Exploring the Rav’s Teachings on Pesach

Pre-Pesach Yom Iyun Commemorates 25th Yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

On March 11, a Pre-Pesach Yom Iyun on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus drew more than 300 people to study the teachings of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, on the upcoming holiday in honor of his 25th yahrzeit. The event was organized by YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in conjunction with the Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon and the Minnie Arbesfeld Midreshet Yom Rishon.

Some of the Rav’s most distinguished students led a series of lectures about the Pesach Seder and Haggadah based on his approach.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS and the CEO of OU Kosher, took to the podium to discuss why the Hallel prayer is recited at the Seder on Pesach night. He explored the topic with references to how the Rav brought a love of music, especially classical music, to his understanding of the importance of Hallel as a prayer revolving around song, and how that lyrical expressionism is one of the greatest forms of prayer. “He [the Rav] said, in the name of the Vilna Gaon, that the appreciation of music is at a level in relation to nevuah [prophecy],” said Rabbi Genack.

Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet-Rothkoff, a Rosh Mesivta at YU’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Israel, explored the Haggadah through his own experiences teaching Torah, basing his approach on the Rav’s art of Torah instruction. With frequent nods to his own encounters with students and his time spent living in Jerusalem, he underlined the central role of passing on and respecting the wisdom of past generations. Referencing numerous stories, Biblical and otherwise, Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff said that the Haggadah, and Judaism in general, is about understanding “the generation that came before you.”

Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff ended his shiur with the lesson that the Seder’s inclusion of Hallel in two parts separated by the meal is an example of Torah Umadda—that mundane activities need to be sacred as well and the interruption of Hallel by Shulchan Aruch [the festive meal on Pesach] is an expression of bringing holiness into the activities of daily life.  

Rabbi Hershel Schachter, the Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud and Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS, shared insights from the Rav into the Haggadah. Rabbi Schachter’s epicurean shiur addressed the obligations of eating maror [bitter herbs] and matzah at the Pesach Seder, connecting the topic with other interpretations of the evening’s commandments that he learned from the Rav–for instance, that the Rav believed the Seder’s obligation of korech, or to bind sandwich materials together, meant the sandwich on the night of Pesach eaten in Hillel’s memory should be wrapped in lettuce rather than between two hard pieces of matzah.

Rav Schachter ended his shiur with a note that the Rav’s scholarly nature was based on what he learned from generations past and gedolim he interacted with, which emulated the Seder’s directive to tell the Pesach story throughout the generations.