"עצביהם כסף וזהב מעשה ידי אדם"
“Their idols are of silver and gold, the work of human hands.”

QUESTION: The common word for idol is “pesel.” Why is the term “atzabeihem” used here?

ANSWER: The word “atzabeihem” (עצביהם) is derived from the same root word as atzvut (עצבות) — “sadness and grief.” When Rabbi DovBer Schneerson, the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a young boy, he noticed a group of chassidim who appeared to be sad. Upon learning that they were experiencing financial difficulties, he remarked, “‘Atzabeihem’ — ‘their sadness’ — pertains to matters of‘kesef vezahav’ — ‘gold and silver’ — i.e. material concerns.” Unfortunately, some people think that affluence is ‘ma’asei yedei adam — something which a person accomplishes on his own — and worship it as ‘their idols.’ ”

(לקוטי דיבורים ח"א ע' ק"ע)

"פה להם ולא ידברו...אזנים להם ולא ישמעו... ידיהם ולא ימישון רגליהם ולא יהלכו"
“They have a mouth, but cannot speak... they have ears, but cannot hear... Their hands cannot feel; their feet cannot walk.”

QUESTION: Why is the word “lahem” — “to them” — used in the phrases about mouths, eyes, ears, and noses, but omitted in the phrase about hands and feet?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 41a) pieces broken off an idol are not considered idols and may be used for other purposes. However, since some originally make a hand or foot as an idol, hands or feet, even when broken off from an idol, are still considered idols and forbidden to be used. Thus, the mouth, the eyes, and the nose have idol-status only as long as they are “lahem” — “to them” — i.e. connected to the idol itself, unlike the hands and feet which have idol status even when they have been severed.

(חנוכת התורה)

"ישראל בטח בה' עזרם ומגנם הוא"
Israel, trust in G‑d; their help and their shield is He.”

QUESTION: Since King David is commanding the Jews to trust in Hashem, he should have concluded “ezrechem umaginechem” — “your help and your shield [is He]”?

ANSWER: Throughout history the Jewish people have been oppressed and tortured by the nations of the world, and at times it has appeared, G‑d forbid, that we were on the brink of annihilation. King David is saying to the Jewish people, “Trust in Hashem and have no fear, because in reality ezram umaginam Hu — Hashem is their shield — i.e. your enemies’ — and without Him they are powerless. Rest assured He will not permit them to destroy you.”

(שמעתי מזקני הרב צבי הכהן ז"ל קאפלאן)

"והארץ נתן לבני אדם... ואנחנו נברך י-ה"
“The earth He gave to the children of man...But we bless Hashem...”

QUESTION: What is the connection between these two statements?

ANSWER: The Gemara (Berachot 35a) asks, how can the pasuk “to Hashem belongs the earth and its fullness” (Psalms 24:1), which implies that man’s use of the world would constitute trespass on Hashem’s property, be reconciled with the pasuk “The earth He gave to the children of man,” which implies the earth is man’s to use?

The Gemara answers that there is no contradiction because the first pasuk refers to before reciting a berachah while the second pasuk refers to after one recites a berachah, at which point He gives the earth to man for his use.

The passage in Hallel goes on to allude to the Gemara’s discussion. We may wonder how we can say that the earth was given to man when another pasuk says the opposite. The answer is that “ve’anachnu nevareich Y-ah” — we bless Hashem — and for making a berachah He graciously gives the earth to man.

(ארץ החיים על תהלים מר' חיים ב"ר שלמה ז"ל ממאהלוב)

"הללו את ה' כל גוים... כי גבר עלינו חסדו"
“Praise G‑d all nations... For His kindness was mighty over us.”

QUESTION: Why should all the nations praise Hashem because of His overpowering kindness to the Jews?

ANSWER: The Jews in exile are oppressed by the nations of the world, but ultimately Hashem will punish their tormentors (Devarim 32:43, Ezekiel 25:14). In truth, the Jewish people may deserve to suffer even more, G‑d forbid, for their misdeeds; however, Hashem loves them and does not permit the nations to treat the Jews with their full viciousness and hatred. Thus, the nations should praise Hashem for His overwhelming kindness to the Jewish people since, in turn, it limits the extent of their ultimate punishment.

* * *

Perhaps the reason for describing Hashem’s kindness with the word “gavar” (גבר) — “mighty” — is that it serves as an acronym for גומלי חסדים, בישנים, רחמנים — benevolent, bashful and merciful — which, according to the Gemara (Yevamot 79a), are the three unique characteristics by which the Jewish people are distinguished. In merit of “gavar” — our unique character traits — Hashem reciprocates with bestowing His kindness upon us in a “gavar” — “mighty” — fashion.

(ארץ החיים על תהלים, ועי' פסחים קי"ח ע"ב)

"ה' לי בעזרי ואני אראה בשנאי"
“G‑d is with me through my helpers, and I can face my enemies.”

QUESTION: Since there is nothing a person can really do without Hashem’s help, King David’s statement is enigmatic: If Hashem is on the side of his helpers, obviously he will conquer his enemies?

ANSWER: Man often has to deal with two sorts of enemies. One appears to be a friend, but when the one who trusted him is not alert, he will knife him in the back. The other is an outright enemy. The former is worse than the latter because of his deception.

King David is saying that as mortal man he is limited and unable to read man’s thoughts; therefore, he is beseeching Hashem “be with me be’ozrai — among my helpers — i.e. the enemies who masquerade as my ‘friendly helper’s’ — v’ani er’eh — I myself will know to beware of and vanquish those who are sonai — my outright foes.”

(מדרש שמואל על פרקי אבות, א:ז)

Appropriately, King Yanai extended the following advice to his wife Salome on his deathbed, “Do not fear the Pharisees for they are righteous people and will not do you any harm. Do not fear the non-Pharisees, for they are wicked and are my friends. Fear the hypocrites who are not in reality as they appear — outwardly they appear righteous, but inwardly they are wicked” (Sotah 22b).

"אבן מאסו הבונים היתה לראש פנה"
“The stone despised by the builders has become the cornerstone.”

QUESTION: Which stone did the builders despise?

ANSWER: The Jewish people are the “cornerstone” of Hashem’s design for the world. Ironically, “the builders” — the rulers of the countries of the world — never appreciated our essential role in their survival. Moreover, they despised the Jews and sought their annihilation. Their popular condemnation of our people is that we do not contribute to society, but only are here to take. When Mashiach arrives, all the nations of the world will realize their mistake. At that time, “the builders” — the rulers of the world — who have despised the Jewish people will realize that we are the “cornerstone” of the world and properly appreciate our contribution to society at large.


Alternatively, the Gemara (Megillah 15a) says that the four most beautiful women in the world were Sarah, Rachav, Abigail, and Esther. Tosafot asks, why isn’t Chavah also counted, since the Gemara (Bava Batra 58a) says that Sarah compared to Chavah was like an ape compared to a person? Tosafot answers that the Gemara is only counting those who were born from a woman.

Thepasuk is alluding to this by saying, “The stone” — Chavah — who was the foundation and mother of all living (Bereishit 3:20), “was despised by the builders” — talmidei chachamim, i.e. the Sages of the Gemara, (see Berachot 64a) — and not listed among the most beautiful women of the world because, unlike all of them, she was unique in the fact that“mei’eit Hashem hayetah zot” — “she was created by G‑d.”

(חנוכת התורה)

Alternatively, the stone refers to Yosef (see Bereishit 49:24, Ohr Hachaim) who was despised by the builders — his brothers the great scholars, (seeBerachot 64a), and ultimately “has become the cornerstone” — the ruler over Egypt and the source of sustenance for the entire people during the famine.

(הגש"פ תהילה לשאול מר' שאול ואקנין, קאלי, קולמבי'ה)

הלל הגדול
The Great Hallel

QUESTION: Why in the Hallel Hagadol — the Great Hallel which describes 26 aspects of Hashem’s goodness and which repeats the refrain, “For His kindness in everlasting” for each one, is there no mention of His giving the Torah to the Jewish people?

ANSWER: According to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (Pesachim 118a) the 26 verses correspond to the 26 generations of humanity from Adam to Moshe that Hashem created in His world and sustained through His mercy, although there was no Torah and the world lacked the merit of the fulfillment of mitzvot. Consequently, there is no mention of Torah in this Psalm, which corresponds to the period prior to the revelation at Sinai.

(הגש"פ מוצל מאש - בית אהרן - בפי' רוח חדשה)

עוג מלך הבשן
Og king of Bashan

QUESTION: The first time Og is mentioned in the Torah he is called “Hapalit” — “the fugitive” (Bereishit 14:13, Rashi). How did he get the name “Og”?

ANSWER: He happened to come to the home of Avraham and he found him busy making “ugot” — “round unleavened cakes” — to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzot on Pesach. (See ibid. 18:6. Avraham fulfilled all themitzvot of the Torah even before they were promulgated, Yoma 28b.) After inquiring about what Avraham was doing, he expressed scorn and ridicule. (See p. 176) Thus, he was nicknamed “Og” — “round cake” — as punishment for making fun of Avraham and the precept of matzot.

(מדרש רבה בראשית מ"ב ה' ועי' בפירוש מהרז"ו)

"ברעב זנתנו ובשבע כלכלתנו"
“In famine You fed us and in times of plenty You sustained us.”

QUESTION: To feed us when the entire world is hungry is praiseworthy, but what is so special about sustaining us if the entire world is experiencing plenty?

ANSWER: In the Gemara (Bava Batra 91b) Rabbi Yochanan says, “I recall when there was an abundance of flour in the world and it was inexpensive, and yet there were many people who were swollen due to the hunger because of lack of money with which to purchase it.”

We thank Hashem that in times of plenty He provided us with the means to purchase food with ease and enjoy the abundance with which the world has been blessed.

(ברוך שאמר)

"הא-ל בתעצמות עזך"
“The A-mighty, by virtue of Your strength.”

QUESTION: Why does this statement follow the prayer of Nishmat?

ANSWER: In the final sentence of Nishmat we declare that no one is equal or comparable to Hashem, for He is 1) The A-mighty, 2) The Great, 3) The Powerful, and 4) The Awesome. Thus, we now explain the four unique qualities which only He possesses. 1) He is “The A-mighty” by virtue of His might — it is not dependent on anyone’s assistance. 2) He is “The Great” by virtue of the glory of His Name — it is lauded and honored by all creatures. 3) He is “The Powerful” by virtue of His strength — human strength decreases with age while His is eternal. 4) He is “The Awesome” by virtue of His awe-inspiring deeds — the entire universe recognizes that His doings are Divinely and supernatural.

Incidentally, in all Sephardic siddurim, the prayer of Nishmat appears without the four descriptions which distinguish Hashem, and thus the prayer of “Ha’Ei-l beta’azumot” is omitted as well.

(סידור אוצר התפלות בפי' עץ יוסף, ועי' כתר שם טוב לר' שם טוב ז"ל גאנין)

בפי ישרים תתרומם ובשפתי צדיקים תתברך ובלשון חסידים תתקדש ובקרב קדושים תתהלל
“By the mouth of the upright shall You be exalted, and by the lips of the righteous shall You be blessed. By the tongue of the pious shall You be sanctified, and among the holy shall You be praised.”

QUESTION: In some siddurim this statement is written in four lines of three words each to show that the first letter of the second word of each line forms an acrostic of the name “Yitzchak.” Additionally, the third letter of the final word of each line forms an acrostic of the name “Rivkah.”

What is the significance of this?

ANSWER: The combined numerical value of Yitzchak and Rivkah (יצחק רבקה) is 515, which is also the numerical value of the word Tefillah — prayer (תפלה). They are the only couple that the Torah mentions praying together (see Bereishit 24:2 Rashi).

* * *

Prayer is song and praise to Hashem, and it should be recited with joy and happiness. Our Sages (Taanit 2a) in explanation of the verse “to serve Him with all your heart” (Devarim 11:13) have defined prayer as the “service of Hashem performed in the heart.” It is elementary that mental and emotional concentration is an essential component of prayer (Rambam, Tefillah 4:15).

It is interesting to note that the word shirah (שירה) — “song” — and also the words “bekavanat haleiv” (בכונת הלב) — “concentration of the heart” — have the same numerical value as the word “tefillah” (515).

"לשנה הבאה בירושלים"
“Next year in Jerusalem.”

QUESTION: Why “next year”?

ANSWER: The intent is not that we should wait until next year to be in Jerusalem. We are asking Hashem to take us out of exile immediately, and thus, next year when we celebrate Pesach, we will be in Jerusalem.

(ספר השיחות תש"ה)

* * *

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi did not include the passage, “Chasal Siddur Pesach” — “The Pesach Seder has been completed” — in his Haggadah because the Pesach Seder never truly ends. Instead, it continues throughout the year.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim (מצרים), which can also be read as “meitzarim” — “limitations and boundaries.” The Pesach experience is constant, for every day, a Jew must leave Egypt — Mitzrayim — transcend his previous meitzarim — limitations — and reach higher levels of holiness.

(ספר השיחות תש"ג ע' 83)