Rav Mordechai Torczyner
Rosh Kollel YU TMT Zichron Dov, Toronto
Karpas and Wealth
Karpas plays a critical part in Rav Kook’s vision for our growth at the Seder. After describing the purification that comes via our washing in the Urchatz stage, Rav Kook quotes a talmudic statement that one who lacks bread should not eat vegetables like those we eat in Karpas, because they stir up the appetite. (Shabbat 140b) People who eat only out of necessity should not increase their hunger; vegetables, to Rav Kook, are a food of the wealthy, who eat for pleasure. Therefore, the food of Karpas signifies a meal enjoyed in wealth.
In Egypt, as Rav Kook writes, “Being lowered depressed the spirit to the point of the lowest immersion in life’s nadir, in which one senses only the pleasure of [filling] the hungry stomach.” But he continues to describe our growth, saying, “All of this was a long-term plan to impress upon us the message that nothing in life is so low that it cannot ascend and it will not be pleasant in its ascendance, using the means of its place and time.” On this night, we evolve from the ever-hungry slaves of Egypt to connect with Hashem as the sated celebrants of the Seder.
Yachatz and Brokenness
Coming after Karpas, breaking the middle matzah for Yachatz adds an important humbling note. We convert matzah to lechem oni, “bread of suffering”, like the bread of a pauper who cannot afford a full loaf. Even after the elevation of Karpas, we must remember that pockets of spiritual brokenness remain within ourselves, and within others in our community.
Rav Kook writes, “There is a need to impress [upon ourselves] the double foundation in the act of eating which is desirable [to Hashem]: Eating for appetite, a necessary consumption which emerges from a hungry spirit, and eating when satisfied, eating for pleasure, for the sake of broadening life… This division is required, lest a person forget, in the midst of his ascension and sanctification, that within himself there remain situations in which he will not always be able to ascend to the Sanctum, to the exalted sanctity above, of eating at satiation.”
Further, “One should also know that even if his dwelling is already strong, and he is fortified at his level in his ambition for a sacred broadening, to which he has ascended by purifying his mundane aspects, still, he should not forget that there is yet mundane eating in this world, [eating] as a result of necessity. He should turn his attention to the material as well as spiritual needs of the community, which is yet in the middle of its journey and has not yet achieved this level of eating at satiation.”
As Rav Kook explains, we break our middle matzah as a dramatic demonstration of the potential pitfalls of spiritual growth. First, human beings are creatures of inconsistency; Yachatz reminds us not to take our spiritual security for granted. And second, societies include people of a range of spiritual levels; Yachatz reminds us that even as we grow, we must also help others satisfy their needs.
May we always remember our own deficiencies and the needs of others, even as celebrate with pleasure at our Seder in
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