Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been reviewing the Haggadah to lead our family Seder this year and noticed something I never paid attention to before. When we sing the “ve-hi she-amdah” song, there is a note which says the custom is to cover the matzo and lift the cup of wine when reciting that song. No explanation is given for that custom, and I was hoping you could shed some light on this?
I’ll try my best to shed some light without spilling any wine! Every custom in the Haggadah, or of Jewish law in general, carries deeper meanings and insights, which we will attempt to explore herein.
The translation of the Ve-hi She-amdah song in the Haggadah is, “This is what has stood for our ancestors and for us: not only in that generation (of Egypt) did they attempt to destroy us; rather, in every generation the nations have attempted to annihilate us and the Holy One, blessed be He, has rescued us from their hands.”
I would recommend looking at the Passover Survival Kit (Apisdorf, Leviathan Press, pp. 112-113) for a short list, two pages long, of dozens of times in our history that the nations have attempted to destroy us. Other books chronicle the hundreds of expulsions of Jews from nearly every country of the world (including the expulsion of the Jews from Tennessee by General Ulysses S. Grant in 1862!).
The average Jew throughout Jewish history might not know that there are constant plots upon his and his fellow Jews’ lives, except for the times he or she might be going through a pogrom or expulsion. This is punctuated by a story involving the famed R’ Yitzchok from St. Petersburg, who was once asked by the Gentile mayor of that city why it says in our Psalms (117:1-2, recited in Hallel), “Praise Hashem all nations; praise Him, all the states. For his kindness has overwhelmed us, (the Jews)…” The mayor asked the great rabbi, why should we, the nations, praise the Lord for kindness which overwhelms you? The rabbi replied, because only you nations know about the constant plots and plans to annihilate us and see how we are continuously rescued and the plots are foiled. We Jews, however, usually never even know about those plots or that we were saved from them. So it is upon you, the nations, to praise God for His kindness to us!
An example of this was an evil plot by Stalin to gather all the Jews of Russia into one area, with the pretense of the promise of a homeland where the Jews would enjoy prosperity and self-government. Once they were all confined to one area, he could have them all massacred at once. What prevented this plan from coming to fruition was the sudden death of Stalin. This plan was only revealed years after his death when his papers became public. Had those papers never become public we never would have known about this evil plot, or our redemption from it!
When we sing the song of praise to the Al-mighty for His redemption from the constant attempts on our lives, we cover the matzo and lift the cup of wine. The matzo, which the Jews carried upon their shoulders during their miraculous delivery from Egypt, represents the open, obvious miracles that the Al-mighty performs for the Jewish people. The wine, however, represents the hidden miracles, which God performs behind the scenes. Wine is spelled yud-yud-nun in Hebrew, which carries the numerical value of 70. The Talmud observes that the numerical value of “hidden secrets” or sod is also 70. The Talmud explains the correlation that “when the wine goes in the hidden secrets come out.”
Wine represents the hidden meanings and secrets of the universe. This is why we celebrate Purim, the holiday of hidden miracles, with wine.
When we sing the song of praise to the Al-mighty for constantly watching over us, His beloved nation, behind the scenes and foiling plot after plot to destroy us, we cover the matzos because this constant redemption is not an open miracle. We, rather, lift the cup of wine, to show that we can observe God’s deep love and concern for us between the lines of history, behind the scenes.
This is especially pertinent when, like in the Purim story, once again in our times the call has gone out from Persia (Iran) to annihilate the Jewish people. We Jews all around the world together raise our cups of wine and sing the song of redemption, the redemption we hope and pray for, and deep down know will come in a hidden way, to ensure the continuation of the Eternal Nation. L’chaim!
Dear Rabbi Fried,