By Yochanan Gordon
It’s well-known that the Haggadah shel Pesach, outside of perhaps the Chumash, is the most widely reproduced book in all Jewish publishing. An old joke that was said to explain this phenomenon is that because last year’s ben rasha, or challenged son, is this year’s ben chacham, or wise son.
Be that as it may, in planning what to write about in this Pesach issue I decided that instead of recording Torah about Pesach or the Haggadah, it would be more appropriate and even impactful to use the allotted space to retell a story.
The rationale is quite simple. Whatever Torah I would say is out there and accessible to all. Chazal say, “Kol hamarbeh lesaper b’yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach.” As such, people carry on for hours on end, especially the second Seder, which doesn’t have a cut-off time of chatzos for the afikomen. It only makes sense then, that when you grab this newspaper from your nightstand or coffee table while kicking back in the manner of free people for a few minutes on yom tov afternoon, that you should have something light but at the same time meaningful in order to enhance your yom tov experience.
The story that I’m going to retell I heard in a video recording of Reb Meilech Biderman, shlita, two years ago, as COVID-19 was raging through the world and quite fiercely through our communities, causing a lot of unease and anxiety to the most otherwise mentally and emotionally secure individuals. The one source of strength and assurance, for me anyway, during those tumultuous times, came via the daily videos and calming words of empowerment from Reb Meilech.
In one particular video that went out on erev Pesach of 2020, Reb Meilech said the following: Three years earlier, in 2017, Reb Meilech met a certain Rav Meisels in Meron whose brother-in-law had a camp in New York for 800 kids. But before he retold the story that he heard firsthand from his brother-in-law, Reb Meilech retold a story that occurred with the Apter Rav involving a poor Yid who was facing a prison sentence by the town’s overlord if he didn’t come up with the requisite funds to pay his upcoming rent. Left with no other options, the wife sent her poor husband to the Apter Rav for Shabbos HaGadol, hoping that her husband would be able to get into the Rebbe on motzaei Shabbos to get a blessing for livelihood and to ultimately pay their rent in time.
The Jew set out on his own to Apt. Shabbos afternoon he sat listening to the rav’s Shabbos HaGadol derashah; the first part was way too advanced and beyond his ability to grasp. However, during the second part of the sermon, the Rebbe began explaining excerpts from the Haggadah. At one point the Rebbe said, “When a Jew reads, on Seder night, the words ‘Vanitzak el Hashem Elokei Avoseinu,’ since it is a time when G-d performs miracles, whatever a Jew requires and asks for during those moments, he will surely be answered. If a Jew needs children, or is seeking a marriage partner, health, wealth, or the like, all he or she needs is to ask for it with sincerity at that point of the Haggadah, and G-d will surely answer him or her. The Ohr Hachaim HaKadosh points out that the verse states, “Kel motziam miMitzrayim,” which is in the present tense, meaning that G-d is actively, in the present moment, taking people out of their individual Mitzrayim, in whatever form it plagues them.
After hearing this from the Rebbe, this Jew heard Havdalah on motzaei Shabbos and immediately began his journey back home without waiting to see the Rebbe, assured that his salvation was in hand. When he returned, his wife was waiting for him at the door to hear what the Rebbe had told him. He assured his wife that they would find the money necessary to pay the poritz and everything would turn out just fine.
Pesach arrived and the couple sat down to their Seder. As they reached the passage of “Vanitzak el HaShem Elokei Avoseinu,” the Yid rose excitedly out of his seat, and with his finger pressed firmly on the place, exclaimed to his wife that here is where the Rebbe said we need to daven to Hashem for anything that we need. Together they began crying the verse “Vanitzak” all the while thinking of their desperate plight and how in just two days’ time they could end up in a deep cold dungeon if they didn’t come up with the money. They screamed so loud, surely their voices were heard all the way to the Heavenly throne.
At that moment there was a knock at the door and a drunk goy, who had killed his wife and was running from the authorities, showed up with two oversized bags of gold. He dropped them on the floor and said, “One is for me and the other for you, and if I don’t return by a specific date then they are both yours.” All this occurred as the Jew and his wife were screaming the words “Vanitzak” just as the Rebbe had instructed. Motzaei yom tov, the Jew went straight to the poritz to pay what he had owed him. When he entered, the poritz saw that the once poor Jew had come upon wealth, and the poritz was willing to negotiate more favorable terms for the man and his wife to remain there long term. The Jew then continued on to the Rebbe with pidyon gelt in acknowledgement of the great miracle that the Rebbe had performed on his behalf. The Rebbe refused the money saying that it was not his miracle but rather the power of Vanitzak on Seder night that produced this great miracle.
As wonderful a story as this is, having occurred in the days of the Apter Rav, albeit with a simple Yid and his wife, a part of us feels like it makes sense for it to occur in that generation but less so in ours. That is why the next story is that much more important.
The Lasker Rav, Rav Meisels, has a brother-in-law who runs the Krasna camp with 800 campers, which included one bachur by the name Manish, a twenty-eight year old bachur who, to put it lightly, was not a bright boy at all; so much so that even at his advanced age nobody thought that he was marriage material. So when the Krasna Rav found out that this bachur had become a chasan he couldn’t believe it. He summoned Manish to tell his story in front of the entire camp and this is what he said:
On the night of Pesach he had been at his father’s Seder table in Boro Park together with his entire extended family, including his brother from Lakewood, and his brother-in-law from Montreal, his brother from LA, and his other brother-in-law from Manchester, England. Manish was sitting there with a Haggadah with this story of the Apter Rav printed in it. So when they reached “Vanitzak” he banged on the table to quiet the crowd, and he began to cry and scream, “Manish can’t take it anymore! Manish must become a chasan.” His mother came over to see what was wrong; trying to calm him down, she said, “I will call shadchanim after yom tov,” but Manish refused to be calmed. He defiantly continued to scream, insisting that everyone present join him in crying out to Hashem in order that he find his bashert. After complying with his request, they wanted to continue on with the Seder, but Manish said that they had to do the same for his brother Yankel who was then twenty-six. Manish insisted that they cry and scream, demanding that Yankel, too, merit to find his zivug.
There is an American group of guys in Yerushalayim who have a shiur together who were well acquainted with Manish and Yankel and were aware of their story. The rav said that on motzaei yom tov of the first days, the phone in their house rang and it was someone suggesting a shidduch for Manish for the very first time. Not only that, there were calls for Yankel as well. On the third day of chol hamoed they went to their rav to ask about ayin ha’ra, as both of the boys were ready to get engaged. They consulted the late Vizhnitzer Rebbe from Monsey who advised them to make Manish’s l’chaim on Tuesday and Yankel’s on Wednesday. Manish today is the same Manish, but he is a father of two.
You know what this story taught me? It taught me that on Seder night we all need to be students of Manish and not be too sophisticated. Don’t make calculations; stop at nothing, of course within the proper yom tov demeanor of joy, gladness, and a deep-seated belief in the words of Chazal that G-d performs miracles for his children throughout the Seder night.
Without going into too much detail, I can say that one year ago my son Yehuda, who has been featured in this space before, davened to be able to learn how to do a backflip, and his tefillos were answered. I can say that the things that I had in mind during those moments of the Seder the last two years also materialized, and particularly as a result of that, I decided to share this story with you.
The effects of this dark and painful exile continue to intensify. Each of us, in our own lives, is keenly aware of the aspects in our lives that are causing us the most anguish and discomfort. Often, in an attempt to come across as emotionally sound and healthy we try to suppress the pain, not allowing it to surface or gain expression in our interactions with friends and, at times, even family. However, we need to realize that the pain that lingers as a result of a challenge or deficiency that we so badly would like to overcome is half of the solution. I believe that one of the secrets that lies at the heart of the question-and-answer format of the Seder night is this idea that the answers to life’s most vexing issues lie right there in our ability to express the question of “why” in a pure and innocent fashion.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe was known to respond to the questions that people the world over presented to him by circling the words within the question wherein the answer lay. It is specifically for that reason that in the Ani Maamin we express: “And even though he may tarry, still in all I await his coming every day.” The secret to achieving his coming is to be able to allow the pain of his delay to surface and to express the pain associated with that.
Chazal say “Lev yodea moras nafsho.” Every heart knows the bitterness of its soul. We have an opportunity to express our deepest pain with an assurance that doing so will bring salvation into our lives. Echoing the moral that Rav Biderman learned from the story of Manish and Yankel, let’s not squander this opportunity to open our hearts to G-d and finally achieve true salvation both individually, communally, and nationally with our imminent and final redemption. Chag kasher v’sameach to one and all.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.