Commentary for the Last Days of Passover

2 May

The Halachically mandated portion of the Passover seder concludes with the “chasal siddur Pesach” paragraph in which we sing joyously about how we have now completed the seder “in accordance with its Halachah, according to all of its ordinances and rules” and we hope that just as we have been fortunate enough to complete it correctly this year, that we may prove ourselves worthy to be able to complete it next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem.


This paragraph, authored by the eleventh century French Rabbi Yosef Tov Alem ben Shmuel, makes a very interesting literary choice. The entire paragraph is written in Hebrew with the exception of the very first word, which is written in Aramaic. The word in question, “chasal,” means “concluded.” When the letters that comprise the word are spelled out as words themselves and the numerical values of their letters are added up according to the Gematria system, we wind up with a total of 612.


To go out of your way to choose a word for “concluded” whose numerical value adds up to 612- just one shy of 613, the number of mitzvot in the Torah- seems at first like a very odd choice. After all, isn’t the whole point of the paragraph for us to proudly announce that we finished the seder according to all of its laws- in other words, that we have completed all of the seder mitzvot?


Earlier in the seder Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah brings up Deut. 16:3, which we read on the eighth day of Passover. The section of the verse he focuses on reads “in order that you shall remember the day you departed from the land of Egypt all the days of your life.” While we gather at the seder to tell the story of the exodus, we are commanded to remember it every day of our lives. Earlier in that same verse (among many other places in the Torah) we are reminded that we are to eat matzah and abstain from eating chametz for seven days. Seven days; not just one.


By going out of his way to choose a word whose letters (when they themselves are spelled out) have a Gematria value that falls just one short of 613, Rabbi Yosef is reminding us that Passover does not end with the conclusion of the seder. There is still more holiday to celebrate. More matzah to eat, more davening to do, more Yom Tov to be enjoyed, and an entire year during which we need to apply the lessons of Passover to our lives.

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