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Thought for the Day: Freedom Comes Only With Involvement In Talmud Torah

I am officially old; I have proof.  Last night on the bus ride home, a 20-something young man offered his seat to me.  No, that's not a proof; after all, some people will do things like that just to elicit a reaction.  (Not that I know anyone like that, of course.)  No, my proof is that I gratefully accepted his offer.  Apparently respect for elders is not dead.  At least for us non-dead elders.

The theme of the seder night is cheirus -- freedom from bondage.  One of the ways we experience that feeling is by reclining while we eat the ceremonial unleavened bread and drink the ceremonial four cups of wine.  In fact, if one eats or drinks without reclining, the eating/drinking needs to be repeated. (I know, I know... lots of caveats, but that's the basic halacha.)  There is one exception: a talmid who is at the seder with his rebbi does not recline without specific permission from his rebbi.  In fact, says the Halichos Shlomo, it is not even permitted for the talmid to ask permission to recline.  The asking in and of itself is a breach of the respect due his rebbi.  The Halichos Shlomo notes that as important as reclining is to the seder, no one ever suggests that the talmid would be better off eating his seder elsewhere.  It seems that sitting at the seder table with one's rebbi is more important than the demonstration of cheirus by reclining.  Why?

R' Shlomo Zalman is reported to have given two (complimentary, it seems to me) explanations.  First, the feeling of yirah (awe/fear/respect) one feels in the presence of his rebbi in general is more important than the specific need to recline at the seder table.  I understand him to mean that just being in the presence of his rebbi has enough effect on his n'shama that he is not losing any shleimus in his avodas HaShem by not reclining.  (Got enough negatives and double negatives there, pardner?)  Alternatively, said R' Auerbach, the amount of growth that comes from watching how his rebbi performs the mitzvos of the night, his conduct with other people at the table, and even the tenor of his ordinary conversation is such a growth experience that it overrides the need for reclining.

I would like to suggest that these explanations are really a powerful implementation of the statement of our Chazal: Ein l'cha ben chorin ele mi sh'osek b'talmud torah -- there is no free person except one who is involved with learning/doing Torah. (Avos 6:2).  The seder is for everyone.. children, adults, the simple son, the wise son, the son at risk, and the one who doesn't even know what to ask.  For someone who has a rebbi and feels the yira of his presence, there is no greater expression of freedom from all bondage than sitting up straight in his presence.

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