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Rabbi Levin's Blog

Rabbi Levin's Blog


Parshat - Korach Rosh Chodesh


This week we read about a tragic rebellion against Moshe and Aharon.  Korach, their cousin, challenged their leadership and their appointments, and ended up being swallowed up in the ground along with his family and those of his main followers.  When we read some of the background of the story in the Midrash, Talmud and Chassidus, we see that Korach was no dummy.  He is described as a wise man, a leader and prophet.  He was the wealthiest man in the nation, and was looked up to and respected by many up to this point.  There are many levels of explanation as to why he rebelled and what his complaints against Moshe were.  There are those who say that he felt he should have been the tribal leader, or that he wanted everyone to have the opportunity to be High Priests and offer the incense in the Temple, or that he did not believe there should be any leaders at all because "the entire community is holy and Hashem is within them."  


I want to look at the story from the perspective of leadership.  We see here two leaders.  Moshe, the most successful leader of all time, and Korach, a dismal failure.  Besides the obvious difference that Moshe was appointed by Hashem and Korach was fighting Hashem's choice, I am struck ny a major difference in the motivation and style of the two leaders.  Moshe is described as a shepherd.  He was reluctant to assume the leadership because he felt he was not worthy and someone else would do a better job.  Once he assumed leadership, he was motivated purely by the benefit of his people, all the people, even those who rebelled against him.  at the last moment before Datan and Aviram and their families disappeared underground, and after they had refused to come and speak to Moshe, Moshe himself went to their tents to try to get them to change their minds.  Moshe's entire purpose, every action that he took, was as a servant of Hashem and a shepherd of the people.  He was so humble and ego-less that when he did stand up and assert his power, it was not his own power but that of Hashem.  


Korach, on the other hand, felt that he deserved to lead the people.  Because of his lineage, his scholarship, his wealth, his respect in the community, he was entitled to leadership.  It was about him, not about what was right for the people.  Even the spiritual pursuits that our Sages ascribe to him were for his own spiritual growth, whereas Moshe was prepared to sacrifice his life and his legacy in the Torah to protect those who had sinned with the Golden Calf.  Aaron the Hugh Priest spent his time making peace between people and working with those who were far from observance, encouraging them with love to approach Torah.  He also was reluctant to take the position and did so only because it was Hashem's wish.  


True leadership is not about the leader but about the benefit he brings to his people.  As soon as it becomes about the leader's rights or needs, it is no longer true leadership.  When that caliber of leader needs to assert himself and enforce his authority, he is not thinking about preserving his position.  Rather he knows that in order to fulfill his mission to lead his people and help them stay on the right track, he cannot allow self-serving leaders to take over, and will fight to preserve the nation's integrity, despite the fact that it runs against his humble nature.


Our generation saw a true, selfless leader like this.  Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the "Lubavitcher Rebbe," was the greatest leader of our time, yet it was clear that every one of his actions, every word he said and every position he took was purely for the benefit of the Jewish people and the world at large.  People listened and followed him not because of the force of his personality, but because we knew that he was motivated only by his deep love of every person and his understanding of the mission that Hashem had given each person.  There is no way I can begin to do justice to describing his combination of greatness and humility, so I will leave it at that.  Please see here for a lot more on the Rebbe.  This coming Tuesday is the third of Tamuz, the Rebbe's Yartzeit.  I will be joining tens of thousands of Jews from all over the world who will be visiting his resting place in New York, to pray to Hashem  for a few moments at this sacred spot on this auspicious day, to try to connect to his holiness and legacy, as is the ancient Jewish tradition.  If you would like me to mention your name at the graveside, please reply to this email with your Jewish name and that of your mother.  May we merit the immediate revelation of Moshiach, when, the Torah teaches, the souls of the departed will be resurrected, and we will be reunited in the physical world with our great leader the Rebbe and all the great leaders of all the generations, along with the entire Jewish people.

Parshat - Shelach

 I am writing this on the flight back from New York where we celebrated the engagement of our daughter Menucha to Mendy Klyne.  We are deeply grateful to Hashem for bringing us to this milestone, helping Menucha move on to the next stage in her life, especially appropriate for this week's Parsha, "Shelach," which means "send."  Earlier in the week we celebrate another kind of "sending" to the next stage in life, at our daughter Esti's graduation from high school in Chicago.

At the graduation, Esti delivered the D'var Torah, and I would like to write a synopsis of what she said. This thought is important to all of us, but especially to those embarking on life's journey, taking on the responsibilities of making a living and running a household.

Toward the end of the Parsha we learn the Mitzvah of Challah. The literal translation of Challah is a loaf, and in this context the Mitzvah is that every time we bake bread, we should give the first part of it to the Kohanim. ("Kohanim" is loosely translated as priests, referring to the descendants of Aaron who performed the service in the Temple). This is a requirement that applies at all times and in all locations.  When the Holy Temple stood, every individual was required to give a loaf the size of 1/24th of the dough, and a commercial baker would give 1/48th. This loaf or loaves had a level of sanctity that required them to be kept "Tahor" - ritually pure, as well as other restrictions. Today we don't have the conditions required for the loaf to be eaten by the Kohanim, so we observe the Mitzvah as it is prescribed to be done in these conditions. We take a small piece of dough, while reciting a blessing for the Mitzvah, and burn it.  We may not eat any baked goods, assuming they meet the criteria for the Challah requirements, unless the piece of Challah has been separated. This Mitzvah applies to all, men and women, but it is one of the three Mitzvot for which Hashem gave priority to women, and it is their prerogative to do it. (The other two are lighting Shabbat candles and marital Mikvah.)

The Talmud says regarding the importance of the Mitzvah of Challah, that not observing it is tantamount to worshipping idols. This seems to be a pretty extreme statement. How can giving a piece of bread to a Kohen rise to this level of importance, to be compared to one of the three cardinal Mitzvot (idolatry, adultery or incest, and murder)?  The answer is that on some level, the non-observance of this Mitzvah shows a lack of acceptance of Divine Providence in every aspect of nature.

There are many things that people do to create that piece of dough. A farmer ploughs the field and sows seeds, with all the many labors that are involved in growing wheat.  The the wheat is ground and sifted, and then mixed with water and kneaded, until the dough is ready for baking. It is natural for a person to feel satisfaction that his or her work has lead to this point and has created the means with which to receive nourishment.  It is at this moment that we must stop and reflect that what appears to us to be the natural way of the world is actually the Hand of Hashem, making the seeds germinate and grow, bringing the rain, and giving us the strength and knowhow to do all the work.  This is the role of a human being on earth, to acknowledge and reveal that nature is, in fact, run by Divine Providence, and that what appears to us to be the natural order of things is really a constant miracle. We express this idea by sanctifying and giving the first part of our labor to the Kohen.  In absence of this Mitzvah, we may consider Nature to be its own force, and attribute the growth of the food to our own abilities and "the natural order of things," in a way worshipping the world as something separate and "other than" Hashem. This is why this Mitzvah, which affects our bread, the very foundation of our nutrition, rises to such importance in the Jewish worldview.

Parshat - Beha'alotecha


One of the many subjects in this week’s Parsha, Beha’alotcha, is the journeys of the Jewish people through the desert, specifically the order of the tribes, who went first and who went last.  The Torah tells us that Dan travelled in the back, and describes them as “Me’asef Lechol Hamachanot” – the collectors for all the camps.  As the ones who travelled last, they picked up anything that the others had dropped or left behind and returned them.  I guess you could say that the managed the “lost and found.”  This is very interesting, but does it really merit a prominent spot in the written Torah?  There are many historical stories and details of stories that are told in the Talmud and midrash that are not mentioned in the written Torah.  Everything in the written Torah is an eternal lesson in our daily lives.  The word “Torah” means lesson or teaching.  So there must be a lesson to us today from Dan’s role as returner of lost items.


What does it mean to be last?  The Torah teaches us that the Jewish nation is like a single body, and this concept is expressed in many ways.  For example, it emphasizes the love we should have for one another, just as we care about every limb in our body.  The head is the seat of the brain, the part of us that thinks and understands and leads the actions of the body.  The feet do not have any understanding, but they do our bidding and move without question (as long as they are healthy).  These are also two expressions of our devotion to Hashem.  There is the intellectual part of our service, study, philosophical and spiritual pursuits, and the attempt to understand the reasons behind the Mitzvot and to feel their inspiration.  This is important for us, since it helps us sustain our excitement in Torah and helps us feel closer to Hashem.  But then there are the times when we don’t feel particularly inspired, the Mitzvot that we don’t understand, or practices that we don’t feel bring us to spiritual heights.  When we observe those Mitzvot, we are doing it because we accept Hashem’s will.  In Hebrew that is called Kabbalat Ol -acceptance of the “yoke” of Heaven. 


The first type of observance is like the head, and the second is like the feet.  While the first is more inspired and brings us spiritual satisfaction, it can be all about us.  I am feeling great by doing these things that make sense to me and uplift me and bring me closer to Hashem.  The second type of practice can be devoid of feeling, but it is not about us, it is all about Hashem.  So while we feel distant, we are actually connecting more to Hashem, because we are fulfilling His will for His sake.  This is the role of Dan.  By traveling last, they were farther away from the Holy Ark and the Tablets than the rest of the people.  But they knew that Hashem wants us to help a fellow, so they were prepared to accept the distance in order to fulfill Hashem’s will.  Sometimes it is necessary for us to forgo our own personal spiritual growth in order to help another.  By doing so, rather than lowering ourselves, we bond with Hashem on a higher, more essential level.

Parshat Behar-Behukotai

 This week we again read a double Parsha, Behar and Bechukotai. At the beginning of Bechukotai, the Torah outlines the wonderful rewards in store for those who toil in Torah study and carefully observe the Mitzvot. Rain in its time, high quality produce and fruit, abundance of all material things and many other material blessings. These passages are perplexing on several levels. The Talmud says that there is no reward for Mitzvot in this world. Certainly the Talmudic scholars knew that these verses seemed to contradict their statement. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) it says that the reward for a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself. This also seems contradictory. Another part of the question is that we are taught to serve Hashem out of love with no expectation of reward. Why then does the Torah promise so many great rewards for serving Hashem?  And why are the promises of a material nature when the ultimate reward is spiritual?

These questions are discussed at great length in many writings of our sages. I am going to approach it briefly from two angles. Rambam explains the seeming contradiction of "no reward in this world" vs the promise of material rewards by defining two types of "reward."  There is a reward that is given in appreciation for work done. Then there are tools and needs provided to help a person do the work. Think of an employee. He or she gets a paycheck at the end of the month. That is the reward for doing a good job. The better the employee performs, the more perks he or she gets to help them do the job. So for example the top salesperson at the company will get a corner office and a secretary. As their performance increases, they may get a second secretary and a car and a driver and flights on a private jet. None of this diminishes the paycheck. In fact the paycheck gets bigger. Rambam says that when a person truly observes the Torah, Hashem gives him or her bountiful blessings that help bolster the observance and remove the obstacles of illness and poverty that make observance more difficult. The true reward is given in the World to Come.

On another level, Chassidus looks at these rewards as part of our service to Hashem.  Contrary to what many believe, the ultimate purpose of Creation is not the spiritual worlds and the ultimate purpose of life is not the World to Come. The entire Creation, including all the spiritual realms, is for the purpose of this physical world. It is here that Hashem's will and purpose are fulfilled, when a human being makes a free choice - something unique to humans on Earth - to disregard all challenges and use the world for Hashem's service. This is the meaning of "creating a home for Hashem in the lower realm" that our Sages taught is the purpose of the entire creation. If we accept this premise, then everything we do and everything we receive should be focused on Hashem's will.  Think of a loving parent.  The greatest pleasure he or she has is to give the children gifts and rewards. Imagine the joy a parent has when his or her child excels at school or does things that strengthen the family or improve the world. There is no limit to how much the parent wants to give the child, and the more opportunities to give, the happier the parent is. Hashem is our loving father who wants to shower us with blessings. He begs us to do whatever we can to be worthy of these blessings, and it gives Him great pleasure when we have material abundance. The child who loves to see his or her parents happy does not do good for the rewards they give, but is excited by the pleasure the parents get from his or her behavior, as expressed by the gifts they give. When we focus on Hashem's will, we devote ourselves to His service, and celebrate the many material gifts He gives us that show His love and appreciation for our work to fulfill our mission on Earth.

Parshat Emor


This Sunday will be Lag Ba’omer – so called because it is the 33rd day of the Omer, the period of counting the days from Pesach to Shavuot, and the numerical value of 33 in Hebrew letters is Lamed Gimel, that spells Lag. This is a day of celebration, with bonfires, gatherings, parties, and special outings for children. The Rebbe instated a custom to have a Great Parade on this day. It started on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, attended by many thousands of children, with floats, marching bands and entertainers, followed by a day of activities in the park. The Rebbe would personally participate in the parade, delivering a major address to the children, and then watching with great love and nachas as they passed by his stand. This custom is also observed in many major cities when Lag Ba’omer is on Sunday. As a young boy, I participated in a few parades in London and I remember the excitement building for weeks in advance.

The day of Lag Ba’omer celebrates two historical events. Rabbi Akiva was one of the greatest Talmudic sages. 24,000 of his students died during this period following Pesach, and they stopped dying on Lag Ba’omer. This is also the day of the Yartzeit - anniversary of passing – of the great Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon was the first to reveal the secrets of Kabbalah, that had previously not been taught to anyone but the leader of the generation. Shortly before he died on the day of Lag Ba’omer, Rabbi Shimon called his closest disciples and told them he was going to reveal secrets that had never before been revealed. The mystical fire and light surrounding these teachings, as well as Rabbi Shimon’s intense holiness at that time, caused a physical fire to surround Rabbi Shimon, and most of the disciples were not able to remain in the room. This is one of the reasons for the custom of lighting bonfires on Lag Baomer.

Rabbi Shimon was one of those unique sages who affected the entire world for all generations. He is one of the most prolific Talmudic teachers, quoted widely throughout the Mishna. He is also the author of the Zohar, and is credited with beginning the process of revealing the inner secrets of the Torah to the world, thereby beginning the preparation of the world for the Messianic revelation. The Talmud says that many tried to emulate Rabbi Shimon but were not able to. This is referring to his level of devotion to pure Torah study, which was his only occupation. We generally consider people who are involved completely in study to be removed from the world and without impact on the world. However, this was not the case with Rabbi Shimon. When he heard that there was a drought, he taught Torah and it started to rain. His disciples once asked him to show them how Torah brings material blessings. He took them out to a valley and commanded the valley to fill up with golden coins, and that immediately happened. The Rebbe explained that Rabbi Shimon was showing them that the material rewards from Torah are real, albeit not usually as clearly visible at the time of that miracle.

In Rabbi Shimon’s time, our sages taught, there was no rainbow. A rainbow is a sign, as written in Parshat Noach, that Hashem made an oath never to again destroy the entire world with a flood. Rabbi Shimon’s holiness was so great and affected the world in such a way that there was not even a possibility that there would be a flood in his generation, so there was no need for the sign. This is one of the reasons that children customarily play with bows and arrows on Lag Baomer.

One of Rabbi Shimon’s teachings (Talmud Megillah 29a) is that wherever the Jewish people are in exile, the Presence of Hashem is with us. One of the sources is the verse that states that at the end of the exile, Hashem will return us from all corners of the earth to our land. The Hebrew word for “He will return you” should be “Veheshiv.” The word used in the verse is “Veshav,” which translates to “He [Himself] will return, implying that Hashem is with us in exile and will return with us. This has been a very comforting statement to Jews throughout the ages, knowing that even though we have experienced tremendous difficulties in exile, Hashem is with us to keep us going.

As I mentioned before, the revelation of the mystical secrets of Torah prepares the way for the Messianic revelation. Lag Ba’omer is a time for us to increase our connection with the inner part of Torah. While pure Kabbala is inaccessible to most and are therefore called “secrets,” these secrets have been made not secret anymore by the teachings of Chassidus, accessible to all. Let’s delve into this study, and do our part to hasten the revelation of the Moshiach. I invite you to come and join us at Chabad for bonfires, barbecues and parties.

Parshat Acharei-Kedoshim

This week, once again, we read a double Parsha, Acharei Mot and Kedoshim.  The name of the first Parsha – Acharei Mot – means after the death.  This is referring to the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, who had offered incense in the Holy of Holies on the day that the Presence of G-d was first revealed in the sanctuary, and who had died in the process.  Now Hashem is teaching Aaron and the other Kohanim (priests) the proper procedures for entering the Holy of Holies.  This was the inner room of the Sanctuary that contained the Ark with the Tablets that Moshe had brought down from Mount Sinai.  This was the holiest place in the world, and only the holiest person, the Kohen Gadol (high priest) was allowed to go in, and only on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur.  Even then, he was only allowed in for the specific purpose of the special, once a year burning of the incense.  There was incense burned every day, twice a day, in the outer room of the Sanctuary or Temple, but this service in the inner room was only on Yom Kippur.


Whenever I translate the word Kohen to priest, I feel a little uncomfortable.  While the Kohen would perform the service in the Temple and was a guide and mentor for the people, the word “priest” invokes the idea of celibacy and removal from the norms of family life.  This is the opposite of the Torah’s direction for a Koen Gadol.  In order for him to perform the service on Yom Kippur, he had to be married.  We learn this from requirements of the special goat sacrifices that the Kohen Gadol offered on Yom Kippur.  The Torah says that with these sacrifices “He shall atone for himself and his home…”, and the Talmud say that “his home” refers to his wife.  I have two questions I would like to address here.  First of all, if the Torah wants to tell us that he is atoning for his wife, why doesn’t it just say “his wife?”  Why does it say “his home” and leave it up to the Talmud to explain that it means his wife?  While it is true that the written Torah is in code or “shorthand” and can only be understood by studying the Talmud’s often lengthy explanations, in this case the word is “home” and the explanation is “wife”, so there is no savings of words by saying “home.”  Another question about the whole idea:  The only day when the requirement to be married applies is Yom Kippur.  The holiest day of the year, the holiest person in the nation, performing the service in the holiest place, you would think that he should be at the pinnacle of spirituality, yet specifically in this situation he must be married.


There is an answer that addresses both questions, based on the teachings of the Rebbe.  The relationship between husband and wife is extremely important in the Torah.  The first year a couple is married, the husband is exempt from military or any major community service.  It is a Mitzvah to “make his wife happy.”  We consider Shalom Bayit – meaning peace in the home – of paramount importance.  Yet a relationship between husband and wife should not be just about them.  We must keep in mind that there is a higher purpose to a relationship – to create a home, a place permeated with light and warmth that will pass our values and learning on to the next generation.  A relationship must move beyond the necessary and valuable initial stage of infatuation with one another, to the creation of a home and a family.  While we must always care for one another and be constantly thinking about each other, the ultimate purpose of a marriage is the home, the family and the future.


The same applies with our relationship with Hashem.  Our soul yearns for connection to Hashem, and, if we are in touch with our inner selves, we strive to create a bond with Him and to experience the ecstasy of spiritual enlightenment.  Here too, we must remember that the purpose of this enlightment should not be only about our own, albeit holy, needs.  It is about creating a home with Hashem in the physical world, and ensuring that we pass this spiritual feeling on to our children and our environment.


So, on the holiest day, the holiest person in the holiest place must remember, as he reaches the epitome of mystical experience, that it is not about himself and his spiritual pursuits, it is about affecting the world.  He must be married, the Torah says, and he must be the kind of person who remembers the higher purpose of his relationships.  If he lives this way, recognizing the value of his relationship with his wife, and his relationship with Hashem, as affecting not just himself but the world around him, then he is worthy to be the messenger to bring atonement and blessing to his people.

Parshat Tazriya-Metzora

 This week we read a double Parsha. Let’s talk for a moment about what that means. The Torah is divided into 54 Parshiyot, and every week, generally, we read one Parsha. When Shabbat coincides with a festival, we step out of the regular order and read a portion in the Torah that talks about the festival, and then go back to where we left off.  However, the number of weeks in a year fluctuates.  Our leap year has 13 months, or about 55 weeks, while a regular 12-month year has fewer than 52 weeks.  That is why there are a few Parshiyot that can either be separate or joined, and this week’s reading is an example of a double Parsha, Tazria and Metzorah.  The themes of these two Parshas are similar, dealing mostly with the laws of Tzara’at, a spiritually based disease that afflicted people in the times of the Temple, and other forms of human ritual impurity.  These rules are generally not relevant now in a practical sense.  Tzara’at does not occur today, and the laws of impurity do not, for the most part, affect our lives.  Nevertheless, as in all areas of Torah, studying these subjects connect us to Hashem’s will, and on a deeper level there is a message that is relevant to each of us in our daily lives, even today.  

I will discuss Tzara’at a little.  Rambam explains that Tzara’at is not a physically based disease.  This is evident by the fact that the word Tzara’at refers to splotches that appear on a person’s skin, on his or her hair, clothing or even on a house.  There is no connection between these widely varying objects except for the laws of Tzara’at.  If a person, garment or home develops certain types of marks, colored white, red or green, depending on the situation, a Kohen (priest) would examine them to see if they met the criteria of Tzara’at, in which case he would pronounce “Tamei” (loosely translates as impure).  The person with Tzara’at would have to move out of town and be alone until healed, the mark on the clothing would be cut out and the affected stones of the house removed.  If the Tzara’at returned to the garment, it would be discarded, and in the case of a house, it would be demolished.  If the mark was not Tzara’at, the Kohen would pronounce it “Tahor” (meaning pure). 

The Talmud tells us that Tzara’at was a punishment and atonement for seven sins, the primary one being the L’Shon Hara (speaking negatively about another). This is an insidious sin, which is extremely difficult to keep away from.  Any kind of negative talk about another, unless it is to save another person from harm, is included in this sin.  Imagine what would happen to the Press if it refrained from gossip and negative reporting. Think what would happen if politicians refrained from gossip.  This is also true in so many other areas of our society.  What a beautiful world it would be, and how far from possible it seems.  Yet the damage from gossip is so great that the Torah considers it worse than the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery and murder!  Removing a person from society gives him or her a chance to contemplate his or her behavior and do Teshuva. Rambam says that the Tzara’at would begin on a person’s house as a warning, then on the clothing, and if that did not work, then on the person him- or herself.  The Kohen was charged with the decision of whether the mark was Tzara’at or not, forcing the afflicted person to interact with him.  The Kohanim were public servants of the highest order.  The priestly family was known for its kindness and compassion, traits they inherited from Aaron, who is described in the Mishna as one who loved all creatures and made peace between them.  The Kohen would not be satisfied to pronounce a person impure and leave it at that, and a Kohen would shudder at the thought of having to banish someone from society.  He would do everything he could to work with this person and guide him or her to the right path, to inspire him or her to give up their negative behavior and reach the point where the Tzara’at would clear up.  The Kohen would rejoice in the opportunity to pronounce the person healed and welcome him or her back into society.

Today the Kohanim do not function as they did in the Temple, and the mystical purification of Tzara’at does not happen, but the concept is very much alive.  We must always be cognizant of the dangers of negative talk.  There is a Talmudic saying that L’Shon Hara kills three people, the one who says it, the one who hears it, and the victim.  This is true even if the victim never hears about the gossip.  Chassidus explains the great power of words. The world was created by Hashem’s words, after all. Negative words have a negative impact on the person regardless of whether he or she knows about it.  I know that it may be difficult to wrap our minds around this since we are used to believing only what we see with our physical eyes.  Nevertheless, the Torah teaches us that this is so in the spiritual realms, too.  If the gossip is true, it is likely that the person who is doing something wrong is struggling spiritually and emotionally to overcome a challenge.  The negative mystical energy generated by the negative talk gives more power to the negative behavior and makes it that much more difficult to overcome.  Sound far-fetched?  Well, scientists know today what the Torah has been teaching for thousands of years:  The entire universe is interconnected, and a small action in one place can affect the entire ecosystem.  This is also true of words.  So when we are tempted to repeat a juicy tidbit about someone, or we hear someone starting to tell it, we should contemplate the seriousness of this issue, remembering that when the Temple stood, a person would be banished from society for it and clothing and homes would be destroyed because of it. This recognition may help us control our urges and refrain from speaking or hearing negative chatter.  The world will indeed be a much better place if we strive to live up to this ideal.

Is There a Jewish Glass Ceiling? - Weekly Facebook Live Torah Studies Class

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Parshat Shmini

Pesach is over. Is it really? There is a song that many communities sing after the Seder – Chasal Sidur Pesach – translated as The Pesach Seder has ended. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813), founder of the Chabad movement, authored, among other great works, a prayer book based on the teachings of the great Kabbalah master Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as “the AriZal.” In that prayer book, Rabbi Schneur Zalman left out the Chasal Sidur Pesach song, with the explanation that the Seder of Pesach never really ends. Pesach is not just about remembering the historic event of the Exodus. The celebrations, customs, and observance of Pesach, including eating Matzah and refraining from Chametz, provide inspiration that should last throughout the year. The Holiday of Pesach has four names, and I will briefly discuss a lesson that we can take with us from each of the names.

Zeman Cheiruteinu – the Time of our Freedom. As we leave the Holiday and move into our day-to-day lives, it behooves us to remember that we each have a mission on earth. Every individual can make a difference because every individual was chosen by Hashem to do something to improve the world. There are many reasons why we may sometimes lose sight of that. Financial pressures, family obligations, the day-to-day grind of life, our desires to chase pleasures that are easy to pursue and make us feel good at the moment, our habits, our lack of self-worth and wavering faith in ourselves, and a myriad other distractions. Pesach reminds us to stop and take stock of who we are and why we are here, and to assess what extent our actions and activities are in line with our mission. This is important because we can only be truly happy when we are living a meaningful life. Is there something wrong with pursuing a career and being busy, and also having some fun? No, but Pesach tells us that all of this should be consistent with our purpose, and that we should be in control and not allow everything that is coming at us from all directions to control us. That is freedom.

Chag ha’aviv – the Spring Holiday. The Torah emphasizes that the Exodus happened in spring. Spring is when the world starts blooming. The flowers grow, the fruit trees bud, the grain begins to ripen and the whole of Nature seems to wake up. It was during this season that Hashem performed all of the great miracles relating to the Exodus. This reminds us that all of Nature is controlled by Hashem. When we open our eyes and look beyond the surface, we realize that all of this beauty and the intricacy of the ecology cannot just be happening by itself. The entire universe was created by the word of Hashem, and it is that Divine energy that keeps it going constantly. Contemplating this every day helps us in our quest for freedom because we realize that everything has a purpose, and we have been given the great privilege of helping to fulfill that purpose.

Chag Hamatzot – the Holiday of Matzot. The physical difference between leavened bread and Matzah is that leavened bread puffs up, whereas Matzah is flat. This concept further reinforces what we learned above: Our ego and personal feelings sometimes lead us to forget our purpose. Eating Matzah on Pesach reminds us to seek the essence, to strip away all of the distractions and focus on our essence. The inspiration from Pesach then allows us to eat Chametz, but keep it in check and harness all our abilities and desires in the service of our core mission.

Pesach – usually translated as Passover, but the real meaning of Pesach is to leap. In order to overcome all of the things that hold us back, we sometimes need to take a leap. We find ourselves stuck at a certain level and don’t feel confident enough to move forward spiritually. Often when an opportunity to do a Mitzvah presents itself, whether a Mitzvah between a person and Hashem or from one person to another, we shy away because “I am not that religious,” or “there are so many other things I’m not doing.” While we generally try to grow step by step, sometimes that is just not enough and we find ourselves stuck where we are. Pesach reminds us that we have the ability to take a leap. Go ahead and do that Mitzvah and don’t be afraid about what you perceive as your inadequacies. Hashem Himself came to Egypt and redeemed a people that included many idol-worshipers, and brought them to Sinai to receive the Torah. No matter where you are on the observance spectrum, you can leap forward and grab a Mitzvah. This is the power that Pesach gives us, and this is, again, true freedom.
May the inspiration of Pesach remain with us, and may we merit the opportunity to observe the Seder “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

Chol Hamoed Pesach

Today is the third day of Pesach.  There are essentially three parts to Pesach. The first two days have the status of a full Yomtov - Holiday - when we refrain from all work, except cooking food for the day, or carrying in the street (even without an Eruv), which are permitted on Holidays although forbidden on Shabbat.  The last two days of the Holiday have this status, as well.  The four days in between - the Intermediate Days - are called Chol Hamoed, which translates loosely to "the weekdays of the Holiday”.  On the one hand, they are still part of the Holiday, which we observe by celebrating, saying special prayers and refraining from work.  On the other hand, they are "weekdays", so we are not forbidden from work.  What that means from a practical standpoint is that we do only the work that is absolutely necessary.  So, we go on trips and go to work if we have to keep our jobs, but we try to cut back on work as much as possible.  (Of course, since Shabbat is one of those four days this year, the Shabbat rules apply.)

Originally, the way it is written in the Torah, the Holiday included one day at the beginning, one day at the end and five days in between, for a total of seven days, and this is the way it is still observed in Israel today.  Outside of Israel, we observe an extra day.  The first day commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and the last day commemorates the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, which happened on that day.  The Torah tells us to eat Matzah for seven days, so this celebration spans the entire time-- from when the Jews left Egypt until the day that their enemies were no longer a threat.

In observance of Chol Hamoed, I am going to be brief, and conclude with best wishes for a continued happy Pesach.  Just one point to add:  On the eighth day of Pesach we read the prophecy of the coming of Moshiach and the future redemption.  Our Sages have said that just as we were redeemed from Egypt in the month of Nissan, so we will be redeemed from this exilein [?] Nissan.  It is customary to enjoy a meal at the end of that day known as the "Moshiach Feast" with Matzah and four cups of wine.  I invite you to join me at 7:30 PM on Tuesday April 18th at 3070 Louis Road for this uplifting occasion.   Chag Sameach. 

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