This letter was addressed to Dr. Asher Hillman, a Rabbinic scholar.

B”H, 28 Tammuz, 5708

Greetings and blessings,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 7 Iyar (it arrived via ordinary post). I was happy to find out that you and your household are well. In the interim, the letter I sent before Pesach certainly arrived in which I acknowledged receipt of the monthly publication, Sinai, for Adar, 5707. Thank you.

[Several] notes to your letter, in the order of its sections:

a) You write that in the Talmud Bavli, we commonly find the expression chazi, while in the Talmud Yerushalmi, the expression chami is used. This point is also noted by Bacher in his Arachei HaMidrash and in Aruch HaShaleim, the conclusion of the third erech cham. Seeseveral of the examples he brings there. In my humble opinion, however, a greater factor than this distinction is involved. The term chazi is of Scriptural origin, [sharing a connection to the terms] machazeh and achazeh. See also the maamar entitled Einei Kol, Likkutei Torah, Parshas Mattos, sec. 1.

b) The name Haggadah is derived from the phrase:1 Vehigadita levincha, “And you shall tell your son.” In the Haggadah Im Likkutei..., I noted that this explanation is given by [R. David] Avudraham and others. If one would say that the term Haggadah is analogous [with the term Aggadah, i.e.,it is] the Aggadah of Pesach, this would include only the portion from Avadim Hayinu until Venomar lifanav Halleluyah. From the Talmud and the Rishonim, this does not appear to apply.

c) The “signs” [describing the order of the Seder are written] in rhyme. [You imply that ] this appears to support our version which reads Rachtzah. On the surface, on the contrary, this appears to support the version which reads Rachatz. For then Bareich and Nirtzeh are also in rhyme [as depicted below].

מרור כורך קדש ורחץ
שולחן עורך כרפס יחץ
צפון ברך מגיד רחץ

הלל נרצה. מוציא מצה

d) The prooftexts for the wise son and the simple son employ the singular, but [the prooftext] that refers to the wicked son employs a plural form.

It is possible to explain the rationale as follows: The category “wicked” includes many different types of people — wise, simple, and even those who do not know how to ask. They, however, all share a common factor: wickedness. Hence the wording of their question is also the same: “What is this service of yours?”

Indeed, we see in actual fact that those who protest so strongly: “What is this service of yours?” are those who themselves do not know how to ask.

(According to this explanation, however, the passage: “One is wicked...,” should be last. This, however, can be resolved.)

R. Chodakov noted to me that it is possible to explain the above distinction as follows: When the wicked speak or ask, it is disordered and chaotic (see Rashi’s gloss to Devarim 1:22). Each one is separate and distinct from his colleagues (see Rashi’s gloss to Bereishis 46:27).

* * *

In the margin of your letter, you raised a question concerning the explanation that I cited in the name of the Levush [clarifying]whywe do not say: “in love, a day of holy convocation” concerning the festivals: that the acceptance of the mitzvah of the observance of the festivals came because [G‑d] held the mountain over them.

a) If so, how can we say “And You, G‑d our L‑rd, have granted us in love” with regard to the festivals?

It appears to me that the distinction between the two is straightforward: In the first phrase “and grant us...,” “with love” refers to “G‑d, our L‑rd,” who “granted us in love.” The second “in love,” refers to [the Jewish people,] the holy convocations that the Jews call with their love.2

b) How can our Sages’ statement that G‑d held the mountain over them — and that this causes a great uncertainty with regard to the Torah (Shabbos 88a)3 — be reconciled with the concept that the Jews [accepted the Torah willingly], stating naaseh venishmah [promising to do even before they listened]? (The expression “They willingly accepted His Kingship” refers to the time of the Splitting of the Sea and not to the acceptance of the yoke of the Torah and its mitzvos.)

To explain the inner dimension of the meaning [of this passage]: The possibility not to accept the Torah and its mitzvos applies only when one does not recognize with complete cognizance in one’s mind, feeling, and operative consciousness that they — and only they — are the ultimate of good and the lack of them is the ultimate of evil. As one comes closer to this realization, the possibility of not accepting the Torah and its mitzvos are reduced.

At Mount Sinai, only fifty days had passed since the Jews left Egypt, “the nakedness of the land,”4 [a country with] depraved character traits as is well known. There was not enough time for the Jews to come to the above awareness, for it represents a diametric change from their previous situation. Instead, from above, they were compelled to come to this understanding because the light that makes the truth perceptible was so strongly manifest for them that they actually saw that the Torah and its mitzvos are the ultimate good (even on the material plane) and without them, their lives were not worth living (even on the material plane). Therefore they said naaseh venishmah with a full heart and soul. Nonetheless, since they did not reach this realization on their own, through measured progress, but rather as a gift and through a flash from Above, after the Sinai experience all that remained from this was a hidden trace. Therefore this “caused great uncertainty with regard to the Torah” in future situations. For in the circumstances where they must observe the Torah and its mitzvos in actual practice, great and difficult effort is required.

In brief: At Mount Sinai, the level of the entire Jewish people was comparable to or actually that of a prophet at the time prophecy is visited upon him who sees Divine visions (see Zohar II, 94a; Moreh Nevuchim, Vol. II, ch. 32; the commentary of R. Y. Abarbanel to that passage; Avodas HaKodesh, Vol. IV, ch. 29; Ikkarim, Discourse 3, ch. 11, et al.;this is not the place for further discussion of the issue). It is understood that accordingly, they willingly declared naaseh venishmah. But when the spirit of prophecy retracted, one cannot demand that they fulfill everything they accepted upon themselves at the time of the prophecy.

See Torah Or, Megillas Esther, the second maamar entitled Chayav Inish, sec. 4.

With regards to the members of your household and with wishes for everlasting good in all matters,

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee