Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shvii shel Pesach: from splitting of the sea to Mara

Shvii shel Pesach

In the Torah reading for the 7th day of Pesach, we read the portion from Parshas B'Shalach in which the Jews left Egypt, Pharoah chased them, they got to the sea, God split the sea, they said the song of praise "Az Yashir". After Az Yashir, we continue to read one more piece - the arrival of the Jews in a place called Mara after they complained they had had no water for a few days.

The whole day is about the splitting of the sea, so why do we not just stop the reading at the conclusion of that portion? Why do we continue and read about the events at Mara?

The splitting of the sea was the height of inspiration. I can try to picture the water rising up into a wall. I can try to picture the water crashing down on the Egyptians behind the fleeing Jews. I can try to imagine the awesomeness of it. I think of Niagra Falls and find that amazing. Think of a sunset or any natural phenomenon that you find inspiring, and the splitting of the sea was that a million times multiplied. It even says a maid servant was more inspired at the splitting of the sea and had a higher level of prophecy that did the greatest of the later prophets, Yehezkal ben Buzi.

But inspiration is not enough. They were so greatly inspired, but right away they started kvetching again as soon as things got uncomfortable.

What happened to the great emunah they had attained and displayed by the splitting of the sea that the passuk even describes ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו? What happened to the great inspiration? They were without water and suddenly forgot the power Hashem has to provide? They forgot all they saw at the splitting of the sea and in the desert leading up to it and in Egypt?

They wasted the experience of the Kriyas Yam Suf. They were inspired, but they let it slip away. Inspiration is nice, but it must be actualized into some sort of concrete improvement. They let the inspiration slip away, so Hashem brought them to Mara. He showed them that they had immediately sunk back to their previous level and that He does have the power to provide, as He performed the miracle with the water and the tree. And he gave them a series of mitzvos. he made it concrete this time.

no more "inspiration". Now you get inspired and you take something with you. You find a way to actually improve yourself and act on it.

That, maybe, is why we read more than the splitting of the sea and add the parsha of Mara. because it completes the splitting.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pesach: matza and chametz

Pesach - Matzah

The Matzah and Chametz are really very similar. In fact they have almost the exact same ingredients. It is basically flour and water.

Yet, one is a mitzvah to eat on Pesach, and one is assur to eat on Pesach. One is the symbol of freedom from the slavery of Egypt and one is not. One is the bread of the poor man and one is the bread of the wealthy. One costs 6 NIS in the store to buy and one costs upwards of 160NIS per kilo.

The difference between these two items that are really so similar is striking.

This teaches us a lesson that it is all a matter of what you do with it. You can have a character trait, for example, that can go either way. It can be used for good or for bad. It is a matter of your attitude and your direction.

You can take the flour and water and make it into chametz, you can take the flour and water and make it into matzah. You can take any character trait within you, any behavioral custom, and use it for good, or use it for bad.

Matzah is not good or bad and chametz is not good or bad. But the same item can be used to make one or the other. The lesson of the matzah is that just like we have to purge the chametz from within us, so too do we have to learn to use our behaviors and traits for good and not for bad.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tu B'Av: wanting to be in Eretz Yisrael

Tu B'Av

This Monday is a very important day in the calendar. This Monday is Tu B’Av. The 15th of Av. On the 15th of Av we commemorate a number of events that took place in our history, and it is closely related to marriage and love.
In Israel Tu B’Av is celebrated by many Israelis as a form of Valentine’s Day. People will be giving their loved ones gifts and chocolates.

But there is another aspect to the significance of Tu B’Av. This Monday, Tu B’Av, is the first marker of the upcoming shemitta year. Tu B’Av is the first time one has to be concerned with shemitta. It is the cutoff date for planting new fruit trees. After Monday, in Israel, one can no longer plant fruit trees, until after the shemitta year is over.

In this week’s parsha, we read about how Moshe pleaded and prayed to Hashem to have his punishment rescinded. We know he was not allowed into Eretz Yisrael due to his having struck the rock rather than speaking to it. This was a terrible punishment for Moshe. He so desired to get into Eretz Yisrael that he tried everything he could to get Hashem to change his mind.

So he davens to Hashem. He says, “אֶעְבְּרָה-נָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן: הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה, וְהַלְּבָנֹן.” Let me cross the Jordan and see the good land, the mountains and the Levanon, referring to the Beis Hamikdash… But Hashem said “No. and I have had enough of this. I do not want to hear anymore”
Many of the meforshim say that Moshe did not just want to go into Eretz Yisrael. He desired to go in because of the Mitzvos Ha’Tluyos Ba’Aretz. The special mitzvos that only apply in the Land of Israel. Moshe knew he would never have an opportunity to fulfill these, as he would not be going in. He pleaded with Hashem to let him in so he could have such an opportunity. These mitzvos are a nice chunk of the 613, and he did not want to be deprived of the opportunity of keeping shemitta, and giving trumah and maser, leaving peah and the rest of them…

That is a wonderful explanation of the passuk. But I think there is also something to the simple reading of the passuk. The passuk tells us how Moshe wanted to go in and see the Land. He wanted to see yerushalayim, see the Mikdash, see its goodness. He wanted to tour Israel. He just spent 40 years in the desert leading the Jews to Israel, constantly telling them how good the Land is. He desired to actually see it. This was his goal for the past 40 years.
Moshe wanted to sign up for a Birthright trip, or join a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight, or even just to go in and go touring for a few days. He wanted to live in Eretz Yisrael, and of he could not then at least he should be able to see Eretz Yisrael.

A Jew might have great reasons for living in Chutz La’Aretz. But he should at least desire to live in eretz Yisrael, and if that is not feasible, then he should at least try to visit Eretz Yisrael. Even if he cannot, as Moshe could not, he should still make it his goal and objective. It should be at the forefront of his thoughts. He should do everything in his power to make it happen.

Tu B’Av is a good day to begin thinking about Eretz Yisrael, whether moving there or even just to come and visit. Tu B’Av is the first marker of shemitta. Think on Tu B’Av about all the mitzvos you cannot keep while living outside of Israel and how you really should be in Eretz Yisael. Think about how you should come for a visit and plan your aliya, even if right now you cannot do it. Make it a goal, or at least a consideration.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ruth: Strength of Charachter

Shvuos: Ruth

I always thought of Ruth as a mousy woman, with little personality. She kind of just got through everything quietly, albeit with great determination. She sort of sneaks through the story of the megilla, as a secondary charachter, which is funny considering the megilla goes by her name. But that was always my impression when reading Megillat Ruth.

Thinking about it though, I realize that impression is completely wrong. Ruth is a paradigm of strength of charachter. She is the central figure of the story, but succeeds in making herself sort of blend into the background at the same time.

Ruth, we must remember, is the daughter of the king of Moab. She is a princess of one of the greatest nations of the time! By no way could she possibly be timid, mousey, or non-descript. Not coming from where she came from.

With her whole future open before her as a princess of Moab, she changed directions. She felt she had found the truth. "Your God is my God, your nation is my nation."

She did not waver, but stayed the course. She found the truth and decided she had to live her life by it, no matter what the hardships would be. It is not easy to be a convert. I am sure she knew she would be up for hard times, especially after her husband died. It is not easy to be a convert to any nation, not just Judaism, so she knew what she was getting into. And she went ahead with it anyway.

Ruth persisted and found her way to Boaz and the leader of the nation. And she did everything in a tzanua fashion. She was not loud and boisterous. She did not stick out. So much so that she comes off as a secondary charachter in her own book!

Ruth was worthy of being the grandmother of Kind David, King Solomon and the future Mashiach.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

from rag to riches

Shavuos - Omer

The Torah is going through various details of the various holidays. It discusses the Omer offerings and upon arriving at the end of the Omer count (i.e. Shavuos), one has to bring a sacrifice called "shtei ha'lechem" - the two loaves. In 23:17 the Torah tells us, "מִמּוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם תָּבִיאּוּ לֶחֶם תְּנוּפָה, שְׁתַּיִם שְׁנֵי עֶשְׂרֹנִים--סֹלֶת תִּהְיֶינָה, חָמֵץ תֵּאָפֶינָה: בִּכּוּרִים, לַיהוָה" or in English, "Ye shall bring out of your dwellings two wave-loaves of two tenth parts of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, they shall be baked with leaven, for first-fruits unto the LORD."

This korban had a very unusual detail that makes it practically unique. It was made from chametz - leaven. It is one of two korbanos that contain leaven (the second is the korban Toda). All other sacrifices, including all the various mincha offerings, including the lechem ha'panim, including all other dough that would be offered in avrious forms in the mikdash, were leaven free. Kosher for Passover. Matza, albeit it thick and soft usually.

What is the significance of this sacrifice, the "Two Loaves" being made from chametz, unlike almost every other korban?

This offering, the שתי הלחם, is brought at the conclusion of the omer. The Omer count began on Pesach and concludes on Shavuos. In a sense, the Omer is the bridge between Pesach and Shavuos.

Pesach is יציאת מצרים - the Exodus from Egypt. Shavuos is מתן תורה - the giving of the Torah. Omer, the bridge between them, is the process of leaving Egypt and working towards מתן תורה. It is the time to prepare for the receiving of the Torah.

On Pesach we ate לחם עוני - poor man's bread, a.k.a. the Bread of Affliction. We eat the matza to remember the days of slavery and oppression. By doing so we recall the process of leaving Egypt and leaving that oppression behind. Shavuos is when we finally hit the target and got the Torah. That is when we ultimately became free and a nation.

To symbolize this we offer the rare sacrifice with חמץ - the opposite of poor man's bread. This is the bread of the free and the wealthy. The un-oppressed. Rich man's bread, if you must. When we get to Shavuos we can finally say the עוני of מצרים is behind us.

We start with poor man's bread, we work towards our freedom and we end with rich man's bread.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

what you say and how you say it

Pesah - Haggada

seder - maggid - 4 sons

Torah reading - Bo

The Rasha, the wicked son, asks what is this service to you? The answer we respond to him is by striking him on the teeth and telling him that had he been in Egypt he would not have gone out with the rest of the Jews.

In Parshat Bo, in 12:26-27, the passuk says, "when your children say to you what is this service for you? You will say it is the Pesah sacrifice for Hashem who skipped over the houses of the Jews...etc.

Why is it that in the haggada when the Rasha asks this questions he is punched in the face but in the Torah we give the child an answer. What is the difference? And why in the haggada do we say the Rasha will ask this question when in the Humash it does not differentiate and it seems that it is a valid question?

I think the difference is in the attitude and the setting. In the Humash, the question is being asked out of interest and curiosity. In the haggada the question is being asked out of rejection and scoffing.

When the children ask because they really don't know but want to, the answer is about the Pesah sacrifice. Whenthe children ask and it is clear they are asking in a scoffing and rejecting manner, the answer has to be sharper.

As "they" say, it is not just what you say, but how you say it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

difference between wise and wicked son

Pesah - Haggada

Maggid - 4 sons

What is the difference between our reponse to the wise son relative to the response to the wicked son? The wise son asked what are these rules for you and the wicked son asked what is the service for you. Why do we react so harshly to the wicked son when his question was not so different form that of the wise son?

The wise son, while maybe not being perfect, is still interested. He is searchign for answers. he is looking for the truth, in his own way.

The wicked son is a scoffer. He is a rejectionist. he is looking for ways to reject Judaism and show us that he is rejecting it. he is not lookign for answers. he is motivated and fueled by personal interests.

That is someone who you cannot give an answer to. It is wasting your breath to try. Nothing you say will be heard. So the wicked son requires a harsh response.