The Duality Of Haste
04/17/14
Special To The Jewish Week
Photo Galleria: 
Rivka Kahan
Rivka Kahan

Candlelighting, Readings:
Candles: 7:20 p.m. (Fri.); 7:22 p.m. (Sun.); 8:24 p.m. (Mon.)
Torah: Exodus 33:12-34:26 (Sat.); Ex. 13:17-15:26; Num. 28:19-25 (Mon.); Deut. 15:19-16:17 (Tue.); Num. 28:19-25 (Sat.-Tue.)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:1-14 (Sat.); II Samuel 22:1-51 (Mon.); Isaiah 10:32-12:6
Havdalah: 8:22 p.m. (Sat.); 8:25 p.m. (Tue.)

The quality of hipazon (haste), which characterizes several of the mitzvot of Pesach and is used in reference to the Exodus [Ex. 12:11, Deuteronomy 16:3], is associated in our minds with the miraculous nature of the holiday. However, examining the connotations of the hipazon reveals that, surprisingly, it is generally associated with a negative, harried sort of urgency, rather than with the splendor of supernatural redemption that it represents on Pesach. For example, II Samuel 4:4 recounts that Mefiboshet’s nursemaid dropped him and caused him to become lame “in her haste to flee” (behafzah lanus) after hearing the news of Shaul’s and Yonatan’s deaths. In Psalms 116:11, the psalmist declares, “I said in my haste (ani amarti behafzi), ‘All of mankind is deceitful.’” In this verse, as in Psalms 31:23, hipazon connotes a rushed state of mind that leads to erroneous conclusions. In fact, Pesach is the only context in which the word is used in a positive sense; in all other cases, it implies a lack of forethought and care.

The usage of the word hipazon with regard to Pesach seems particularly contradictory, given that the Torah and halacha so strongly associate the qualities of royalty and dignity with Pesach. For example, the reason for many of the developments in the plot of the Exodus was so that it would not appear that Bnei Yisrael (the Israelites) were escaping in an undignified way, like thieves in the night. This is, perhaps, why Hashem mandated that the Egyptians send Bnei Yisrael away with riches, and why Hashem insisted that they leave with Pharaoh’s permission. Many of the rituals of the seder night reflect a sense of majesty. For example, Rav Soloveitchik says in his Haggadah that heseiva (reclining) “symbolizes, first, complete relaxation, which in turns manifests relief from or abatement of tension or anxiety.” Given the sense of grandeur and stateliness that was central to the historical experience of the Exodus, and that shapes our commemoration on Pesach, it is interesting that the Torah associates Pesach with a word that implies a lack of dignity.

There are, in fact, several stories in Tanach in which the suddenness of God’s redemption is emphasized, albeit without use of the word hipazon. For example, Genesis 41:14 stresses the unanticipated rush of salvation that Yosef experienced, through a sequence of six action verbs: “Pharaoh sent and summoned Yosef, and they rushed him from the dungeon, and he shaved and changed his clothes and he came before Pharaoh.” Seforno comments that the haste described is “in the manner of all Divine salvation, which is accomplished in a moment, as it says, ‘My salvation is soon to come’” [Isaiah 56:1]. Similarly, Megillat Esther emphasizes the unexpected, quick nature of redemption as a manifestation of the supernatural: “Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry, take the clothing and the horse… and do all of this for Mordechai” [Esther 6:10]. Maharal explains that the hipazon of Divine redemption in the Pesach story (and, presumably, in these other stories as well) represents that God does not exist within time, and is not limited by the confines of time.

It seems there are two contradictory aspects to the quality of hipazon. On the one hand, it connotes a state of being harried, acting without thought, without gravitas. On the other, it reflects the supernatural involvement of God in history and the transcendent quality of avodat Hashem, serving God. In fact, this duality of hipazon is parallel to the duality found within the central mitzvah of Pesach, the mitzvah of matzah. Matzah represents both affliction and redemption; the bread of slavery, the bread of faith. The hipazon with which matzah is prepared, and with which the Pesach story unfolds, also contains that duality of grandeur and modesty. 

The opposing qualities of majesty and humility are central to Pesach in other ways. In his essay “Sh’hora Ani V’nava, Rav Soloveitchik” explores this duality as it appears in Song of Songs, which is read on Pesach. Shlomo (Solomon) writes, “I am blackened, yet I am beautiful” [Song of Songs 1:5], which the Rav interprets as a reference to man’s recognition of his own inadequacy and his latent grandeur. This dual recognition, the Rav writes, is central to the mitzvah of teshuvah (repentance): “All that is important is that the sinner view himself from two antithetical viewpoints, the nullity of being and the greatness of being.”

Through the celebration of Pesach, may we develop the wisdom to recognize the splendor and love that the Torah bestows upon us, and the humility to recognize the ways in which we, as individuals and as a community, sometimes fall short and must continually redouble our efforts to live up to the lofty standards that the Torah sets for us.

Rivka Kahan is principal of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, N.J.

Last Update:

04/17/2014 - 07:08

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Comments