Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Rabbi who was "Kasher" for Pesach

"And I will take you out from the suffering of Egypt, and I will rescue you from their labor, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you for me as a nation... And I will bring you to the land." [Shemot 6:6-8].
The most common reason given for drinking four cups of wine on Pesach, when "even a very poor man in Yisrael should not drink less than four cups," is to represent the four different phrases of redemption which Moshe listed in the introduction to his message to the people enslaved in Egypt (Yerushalmi Talmud, Pesachim 10:1, where other reasons are also given). However, in the verses quoted above there are five variations of redemption – "I will take you out, I will rescue you, I will redeem you, I will take you for me, I will bring you to the land." We can indeed have a discussion of exactly what redemption we have been yearning for all these years, with the themes of the progress towards the goal as presented in the verses. Is it sufficient to reach the stage that "I have redeemed you," which is a matter of personal freedom? Or perhaps what is needed is the subsequent stage, religious nationalism, "I will take you for me as a nation." However, there is also a fifth stage, "I will bring you to the land," which completes the triangle, "the nation of Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael, according to the Torah of Yisrael."
And, indeed, the Rambam rules (but the Shulchan Aruch does not bring such a ruling!), "A fifth cup of wine should be poured, and Hallel should be recited over it... This cup is not an obligation like the other four." [Hilchot Chametz U'Matza 8:10]. This custom of adding a fifth cup of wine, which is based on various different versions of the text in the Talmud, was adopted by the Geonim and has been discussed throughout the generations in terms of halacha.
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A prominent Jew once lived in Jerusalem by the name of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher (he passed away in 5744/1983). The man was respected and honored, and one of the most prominent members of the Gur Chassidic dynasty. I was close to him in the seventies, when I lived in Jerusalem. He brought me close to his Torah-literary labors, and I was privileged to help him edit various pamphlets that he wrote at the same time that he was occupied on his tremendous work "Torah Sheleimah" (with dozens of volumes!). Rabbi Kasher was a Chassid in depth, one of the prominent Torah scholars in the Chareidi Gur courtyard. In 5624 (1924), he made Aliyah from Warsaw, the stronghold of the Chassidim of Poland, in order to found a yeshiva here, "Sefat-Emet-Gur." Among other matters that he attended to, Rabbi Kasher served as the chairman of Zichron David, an institution which purchased the land of Migdal-Eder in Gush Etzion (5686/1926). In spite of his being in the Chareidi camp, Rabbi Kasher had a religious Zionist soul, as could be seen in his monumental book "Hatekufah Hagedolah" (The Great Era), which has 600 pages. He wrote the book in 5729 (1969), in the wake of the victories of the Six Day War and the liberation of Jerusalem. He wrote that the theme of the book was "a series of chapters discussing the status of the nation and our holy land at this hour, with a comprehensive analysis of the redemption and its signs." The concept of atchalta d'geula (the start of the redemption) was central to his thesis, which had elements parallel to the approach of Rav Kook. (Rabbi Kasher lived not far from Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook.)
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I first became aware of Rabbi Kasher as a young boy, when for Pesach of 5710 (1950) I received a copy of the beautiful "Hagadda of Eretz Yisrael," which he published in New York (where he lived for several years). The Hagadda was inspired by the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and one of its central themes was a call to renew the custom of the fifth cup of wine, to show our thanks for the ingathering of the exiles and the establishment of the state from out of the ruins of the Holocaust in Europe. As a boy, I was spellbound by the main illustration in the Hagadda, grandiose drawings of the five cups of wine. Here is what Rabbi Kasher wrote:
"In our time, when we have been privileged by the kindness of G-d and His salvation to see the establishment of the State of Israel, which is the beginning of the redemption, and the salvation from the exile of Edom and the fulfillment of the promise, 'I will bring you to the Land,' it is good and proper that we should observe the special mitzva of drinking the fifth cup of wine, and recite Hallel, 'for at our lowest point He remembered us and saved us from our oppressors,' and to thank G-d for the miracles and the wonders and the wars which He fought for us in our day... And just as we have been privileged to see the beginning of 'I have brought you,' so shall we be privileged to merit a full redemption."
Rabbi Kasher printed halachic "propaganda" in favor of a Fifth Cup in an appendix to Torah Sheleimah (the Torah portion of Va'eira), and also in a separate booklet. Rabbi Kasher bases his call on the Hagadda of the Maharal, where the following appears after "Hallel Hamitzri" ("Ki L'Olam Chasdo"): "The head of the household alone should take the Cup of Eliyahu and drink the wine while reclining, without a new blessing (but he should recite the blessing after drinking the wine), and he should say, 'I am ready and prepared to observe the mitzva of the Fifth Cup which is related to the news of salvation, 'And I will bring you to the land.'"

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