One year when I was a rabbi, shortly before Pesach, prior to beginning my Sunday morning shiur in Mesillas Yeshorim in my shul, I was reviewing some of the laws regarding how much matzah one should eat and the time frame it should be eaten in at the seder.
One of the attendees noted that he was always somewhat bothered by all of the nuances and details that are involved in the mitzvos of the seder. “If the point is to feel a sense of liberation and connection, how can one focus on the essence of the matzah if he is so busy worrying about how much to eat and how much longer he has to finish that amount?” He added that as a ba’al teshuva he can’t help but feel nervous and skeptical that he didn’t perform the mitzvah properly. “Is G-d really more interested in my being neurotic about the details than about my appreciation of what the matzah represents?”
It’s a good question.
After a moment’s thought I replied by sharing with him that shortly before I proposed to my wife, I was discussing my upcoming engagement with my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz. At one point Rabbi Heimowitz looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said “Doniel, I know you like to make elaborate plans and do unusual things. But your proposal does not need to be anything wild or outlandish.”
I laughed and adhered to his advice. My proposal was very special and meaningful to us (she said yes, by the way) and included the element of surprise without me jumping out of a plane or getting arrested (how I did it is for a different time).
Anyone who has been at that stage remembers the feeling of not being able to do enough for his/her spouse-to-be. When one is riding on cloud nine and feels that longing to be close with their prospective spouse he/she can spend hours working out minute details to enhance the experience even more. Everyone around them may be telling them that it’s enough, but they still want to do more. The more details involved the better.
I told my congregant that his feeling at the seder is dependent, not only upon how he views his efforts, but also how he perceives that G-d views his efforts. If he feels that he must keep every detail because if he doesn’t G-d will reject his service and he will be the wicked son at the seder who is censured and whose teeth are dulled, the seder will become an uncomfortable and tedious experience for him. He then can indeed wonder why he needs to expend so much effort on details. In fact, all the details detract from his feeling of liberation from servitude.
However, if he views seder night as a time to express his innermost feelings of love and devotion to G-d who loves him and chose him to be part of the chosen people, he simply can’t do enough. He looks for more and more details that he could be meticulous about so that he could further demonstrate his devotion and love. Only one who is deeply emotional and passionate about someone else will worry about every petty detail.
If a young woman were to see that her new groom has worked so hard to arrange a perfect proposal with attention to every detail, but some of the details weren’t perfect, we can be sure that it will not detract from her appreciation and mutual love she feels due to his efforts.
There is indeed an ideal manner in which to fulfill the mitzvah, but if one needs a little more time (not more than nine minutes) or cannot eat the full amount (two k’zaysim for matzah and afikomen, one k’zayis for korech, and one k’zayis of marror) he can still fulfill the mitzvah. The feeling within his heart plays a key role.
I also vividly remember those nights when we were engaged when I was so utterly drained, and yet remained on the phone speaking with my kallah, even though we had spent the whole evening together just a few hours prior.
The night of the seder is a night of passion and love. It is for that reason that many have the custom to recite Shir HaShirim after the seder has concluded. It may be the wee hours of the morning, and the matzah, marror, festive meal and four cups of wine may be at war inside his stomach, while his sleep deprived eyelids may be begging for closure, but the joy in his heart and surging emotions he feels within him can be expressed in no other manner.