Wednesday, March 25, 2015

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

Peter Parker as Spider-Man learned the hard way that with great power comes great responsibility.  Passover teaches us a variation of that theme.  With great freedom comes great responsibility.

Even before the seder begins, tradition teaches us to care for the less fortunate amongst us.  There is a custom of giving tzedakkah called Ma’ot Chittim or wheat money to the poor so that they may have an enjoyable and dignified seder.

Here is a touching story to demonstrate what I mean

A poor man came to the home of Rav Joseph Baer.  The man said that he had to ask a question regarding the sacred rituals of Passover.  He had a halachic question to ask, a question in Jewish law.  He told the rabbi that he could not afford to buy wine, so he wished to know if he could fulfill the obligation to drink the four cups of wind during the Seder by drinking four cups of milk.

Rav joseph Baer said that no Jew could fulfill this important command by drinking milk, but he gave the man 25 rubles with which to buy wine.

After the man had gone, the rabbi’s wife approached her husband with this question: “Why, when wine costs two or three rubles, did you give him twenty-five?”
Rav Joseph Baer smiled and said, “If he is so poor that he cannot afford wine for the Seder I doubt that he has the money to buy chicken and matzah for the Seder nights. As you know, if he is asking about drinking milk, that means he has no meat or chicken because he would not be mixing it with meat or chicken! I want to give him enough money so that he can buy the food that he needs to properly enjoy Passover.[i]

Rav Joseph demonstrated great responsibility with great sensitivity.  Not only didn’t he neglect his responsibility to help another person, he made sure not to embarrass the poor man by noting how poor he was by telling him that he was going to help him buy not only wine but also the food for the seder.  He just gave him 25 rubles to buy the wine and keep the change. 

Because we were slaves in Egypt, we know what it means to be oppressed.  With great freedom comes great responsibility.

Here is another story teaching us how sensitive we should be to other people.

Reb Levi Yitzchak was very stringent with the laws of baking the matzah for Passover. Actually every Jew is very careful when it comes to eating Passover food; but Hasidic rebbes were especially careful that there be no possible hametz.

It once happened that Reb Levi Yitzchak was sick and unable to bake his matzahs.  His Hasidim, his devoted followers, came to see him before they were to go and bake his matzahs and said, “Holy Rabbi, please tell us exactly which areas we need to be extra stringent in so that we will prepare the matzah to your liking.

Reb Levi Yitzchak answered, “Let me tell you where I am most stringent.  The women that work baking the matzah are very poor women, and some of the men who oversee the baking do not always treat them well.  They are under great pressure to prepare the matzah hastily and often the men raise their voices and get angry at these poor women.  It is being stringent about that, that is most important to me: do not get angry with them! Be sensitive to them.  Anyone who gets angry with them during the baking of the matzah makes it into hametz.”[ii]

Reb Levi Yizchak also demonstrated great responsibility with great sensitivity. Too often when the oppressed are freed and they often oppress their oppressors. Passover reminds us to be care how we act and speak to others.  Each human being is created in God’s image and deserves our respect no matter what their station in life is.  Indeed with great freedom comes great responsibility.


[i] The Night That Unites: Passover Haggadah: Teachings, Stories, and Questions from Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Carlebach, page31.
[ii] Ibid. page 32-33.

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