Pesach and other Ideals // A visit with renowned posek Rav Shmuel Eliezer Stern

One of the leading rabbanim and poskim in Bnei Brak is Rav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, who is warmly hosting me on a rather mild Monday evening, the week after Purim, in his home. Born in Budapest, Hungary, three years after the end of World War II to a balebatishe family, he immigrated with his parents to Eretz Yisrael in 1950 when he was two years old. Tragically, his father passed away three years later. Rav Shmuel Eliezer joined the first class of the Chug Chasam Sofer cheder in Bnei Brak, and afterwards he learned in Yeshivas Pressburg in Yerushalayim.

Excelling in his limmudim, Rav Shmuel Eliezer quickly became renowned for his proficiency in halachah, and he served for many years as a moreh tzedek and dayan in the beis horaah and beis din of Rav Shmuel Wosner, zt”l. He also served as a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Chug Chasam Sofer-Machaneh Avraham in Bnei Brak until the passing of Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Ungar, at which time Rav Stern was appointed as rosh yeshivah.

In 1994, he founded a beis horaah and beis din named Shaarei Horaah, which is located above his home. The beis horaah employs hundreds of rabbanim and morei horaah who answer shailos in accordance with the piskei dinim of Rav Stern. The beis horaah also publishes a kovetz called Shaarei Horaah every few months. In 2007, Rav Stern opened a shul and beis midrash near his house, which he named Mesivta L’Torah V’horaah. Since 2015 Rav Stern has also served as the nasi of the Achrayus organization, which helps those who are in severe debt and find themselves in dire financial straits.


Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein told me that the Chofetz Chaim used to say that with one piece of lashon hara, a journalist can be machshil an unlimited amount of people. But on the other hand, middah tovah merubah mimidas puraniyus… I would like to ask that the Rav share something about Pesach so that we can have the opportunity to share it with klal Yisrael.

I’ll start with something that I’ve been speaking about a lot in shiurim. We have to remember that the main part of the Yom Tov of Pesach is the Korban Pesach. The Korban Pesach was eaten on the night of Pesach. The Gemara (Pesachim 85b) says, “Kezeisa Pischa vaHallela paka igra,” which means that the roofs were broken through because of the great hislahavus that the people had when eating the Korban Pesach and singing Hallel. There was an extra hashraah that didn’t exist throughout the rest of the year. Now that we don’t have the korban, the Yom Tov of Pesach was cut in half and maybe even less, because we can’t measure these things.

Rav Yaakov Emden, in his siddur, shares a description that he quotes in the name of a Roman governor. This impure Roman with his impure eyes had the zechus to see the way klal Yisrael prepared for Pesach. He described how a few days before Pesach, the hills around Yerushalayim were white from the sheep that grazed there. There was no grass left. It’s very interesting that Rav Yaakov Emden decided to quote the entire description in his siddur.

At the end, Rav Yaakov Emden says that when the Spanish King Alphonso the Great read this description, he was so impressed that he decided that he wanted to experience the same type of ceremony. After he did it, he was so taken by it that he said, “A nation that had this and then lost it is better off dead than alive.” This was a non-Jew who was able to appreciate that life isn’t worth living after losing something like this. Rav Yaakov Emden concludes that he’s sharing all of this so that we should feel the terrible loss.

I think that this is why it says, “Shoalin v’dorshin b’hilchos haPesach kodem haPesach shloshim yom—We ask and darshen in the halachos of Pesach for 30 days before Pesach.” Why does it say “v’dorshin”? Shoalin makes sense—we have to ask questions—but why v’dorshin. The Gemara says that the fact that the pasuk (Yirmeyahu 30:17) says, “Tziyon hi, doreish ein lah,” teaches us that it requires drishah (caring).

That’s the drishah that we have to have 30 days before Yom Tov. We ask the Eibershter to have rachmanus and return the Shechinah to Yerushalayim, v’nochal sham min hazevachim umin haPesachim, where we will be able to eat the Chagigah and the Korban Pesach. On Erev Pesach we say the Seder Korban Pesach with a broken heart; the heart starts to break because it feels that chalilah another year is coming without the kezayis of the Korban Pesach.

I always divide the halachos of Pesach into two. There’s the part of shev v’al taasehsur meira—and then there’s the part of asei tov. Sur meira is everything connected to chametz, bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei. If a person has even one kezayis of chametz in his home, he’s oveir two lavin and an asei for every moment that it’s there if he wasn’t mevatel it before Pesach. Then there’s the issur of eating, which is punishable by kareis. There’s the issur of hanaah, which makes it more stringent than typical issurim. The Radvaz says that this stringency is because chametz symbolizes the yetzer hara. The Rekanati says that it’s because it’s just like avodah zarah, which is also assur b’hanaah. There’s the bedikah, the biur and the bittul.

Then there’s the second half of the halachos—the asei tov, the holy night of the Seder. There are the mitzvos of the kezayis of matzah, which, as the Chasam Sofer says, is the only mitzvah d’Oraisa of eating that was left to us since the Churban. We once had maaser sheini, terumah, kodashim, korbanos, bikkurim, etc. But now the only one we have left is eating matzah. Marror is only d’Rabbanan, because it’s really just part of eating the Korban Pesach. That’s why we have to be extra careful about doing the mitzvah of matzah properly.

The Gemara (Bava Kama 17a) says that learning is more important than a mitzvah that can be fulfilled later, because “the limmud is meivi liydei maaseh.” The Me’iri has a unique explanation. He says, “Shehatalmud meyapeh es hamaaseh umashlimo, v’hamitzvah mehuderes yoseir k’sheyotzeis mipi hayodei’a inyanah—because the learning beautifies the maaseh and completes it, and the mitzvah is more mehudar when it is performed by one who knows its concepts.” This means that learning the halachos of the mitzvah turns it into a different mitzvah. Knowing the halachos is a hiddur mitzvah.

In other words, two people can do the exact same mitzvah in the exact same way, with all of the details, yet the one who knows all of the halachos of the mitzvah fulfills it with a greater hiddur.

Exactly. It’s a gevaldige yesod.

And this is from a Rishon; it’s not a chasidishe pshat.

The next thing we have to stress on Pesach is the Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, which is the v’higadeta l’vincha and l’maan tesapeir b’oznei bincha u’ven bincha. It happens often that one gets drawn into divrei Torah and the older people share vertlach and so on. That’s very nice, but the first thing is to inculcate the concept of Yetzias Mitzrayim into the children. To speak about the nissim and the hashgachah of the Eibershter. We have to come into the night of Pesach with emunah pressed into every limb so that it will last for a long time. The night of the Seder is about teaching the children in a way that will affect them in both the short and long term. It’s not just for now.

The pasuk says, “Ul’maan tesapeir…viydatem ki ani Hashem.” The Ramban expounds on this and explains that Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is the yesod of emunah, and that’s why we have to use the opportunity on the night of Pesach to bring that to the children.

There’s a sefer called Imrei Shafer, written by a son of Rav Chalava (a 14th-century Rishon). He explains why we had to go down to Mitzrayim before we could become an am kadosh laShem Elokecha. One of his explanations is that we had to first feel what it means to be an eved and how an eved is fully subservient to his master. Once we understood that, we could then understand that we were changing from being an eved Pharaoh to an eved Hashem. In order to feel avadai heim, we had to first see what avdus means. An eved is completely ibergegeben, and mah shekanah eved kanah rabo. He’s completely devoted to the will of his master. Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is part of that as well, because we have to teach the children to devote their entire being to the Borei Kol Olamim. We have to know that He is our master and we are His servants. We are His children, of course, but we are also His servants. That’s what we have to bring to the night of the Seder.

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