Our world feels so turbulent at the moment. Just as we emerge from the pandemic, war breaks out in Europe, Israel experiences a wave of brutal attacks on its citizens, and the dangers of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons seem to be mounting.
At this time of great uncertainty, we can draw our emotional and spiritual strength from the Seder. There is one particularly dramatic scene described in the Haggadah that took place during similarly turbulent and uncertain times. Five of the greatest sages of the time were there. The Beit HaMikdash had just been destroyed and Roman soldiers were all over Israel. The future looked bleak.
But on that Seder night, they find faith and light, strength and hope. They are so enveloped by the experience of relearning and re-looking and retelling the story of the Exodus – of the historic events of our enslavement and divine liberation from Egypt that led to the birth of our people – that they lose track of time. An entire night passes by.
And then – their students enter the room to announce that the dawn has broken. As if to say that the darkness dissipates; that, after delving with such tremendous faith and energy into the story of the Exodus, the light has broken through, and the time has come to recite the Shema – the ultimate declaration of our faith.
This episode illustrates something crucial. The faith we imbibe from the Seder experience can carry us through times of uncertainty and challenge, as it has done for generations of Jews. Renewing our faith means that we can actually feel the presence of Hashem at our Seder tables. One of the divine names is HaMakom, literally, “The Place”. It is significant that this divine name appears twice in the Haggadah.
The midrash says in explanation for the name HaMakom that “the world is not the place of Hashem; rather, Hashem is the place of the world.” In other words, we don’t look at Hashem as part of, and contained by the universe; rather, He contains everything. He holds the universe together. He holds our lives together.
The name HaMakom has special resonance on Seder night when we remember how Hashem freed our ancestors, and how He looked after them; how He has held us throughout Jewish history, and how He holds us still today.
Rav Soloveitchik, zt”l, takes a deeper look at the Midrash. He points out that the name HaMakom often appears in the context of situations where it seems G-d is absent or unavailable, yet is there holding us: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” G-d is with us no matter what we are going through. He is always with us. Thus, HaMakom is His name of reassurance; G-d is “The Place” – He is with us because He is everywhere.
This could be the reason that we invoke the name HaMakom when comforting mourners (“May HaMakom comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”), or when praying for the divine protection from danger in the moving words of the tefillah of Acheinu (“May HaMakom have compassion on them and deliver them from distress to relief…”). Hashem is everywhere holding everything together for us. He holds us all within His loving embrace.
And He does so with unconditional love. Rav Soloveitchik points out the significance of the two occasions the name HaMakom appears in the Haggadah – in introducing the “the four sons” and in the passage when we acknowledge we are descended from people who didn’t believe in Hashem and who worshipped idols.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that one might assume it’s only the wise son whom G-d is close to. Yet the responses to the simple son, the son who doesn’t know how to ask questions, even the wicked one, are all introduced with the name HaMakom. It doesn’t matter who we are, how far we have strayed: G-d is close and available to us and loves us all.
Similarly, we might have thought that because we are a nation descended from idolators, Hashem could be distant from us. Yet the Haggadah invokes the name HaMakom to say that He is always there for us, holding us, holding everything together, comforting and empowering us.
When we sit around the Seder table this Pesach, let us hold in our minds this famous Seder in Bnei Brak. A Seder filled with the light of faith held during a dark time in Jewish history. As we progress through the Haggadah, let us draw faith that will not just illuminate our Seder, but uplift us throughout the year, empowering us to meet a turbulent world and an uncertain future with hope and courage. And let us remember that HaMakom, G-d, The Place of the world, is with us now, just as he was with us then – and that He is with us always.