop learning early and should go home to their families. One of these nights was the night before Pesach. Why? Because Rebbi akiva wanted the men to put their children to sleep so that they would be well rested and in the right state of mind for the Pesach seder.

Now, the pressing question is, How do we put ourselves into this mindset? Well, the four cups play a large role in that.

As the netziv explains, the idea of the 4 cups is that Geulah is a gradual process. You don’t go from being a slave to a free man overnight. Even if the shackles are off, there is a psychological adjustment, a social adjustment that has to take place. Chazal used 4 cups to represent this gradual shift because when a person drinks, there is a gradual change that happens as the person drifts deeper into inebriation. The wine is what helps us truly feel free.

Jasmine’s Dvar Torah was as follows:

The juniors theme this year is the Arba Banim which are featured in the haggadah we read on Pesach. As we read their questions, The chacham, smartest of the four, specifically asks his father an important question, that is, “"What are the testimonies, the rules, and the ordinances that Hashem has commanded you?" he's basically asking what are the rules that hashem has placed upon us for the sake of studying, teaching, and performing. Now, I'd like to stray away from other answers that are given, and focus on the answer given by the Torah, specifically in the book of devarim. Here, we find an interesting response to the chachams question, which at first appears to be completely unrelated to the question. After the chacham asks his question, you'd expect to hear advice explaining how he might learn the Torah and its principals, but here, the answer provided by the Torah is a simple group of pesukim in the sefer devarim about yetiyat mitzrayim which goes as follows.

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Hashem brought great and terrible miracles upon Egypt, and upon Pharaoh and his entire house before our very eyes. He took us out of there in order to bring us to the land that he swore to our forefathers, and to give it to us. And Hashem commanded us to perform all of these decrees, so that we fear the Lord our Hashem forever, for our own good, in order that we survive as we are today.

Now, this answer probably filled your head with questions like it did mine, but the main one would have to be , did the son not ask what the decrees of Hashem are and how to learn them? And even more than that Why are we telling him a story from the past to answer his question? How could this be the answer to the chachams question?

Here's how it is:

We figure out that the Torah is interpreting his question in a different light. He's not asking what are the rules, decrees and testimonies of Hashem, but WHY do we follow these rules, decrees and testimonies. With this being the question, we can understand why the Torah gives these pesukim from yetziat mitzrayim as the answer. To understand why we follow the mitzvot, we have to backtrack to the point in time where we initially became Hashem's chosen people. The gift of these rules, decrees and testimonies are a logical result of that point in time. We need to learn of our history to learn why we do and follow the things we do today.

This Shyriah, we can in some way relate to the question of the chacham. Everyone who passes in and out of North Shore is considered family. You can also call it a nation, like Bnei Yisrael. As incoming freshmen, we learnt what Shiriyah was all about through watching other grades and hearing the stories from alumni. It's about Learning how to use each other's strengths, bonding over hardships and success, and most importantly Coming together as a family. Without hearing about where it started with the alumni, we wouldn't understand the purpose of Shiriyah today. For most people, this Shiriyah is their first in school Shiriyah due to covid. All they have is to look up at the older alumni and learn from them what Shiriyah is really about. It's about bringing the grades together. like Bnei Yisrael is described “ish echad b'lev echad”. The same goes for us. Forgetting the color and grade barriers, “ish echad b'lev echad”.

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