Pesach conjures up ideals of freedom. Freedom from slavery, freedom to serve Hashem the way we want without oppression. Indeed, our sages tell us that the prime purpose of being freed from the horrible bondage of Egypt was so that we would “be able to serve Hashem on that mountain [Mt. Sinai, where the Torah was given].”
When one looks at the present condition of the Jewish nation, however, it appears increasingly difficult to feel encouraged. Not only are we still in galus, not only have we not merited the ultimate freedom that will come with the arrival of Mashiach, but it seems that in many parts of the world our freedom to serve Hashem is increasingly being challenged.
Even in places where we have felt relatively at home we are now seeing troubling signs of resurgent anti-Semitism. What one might call genteel anti-Semitism is perhaps even more troubling because it is couched in such terms as “human rights,” “animal rights,” “rights of the child” and similar “social justice” slogans.
Take New York, the city with the highest concentration of Jews outside of Eretz Yisrael. For many years Jews have flourished in New York, and may it be Hashem’s will that they continue to flourish. Nevertheless, a frum Jew there could not be blamed for feeling that his deeply held values are being targeted.
For starters, the New York City Health Department’s legislation regarding a religious issue such as bris milah, with obligations imposed on mohelim, has worried many, not only because of the law itself but also for the precedent it sets –government encroachment into what until now had been treated as a purely religious issue.
Then there was the recent case where the New York City Human Rights Commission sued businesses establishments owned by religious Jews because of signs on the doors asking customers not to dress immodestly. Many observers were scratching their heads wondering why upscale Manhattan restaurants routinely have rules regarding dress and decorum while Orthodox businesses now faced the wrath of the Human Rights Commission for nearly identical conduct.
America has been such a safe haven for Jews for many reasons, but one prime reason was that traditional moral values always characterized the country. And the American motto of “live and let live” provided a modicum of protection while allowing people to live their lives in consonance with their conscience.
Today, if you oppose the “progressive” agenda and take issue with the immorality that is so prevalent, you will be labeled a racist, anti-progress, anti-women, etc. These labels can have very serious social and legal consequences.
Despite all this, America remains one of the better places for Jews. Jews in France are emigrating in droves due to rampant and violent anti-Semitism on the part of Muslim extremists there. The authorities are either unable or unwilling to stop it. Although the situation in England is not nearly as bad as it is in France, British Jews are very apprehensive about the growth of Muslim extremism and what it will mean for the continuing viability of England’s Jewish community.
In Belgium, the government has issued an edict that will force all schools, even religious schools, to teach a government-mandated curriculum that counters our deeply held religious values.
Even in Eretz Yisrael, our beloved homeland, it seems that many segments of the population feel despised, barely tolerated for their religious lifestyle and under constant assault by the courts and the government.
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Perhaps worse than all the above is the acute lack of unity among Jews. There is strife everywhere; there is so much sinas chinam, lashon hara, and plain old ill will between different communities.
Is there anything we can do as individuals and as a community to remedy this situation? Is there any way we can bring Jews together as one?
Should we just give up and say, “This is the way it is, this is galus”? Or should we be proactive and try to bring Jews of all persuasions together so that we can achieve the brotherhood and achdus that are prerequisites for the ultimate geulah when we will one day merit to eat the Korban Pesach in the rebuilt third Beis HaMikdash?
The answer to this may lie in a deeper understanding of the Korban Pesach. Let us analyze some of the laws of the Korban Pesach and the profound lessons for today that can be gleaned from them.
The Torah does not specify the punishment that is incurred if one fails to perform any of its positive commandments, with the exception of two. One of those two is the Korban Pesach. If one fails to bring the Korban Pesach he is subject to the punishment of kareis.
What exactly is the penalty of kareis? We derive from the Nefesh Hachaim (Gate 1, chapter 18) that Kareis means a breaking of the bond between a person and Hashem and by extension between a person and the rest of Am Yisrael.
When a person is in such a manner detached, he cannot connect with his fellow Jews. He is, as it were, excommunicated from Klal Yisrael. Being cut off like that from the collective tree of the Jewish nation is a horrible sentence. The person becomes like a rootless tree being blown by the wind, with nothing to keep it attached to its source.
Chazal instruct us (Avos 2:1), “Calculate the loss of a mitzvah as compared with its reward.” Rambam (ibid.) explains this to mean that whenever the Torah reveals that one incurs a severe punishment for failing to observe a commandment, we can infer that the reward for its observance is truly great.
In this case, if the punishment for failing to bring a Korban Pesach is that one’s soul is cut off from its spiritual roots and distanced from his fellow Jews, then conversely a person who fulfills this mitzvah certainly must receive a reward that is the opposite of the punishment for failing to fulfill it.
Clearly, a person who brings the Korban Pesach is rewarded by achieving a deeper connection to his own spiritual roots, which in turn brings him closer to Hashem and immeasurably strengthens his bond and sense of oneness with Hashem’s Nation of Israel.
Why is the reward so great? What is it about a Jew bringing a Korban Pesach that is so great that Hashem gives him an unequalled reward? And why is the punishment so severe for someone who does not bring the Korban Pesach?
One of the unique halachas of Korban Pesach is that it must be performed as a chaburah, in a group together with others. A possible reason for this is that the Korban Pesach symbolizes the sacrifice marking the passage of Bnei Yisrael from slaves of Pharaoh to servants of Hashem.
At Har Sinai Jews stood “as one man, with one heart” and began to serve Hashem as a single unit. The first time they ate the Korban Pesach, they were commanded to eat it together, as a chaburah, with achdus, because achdus was a prerequisite for them to make the giant leap from slaves of the king of Egypt to servants of the Creator of the universe.
The fact that the punishment for not bringing the Korban Pesach is the extremely stringent one of kareis teaches us how important the Korban Pesach and its message of chaburah and achdus is for the redemption of Klal Yisrael. If the transgression is kareis, the proper fulfillment of the mitzvah can bring about the greatest degree of closeness to Hashem.
We posit that this is so because just as the Korban Pesach was the mitzvah that prepared the Jewish nation for the unity of Har Sinai and the receiving of the Torah, so too the final redemption, for which we so deeply yearn and impatiently await, will only come through this message of Korban Pesach, unity, achdus, togetherness.
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The Chofetz Chaim said the times in which we live can be called “ikvesa d’meshicha” – the footsteps of Mashiach. We can, as it were, already hear the footsteps. What can we do to finally bring him through the door?
The answer is that we can come together with achdus, but we know how difficult a task that is. Each community is different; each one emphasizes the superficial things that separate us. Thus, coming together seems like a pipe dream – especially today, when the divisiveness between various groups of religious Jews is at an unprecedented level.
I would like to suggest something that can bring us all together in a most profound, meaningful way. It is called Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. The one thing that truly binds us all together is the Torah itself. Daf HaYomi B’Halacha, a program started by Dirshu several years ago, entails learning a page of the sefer Mishnah Berurah daily.
Since its inception tens of thousands have joined, and now the program has already begun the sixth and final volume of Mishnah Berurah and is on the final approach to the historic and worldwide first siyum in the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha cycle.
One of the remarkable things about Daf HaYomi B’Halacha is that it caters to the entire cross-section of Orthodoxy. There are Daf HaYomi B’Halacha learners and shiurim all over the world representing the cornucopia of Jewry – Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Modern Orthodox, yeshivish, chassidish, and everyone in between. Shiurim can be found in shuls in the Five Towns and in Williamsburg; in Lakewood and in Portland, Oregon; in yeshivas from Chevron to Kerem B’Yavneh and from Mitzpeh Rimon to Porat Yosef and hundreds of other locales around the globe.
Learning daily halacha is something that virtually anyone can do with the investment of a half hour, either by attending a shiur, learning with a partner, or dialing the many telephone shiurim. It enables a person to connect with Hashem in a way that is practical as well as inspirational.
That is why there is such excitement building around the first Daf HaYomi B’Halacha siyum. There will be major siyumim scheduled to take place during the first week of April 2015 in Eretz Yisrael, North America and Europe that will unite Jews from all segments of Orthodoxy.
In addition, Dirshu’s new edition of the Mishnah Berurah, which incorporates thousands of halachic rulings on issues that have sprung up in the hundred years since the Mishnah Berurah was originally written, has been receiving rave reviews for the clear, concise manner it highlights rulings on virtually every modern-day question applicable to the laws being learned.
In short, Dirshu’s Daf HaYomi B’Halacha program is a Torah learning vehicle that can and does serve as the ultimate binder of the Jewish people. It is a program that will enhance the spiritual life of every participant. It brings one closer to Hashem because through learning practical halacha a person learns to live with Hashem and be cognizant of His presence, from the moment he awakens in the morning and says Modeh Ani to the time he recites Shema before going to sleep.
Moreover, a unifying learning program like Daf HaYomi B’Halacha is able to bring together all of Klal Yisrael in a spiritual endeavor we can all agree upon. It can help us achieve true achdus – not artificial proclamations of unity but true unity of purpose as tens and perhaps eventually even hundreds of thousands of Jews come together every day to learn the same page of Mishnah Berurah and eventually celebrate together the deep, true joy of a siyum on the entire Mishnah Berurah.
Now especially, when we see how we can never be comfortable in galus as Jews, when we see the difficulties Jews are undergoing as a result of both overt and covert anti-Semitism, it is time to come together as our forefathers did upon leaving Egypt and forge an unbreakable bond among the disparate groups of Klal Yisrael.
The terrible hatred of one group of Jews for another is absolutely horrifying. We have to see the present acrimony as a wake-up call. We are being torn apart by animosity and must do something that will unite us in a meaningful way.
If we really care about achdus, if unity is more than just a mantra, it is time to get off the sidelines and do something. Joining together with the widest array of Jews imaginable by undertaking to join the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha daily learning program is an important and critically vital first step.
Perhaps this unity among all segments of Torah-observant Jewry learning Daf HaYomi B’Halacha will bring us back from the brink and help lead to that exalted time we all await when once again we will be able to bring the Korban Pesach as a chaburah – “as one man, with one heart.”Rav Dovid Hofstedter
About the Author: Rav Dovid Hofstedter is the author of the Dorash Dovid sefarim on the Torah and Moadim and the founder and nasi of Dirshu, a worldwide Torah movement whose raison d’être is accountability in Torah learning among all segments of Klal Yisrael, impacting more than 100,000 participants since its inception 19 years ago.
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