Elazar Ben Asarya

Haggadah Section: Introduction

Gemara in Brachos tells us the background of this quote. Rav Elazar ben Azaria, was actually an 18 year old Talmudic genius, and he had been chosen to become the Nasi (President of the Rabbinate). When he came home and told his wife, she tried very hard to dissuade him from accepting the offer because of all of the headaches associated with the gig. He then tells her: "Should one not drink out of a crystal glass for fear of it breaking?" ( yes, that is up there for the coolest Talmud oneliners of all time). Bottom line: You can't use the possibility of something going wrong as an excuse to not try it out. Which ultimately led his wife to say to him “But even so, how can you be the Nasi, you're beard isn't even white!”.. That night Hashem turned Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah’s beard white as indicated in the Hagaddah—“I am Like a man of Seventy Years old” Keshivim shana (he was only 18 but suddenly overnight he looked like he was 70). Remember this: You want something bad enough, nothing can hold you back, the Ribono ShelOlam makes sure of it. (Michael Parker, Los Angeles, CA)

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah said...Talk about a non-sequitor! Here we are trying to get underway our mitzvah of sipur yitziat mitzrayim, telling the Exodus story, and with no clear reason, the author of the haggadah includes this somewhat irrelevant piece about the daily mitzvah of zechirat yitziat mitzrayim, remembering the Exodus. But perhaps there is some relevance. There are three components to the mitzvah of sipur yitziat mitzrayim (talking about it) that make it distinct from zechirah(remembering): 1) While reading to oneself may suffice for zechirah, sipur must be done in a question/answer dialectic; 2) while simply mentioning the end result – leaving Egypt – may suffice for zechirah, sipur requires a discussion of the process, particularly our passage from a miserable situation to a praiseworthy one; and 3) the various mitzvot of the night must be discussed in some detail (e.g., pesach, matzah, maror). Given these unique components of sipur, perhaps the function of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaryah’s statement is to function as a prelude to performing the mitzvah of sipur. Every night an individual is required to remember the Exodus but tonight, the requirements have changed. We must revise our approach if we are to fulfill the mitzvah of sipur. And with the conclusion of this story, we are thrust right into the sipur dynamic: The four Sons (question / answer); In the beginning our forefathers served idols... and built for us the Beit Habechirah to atone for all our sins (process) and finally, Raban Gamlielel (discussion of seder night mitzvoth). Not too irrelevant after all. (Geoff Dworkin, NYC)

“Not until I heard the words of Ben Zoma...”

As mentioned above R’ Elazar Ben Azarya was only 18 when he was appointed head of the rabbinate! In our hagadah it describes how he learned the source of the mitzvah of mentioning the exodus at night comes from a teaching of a sage named “Ben Zoma”...but what’s also interesting about this seemingly arbitrary reference is that Ben Zoma is well known for another classical sagely teaching from Pirkei Avos: Ben Zoma Said: Who is Wise? One who learns from every man! It is possible that R’ Elaza Ben Azarya was actually crediting Ben Zoma for this sagely advice! As R’ Elazar Benn Azarya was certainly intimidated to take the responsibility of the nasi at such a young age. But once he learned the teaching of Ben Zoma, that wisdom has nothing to do with age, it’s one’s ability to learn from any situation and from any person that makes a wise man. This teaching may have inspired R; Elazar Ben Azarya to step up to the plate and achieve the greatness he’d been chosen for – to lead the Jewish people.


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