Pesach: Bitter herbs teach us what’s really important
Do we have the right blessing? At our seder tables, we will be taking maror and we will dip it in charoset. However, the blessing that we will be reciting will be ‘al achilat maror’ – on the eating of maror, with no reference to charoset.
Similarly during Succot, the Torah commands us to take the Arbah Minim, the Four Kinds, the lulav, the etrog, the hadass and the aravah, but what is the blessing that we recite? ‘Al netilat lulav’ – on the taking of the lulav. We don’t mention the other three.
The reason behind this is that in our halachot, our laws, relating to brachot, we differentiate between ‘ikar’ and ‘tafel’ – that which is important and that which is only of secondary significance – and the blessing is always over the most important part of that which we are blessing.
This, I believe, conveys to us a message of general importance within our lives. We should never lose the capacity to identify the ikar, what’s really important in our lives, and as a result, we shouldn’t waste our time with the tafel, that which is of only trivial significance.
Sometimes, however, it is challenging to identify what’s ikar and what’s tafel, for example:
A hardware superstore was once suffering from employee theft. The owners decided that they would position security personnel at the entrance to the store at the end of every working day. On the first day of this procedure one of the workers arrived with a wheelbarrow full of boxes. It took five or six minutes for the security workers to go through all the boxes, but eventually they discovered that they were empty, and they waved the fellow through.
On the second day, the same thing happened again, and on the third day, again. People had to wait in a queue so that this fellow could take his boxes home! After two weeks the owner came to this worker, and he said, “I know you’re up to something. Please tell me what it is and I’ll let you off.” The worker said, “You promise you’ll let me off?” and the owner promised. “Well,” said the worker, “I’m stealing wheelbarrows.”
You see sometimes the ikar, what really matters, is right there under our noses but all we notice is the tafel. It’s the empty boxes of life.
Now that the pandemic, thank God, is behind us, I have noticed that it has become common, as is human nature, for people to prefer to try to forget our traumatic experiences during Covid. I think that’s not a bad thing, but there’s one thing which we should never forget and that’s the lessons of Covid. And it was during Covid that all of us gained that capacity to differentiate between ikar and tafel – from the pandemic we learned that what’s important in life is home, it’s family, it’s community, it’s faith, it’s our spirituality,
At the seder table during the festival of Passover, we will dip maror – bitter herbs – into charoset. The blessing we’ll recite will be al achilat maror, we only mention the maror because that’s what counts, not the charoset. Therefore this year at our seder tables, let’s dip and while doing so remember not just about maror but about everything in life which is really important. And let’s not waste our lives, our precious time, with empty boxes.
I wish you all shabbat shalom and chag kasher vesameach.