קדש ורחץ should be literally translated as sanctify then wash. We recognize these words as part of the introduction to ליל הסדר as we begin this most wonderful evening by declaring the order of the day.
First we are directed to recite קידוש, which is also the first of the four cups of wine, and then we wash our hands as a prelude to the eating of כרפס.
In truth the washing of the hands is not particular to ליל הסדר – any time that we eat food that is wet (the כרפס is to be dipped in salt water) we are expected to perform נטילת ידים beforehand; though we only make ברכת נטילת ידים when eating bread.
In essence that appears to be all there is to say on the matter of these opening two words. Yet from a מחשבתי perspective there is much more to offer. What we have to say may well not be the פשט of the introduction to the evening, but the דרש here is no less important; on the contrary – it is fundamental!
The Shem MiShmuel (a nine-volume collection of homiletical teachings on the Torah and chagim written by HaRav Shmuel Bornsztain, the second ‘Sokatchover Rebbe‘ – it is a major work in Hasidic thought, synthesizing the Hasidism of Pshischa and Kotzk) asks the following question:
Surely one should wash before sanctifying? רחץ וקדש? Before one can become pure one needs first and foremost to cleanse oneself of past misdemeanors as the verse states: סור מרע ועשה טוב”” – “Remove from evil and do good” (Tehillim 34:15)?
We have often mentioned in the past that in Chassidut we talk of two awakenings; אתערותא דלעילא ואתערותא דלתתא – an arousing that comes directly from above, at the initiation of the Almighty, irrespective of man and his efforts; and a stirring that is initiated by man here in this world. The prototype of the former is Shabbat, whereas the classic models of the latter are the Chagim.
Shabbat will happen every seven days with or without our acquiescence. It is not dependent on Kiddush or candle lighting. Chagim on the other hand are, at least to a degree, very much reliant on the people – Am Yisrael are required to sanctify the months, and only through that sanctification can the dates of the festivals be predetermined.
If we accept this thesis as a premise it only emphasizes our question; if festivals are the result of man’s initiative and Pesach is the first of the national festivals, then surely one would need to purify oneself before sanctification can begin: and so, to coin a phrase, “why is this festive-night different from other nights”?
As we delve a little deeper we discover that in Chassidut, the first night of Pesach is in fact considered to be the exception to the rule – it has the status of Shabbat. The Torah actually identifies the first day of Pesach as שבת (Vayikra 23:15), and as such פסח follows the model of a regular Shabbat – אתערותא דלעילא – an arousing from above – קדש occurs whether we cleansed ourselves or not.
As we know, the people of Israel were essentially taken out of Egypt by the Almighty. It is highly unclear as to whether they wanted to leave or were at all ready to leave; it seems much more likely that they were very unsure of themselves – both confused and scared.
According to our Rabbis (Rosh HaShanah 10b) slavery ceased in Mitzrayim on the Rosh HaShanah prior to the Exodus – six months before redemption. Initially, when Moshe first arrived in Egypt waving the banners of freedom, the people had a stark choice between remaining slaves and leaving; but in those six months preceding the Exodus a third option began to emerge in the minds of the masses – settling in Egypt as regular citizens. And as they neared the threshold of that freedom, despite showing growing faith in Hashem and Moshe, specifically in their willingness to offer up the Paschal offering, the people were still on shaky ground, and not completely convinced of Moshe’s plans. Given the choice perhaps they would have preferred to reject redemption and sojourn in Egypt.
But all this changed with the smiting of the firstborn. Now they had no choice, if there had been a realistic third option of peaceful exilic existence, it had now disappeared; the choice had been made for them. After the final plague, the Egyptians were more than eager to relieve themselves of Bnei Yisrael at the soonest possible juncture. We were in fact, almost chased out of Egypt! Indeed Rabbi Hirsch suggests that the Matzah that we eat on Pesach is the very same Matzah that we ate as slaves in Egypt. So why celebrate our freedom by eating the food of slaves? In order to remind us that there was no revolution, no uprising of the masses; on the contrary, we were slaves in Egypt and we left as slaves – our freedom was 100% due the initiative of the Almighty.
Hashem brought the people out of Egypt, a passive nation redeemed by the Almighty. This is in stark contrast with the events leading up to Matan Torah. The festival of Shavuot celebrates the reality of a transformed nation, a people who proudly declared נעשה ונשמע (Shemot 24:7).
Hence the downside of this first night is that the nation was not of the spiritual level to initiate the exodus. The resulting advantage, however, was that the exodus was performed entirely by the Almighty – לא על ידי מלאך – thus giving the redemption from Egypt the eternal status of Shabbat. Perhaps that is why we recite a complete Hallel on the first day of Pesach but only “half Hallel” (half-Hallel is a minhag, hence Sefaradim recite hallel on the last days of Pesach without a beracha as opposed to Ashkenazim. The former do not recite brachot on minhagim whilst the latter do) on the remaining days (the gemara gives other reasons for this phenomenon); full Hallel to reflect our absolute appreciation to God, but half Hallel for the morning after in order to remind us of where we really stood from a spiritual perspective.
And so specifically on Pesach evening – קדש precedes ורחץ – the sanctification precedes the cleansing. On the first day of Pesach Hashem sanctified the nation, He took them to the heights, to levels that they could not have imagined existed, but on the second day having shown Am Yisrael where they needed to get to, He returned them to their original status and ordered them ורחץ! I have shown you your destination, now you must get there yourselves! We are shown the ideal on the first day of Pesach and then given the next seven weeks to achieve it independently.
This fundamental educational ethos repeats itself a number of times in our sources:
The Talmud in Massechet Nidah (30b) informs us that embryos in their mother’s womb are taught the entire Torah, yet moments before the birth that knowledge is taken away from them. These pure newly born babies subconsciously know that the truth exists – in the depths of their soul there is an awareness of that truth – but if they are to really attain truth then they must find it alone.
Similarly the Gemara in Sotah (2a) tells us that our future partner in life was predestined even before we were born, yet we know nothing of that “match made in heaven”; we have to find our future partner ourselves, and even once we find him or her, we spend a lifetime together until we become a “true-one”.
The phenomenon is fundamental – we experience the ideal, and then we are instructed to attain it ourselves. We see the objective, but we must attain it alone! There can be no comparison between an unearned spiritual gift, and a spiritual level that has been attained through blood sweat and tears!
Initially we noted the incredible transformation from a nation of slaves taken out of Mitzrayim – Pesach, and that same nation who initiate נעשה לנשמע – Shavuot. But we could take this yet a stage further:
The national year begins in Nisan with Pesach – it ends in Adar with Purim. On Pesach the nation was saved by the direct actions of the Almighty, the people were to all intents and purposes passive אתערותא דלעילא.
Purim, however, is a different story altogether. Of course it could never have occurred without the secretly directing hand of the Almighty, but the events developed because of the actions and heroism of Mordechai and Esther and because of the reaction of the people who repented and united.
And so we start the year with Pesach, a festival initiated by God, but we end the year with Purim, a salvation that has so much to do with man. The message for us here is clear – initiative!
On this ליל הסדר, we note with absolute gratitude that the Almighty did not wait for us to cleanse ourselves – had He done so it may well have been too late (see Bet Halevi Shemot 12:42) – but together with our gratitude perhaps the time has come to learn the lesson:
The Midrash (Eichah Rabbah Parshah 5) says:
Am Yisrael pray to God:
“Return us to You and we will repent” – השיבנו ה’ אליך ונשובה.
But the Almighty retorts:
“You return to me and then I will return to you” – שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם (זכריה א’).
The Kotzker Rebbe of blessed memory once told a student of a well known Rebbe: “I love your Rebbe very much, but why does he relentlessly instruct his talmidim to constantly pray for the coming of the Mashiach? Why not teach his talmidim to initiate the coming of Mashiach by doing something about it!”
Not “we want Mashiach now” but “let’s bring Mashiach now” – נתרחץ ונתקדש!
חג כשר ושמח