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Parshat -Vayigash/Hei Tevet

Parshat - Pesach

The Seder! What a wonderful opportunity for the family to get together, to celebrate, eat and drink, and to pass on our traditions to the next generation. When done right, it can be the most memorable night of the year, and a major factor in helping our children learn, follow and love our Torah and heritage. It takes a lot to prepare the Seder. In addition to the cooking and table set up, preparing the house, etc., there is all the Pesach preparation. Getting rid of all the Chametz, putting away the dishes and regular food, taking out the Pesach dishes, buying all the special foods and so much more. And then we sit down to the Seder. Tired, exhausted, wiped out, perhaps nervous and a little short-tempered. We get so caught up in the mechanics of the Seder, that we forget the main Mitzvah of the night. Of course we need to eat matzah and bitter herbs and drink four cups of wine, but there is a special Mitzvah this particular night that the Torah tells us: “You shall tell your children on that day… that Hashem… took us out of Egypt.”

As Rabbi Yosef Jacobson, a great orator, speaker and writer, has said on several occasions, we must remember that this is the one night that there is a special commandment to speak to our children. If we are to fulfill this Mitzvah properly, we must be rested and calm, we must get into their world. We need to hear their questions and listen to what they are saying. In fact, the Mitzvah is for them to ask and for us to answer. While education, the most important part of our tradition, requires us to always be there for our children, on the Seder night that is the entire emphasis. 

People are always looking for ways to make the Seder meaningful, and often they come up with all kinds of creative and often random ideas designed to keep the children’s attention. Perhaps the most important way to get their attention is to really be there for them and listen and discuss, on the child’s level. The traditional Haggadah is full of beautiful stories and thoughts that can keep a child mesmerized. The Seder (which means order) that was established by our sages has been designed specifically to touch the mind and soul of our children. If presented properly with love, patience and attention, it can be as I said before, a memorable and life long experience.

We still have some hand baked Shmurah matzah available. Eating that matzah is the way to fulfill the Biblical requirement to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach. Please contact us if you would like to join a Seder at Chabad.  I wish you a Kosher and Happy Pesach. 

Parshat - Tzav Shabbat Hagadol

The Shabbat before Pesach is called “Shabbat Hagadol” – the Great Shabbat.  Why such a great name?  This dates back to the Shabbat before the Jews left Egypt.  It was the tenth of the month of Nissan, and Hashem told the Jewish people to take a lamb and tie it to their beds, to keep it there for four days, and then on the 14th to slaughter it.  They were to put some of the blood on the doorposts and roast the lamb and eat it with matzah and bitter herbs, in preparation for their redemption the next day, after the plague of the death of the firstborns.  The Egyptians worshipped lambs, so this was quite a gutsy thing for the Jews to do, to tie the Egyptian god to their beds.  The Jews did it nevertheless, and when the Egyptians asked them what they were doing, they explained that in four days they would slaughter the sheep, because Hashem was going to kill all the firstborns and get the Jews out of Egypt.  The Egyptian firstborns really took this seriously.  They had experienced the previous nine plagues, so they had every reason to believe that this one would happen too.  They tried to get Pharaoh to let the Jews go, and when he refused, they started a civil war, and many Egyptians died in the battle.  This was a great miracle and that’s how the Shabbat got its name. 

One could ask, many other great miracles happened over the years.  The splitting of the Red Sea, Chanukah, Purim and many others, yet we don’t name those days “great.”  What is it about this miracle that makes it so great that the day it happened is known as the Great Shabbat?  The question is even greater.  What benefit exactly did the Jews get from this miracle?  They continued to be slaves until the fifteenth of the month, and nothing changed for them.  They weren’t even really involved in the miracle, except telling the Egyptians why they tied a sheep to their beds.  So, what was so great about the Egyptians fighting each other?

The answer lies in the definition of a miracle.  We think of a miracle as something supernatural, the breakdown of nature.  Water naturally flows, so when the water of the sea stood up like walls and allowed the Jews to pass through a dry seabed, that is a miracle.  But there is an even greater kind of miracle, and that is when we see that Hashem controls nature itself, that there really is nothing apart from Hashem, and that all of nature is created by and controlled by Hashem.  This is especially striking when there is a complete turnaround, when that which stands in opposition to holiness and G-dliness revelation becomes a tool for its revelation.  This is what happened on this great day.  Egypt stood in defiance of Hashem.  Pharaoh declared that he did not know G-d and refused to accept His commands.  The firstborns of the country were its strength and leadership, and they turned against him and demanded that he obey Hashem and let the Jews go.  This was the beginning of the final breakdown of the forces of evil, leading to the great Divine miracle of the redemption. miracle was brought about by the Jewish people’s act of sacrifice, following Hashem’s command to take the Egyptian deity and tie it to their beds.  They disregarded the danger inherent in this act, and fearlessly did what Hashem wanted.  The lesson to us is that the darkness of the world cannot stand in the way of goodness and light.  When we follow Hashem’s will, the world itself will support our activities and the darkness itself will turn into light.

Please let us know if we can help you with any of your Pesach needs.  A Seder, hand-baked matzah (we have a small amount left), a wide array of haggadot, Kiddush cups, Eliyahu’ s cups, Matzah plates and covers, and lots more.  I wish you a kosher and happy Pesach. 

Parshat - Vayikra Rosh Chodesh Hachodesh

This week we use three Torahs for the Torah reading. In the first Torah, we read Parshat Vayikra, which teaches about the various animal offerings that were made in the Holy Temple. Some were for atonement of sin, and others as a voluntary gift.  Each has its own requirements, what kind of animals, birds or flour and water combinations can be used. In the second Torah, we read the special portion for Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the new month, since this is the first day of the month of Nissan. In the third Torah, we read Parshat Hachodesh, teaching us to follow the lunar calendar and that Nissan should be counted as the first month, as well as the laws of the Pesach lamb offering, as I wrote last week.

The first day of the month of Nissan is a unique day on our calendar. Many great things happened on that day, and our sages described as a day that “took ten crowns.” Among other things, it is the day the Mishkan - Sanctuary - was dedicated in the Sinai desert, the first time the Presence of Hashem was seen there in the form of a fire that came down from heaven to consume the offerings, and it is considered the “beginning of creation” in the sense that spirituality and the miraculous were revealed in this month, beginning with the Exodus. The name of the month, Nisan, is relayed to the word Nissim, which means miracles. The Talmud says that if a person sees the word Nissan in a dream, it means that “nisei nissim” - miracles upon miracles - will happen to him or her.

So this Shabbat, we are reminded that there is more to the world than what meets the eye. It is time when the air is filled with a supernatural spirit. It is an auspicious time when our soul is strengthened and it is easier for us to rise above our natural tendencies and habits and move to a new spiritual level.

Practically speaking, if a person has been thinking of taking a step forward in connecting to Hashem, perhaps committing to a new Mitzvah or enhancing the observance of one we already do, this is a great time to act on our thoughts. May we all be blessed with a “kosher and happy Pesach", one of spiritual growth with the freedom for our soul to soar. 

Parshat - Vayakhel Pekudai-Parah

Greetings from Jerusalem. I came with the JLI (Jewish Learning Institute) Land and Spirit trip. There are 11 people in our group, and altogether from all over the world there are close to 800. Today we went to see the site of the temporary Sanctuary in Shiloh and then to the permanent site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  I am sitting now in a restaurant just outside of the Old City where we got together with several of our friends who lived in Palo Alto and are now in Israel, spending a wonderful evening together. As always, being in Israel is a meaningful, uplifting experience, and this time it was especially meaningful to be at the sites of the Sanctuary and the Temple during the week when we read in the Torah about the setting up of the Sanctuary in the parshas of Vayakhel and Pekudai. 

In addition to the regular parshas of Vayakhel and Pekudai, we use a second Torah to read the portion called “Parshat Parah,” which contains the laws of the Red Heifer that was used to purify a person who had touched a corpse, rendering him or her unfit to eat the meat of the Pesach sacrifice.  This Parsha is always read the week before  “Parshat Hachodesh,” which tells us the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, to remind us of the obligation to purify ourselves in preparation for Pesach.  Although Parshat Hachodesh is a week away, this Shabbat we say the blessing for the new month of Nisan that begins next Shabbat, and I could not help think of the Parshat Hachodesh spirit as I was walking to the Kotel this evening, as I will soon explain.  In addition to the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, Parshat Hachodesh also deals with the Mitzvah of establishing the month of Nisan as the first month, and setting the Jewish calendar by the lunar cycle. This Parsha is always read on the Shabbat before the beginning of Nisan, or, as is the case this year, on the Shabbat that is the first day of the month. 

As I have written before, Nisan is the first month even though the beginning of the year is Tishrei, six months earlier. The reason is because while Tishrei is the anniversary of the creation of the physical world, Nisan is the anniversary of the beginning of Divine revelation in the world. Since our mission as Jews is to bring harmony between the physical and the spiritual and to transform the world into a home for Hashem, Nisan is rightfully the first month. 

It seems a little easier to relate to this concept in the Holy Land and especially in the holy city of Jerusalem. I look forward to the day, which we expect imminently, when Jerusalem will Not only be the home of the site of the Temple, but the site of the Temple itself, rebuilt in all its glory by Mashiach. Our sages taught that just as the redemption from Egypt was in Nisan, so will the final redemption by Mashiach be in Nisan. Let’s hope it happens now, we are after all blessing the month of Nisan already. Among other things it will save me the trip back. 

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