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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Mashiach’

Dear Not a Jew -> Jew

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Dear Not a Jew – Jew, Beware!

I am enjoying your blogs at The Jewish Press about your journey to become a Jew. The question is – what kind of a Jew will you become? Will you become a proud builder of Israel, living a complete life of Torah in the Land of the Jews, or will you become a Jew of the exile, living as an outsider in a gentile land, surrounded by a gentile culture, voting for a gentile President, speaking a gentile language, and not knowing whether your children will remain Jewish or marry outside of the faith?

As the poet, Robert Frost, wrote: “Two paths diverged in a snowy wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

To help you on your journey, I would like to invite you to read my blogs, right here at The Jewish Press, where I will try my best to clarify just who we are as a People and what is the true meaning of Torah.

For instance, strictly speaking we really aren’t “Jews.” We are the “Children of Israel.” The word “Jew” doesn’t appear in the Torah. The word “Judaism” is an invention of the exile, meaning the “ism” of the People of Judah – which was the last tribe to be exiled from our Homeland – the Land of Israel. The real name of our religion is “Torah,” and Torah is much more than a list of ritual commandments and eating bagels and lox. The Torah is the NATIONAL CONSTITUTION of the NATION OF ISRAEL, including dozens of laws concerning the monarchy in Israel, the army of Israel, the judges of the Sanhedrin, the Holy Jerusalem Temple, and all of the laws that apply uniquely to the Land of Israel – and which cannot be practiced anywhere else. Let me ask you a simple question – can you have a Jewish government in America, or a Jewish army in Lakewood, or will the official language and calendar of the United States ever be Hebrew? Of course not. America is a gentile country. These basic elements of the Torah can only take place in Israel, where the Torah is meant to be observed.

So beware! Some people will tell you that if you put on tefillin in Brooklyn, you’ve reached the pinnacle of the Jewish journey, but it isn’t true. Other people will tell you we have to stay in exile until Mashiach arrives. But that isn’t true either. Hashem isn’t waiting for Mashiach. Before our very eyes, Hashem has brought millions of Jews back to Israel on His own, without waiting for Mashiach to do all the work. And be very careful what you read. You’ll find lots of books about Judaism, and lots of Jewish websites that have taken Eretz Yisrael out of the Torah completely. They’ll tell you everything about Yiddishkeit, but the Land of Israel isn’t mentioned. Yet the whole goal of the Torah, and the focus of our prayers for Redemption (Redemption from the exile), is to build a Torah society in the Land of Israel – and not in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, or Timbuktu.

As a convert-in-progress, seeking your path to Torah, the road which you choose at the beginning of the journey is very important. If you are skeptical about my advice, then let the Torah be your guide. When God first appeared to the father of the Nation of Israel, Avraham, He didn’t tell him to keep Shabbos, or put on tefillin, or to only eat in glatt kosher delis. The very first thing God told Avraham was to journey forth to the Land of Israel, to the Holy Land, the Land which God gave to the him and his descendents, Yitzhak and Yaacov, forever. The Land of Israel is the foundation of all the Jewish Nation, and the place Hashem wants us to be – just as it says again and again and again in the Torah.

So what happened? What went wrong with the game plan? Why are there so many Jews in America, and England, and Australia, and Mexico City? Now that God has once again opened the gates to our Homeland, and gathered millions of our scattered brothers and sisters from the four corners of the earth, and brought them back to the Land, just like He promised He would, just like the Prophets foretold, why don’t all the Jews in Diaspora come home? Why don’t they all rush to the airport to get on the next El Al plane, in order to actualize the yearning of 2000 years, “NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!” which is happening right now, in our time, for everyone to take a part in the dream?

Boundless Miracles Available For The Taking

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Dear Dr. Respler:
The holidays are a great time to learn about ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly – and then try to make lemonade from the lemons, turn the positive into building blocks, and generally create good things from the lessons learned. The Yamim Tovim are saturated with kedushah, leading to beautifully crafted creations from what one learned and experienced during these holy, spiritual days. While some believe that it is only through an actual, seen object that building blocks can be formed, a Torah-based experience can lead to the same result. This Pesach I came to believe that the seemingly impossible is possible and that miracles can happen.

No, I didn’t see Eliyahu HaNavi. No, a large sum of money was not mysteriously placed into my family’s bank account. This is not how I saw yad Hashem. This Yom Tov made me believe that I had, and continue to have, the koach to enrich people’s lives.

I like to think I was born with a good heart, always willing to care for and stand by those who were easy prey. But issues got in the way, making me cynical and angry – putting the aforementioned characteristic on hold. But, Baruch Hashem, a good marriage to a wonderful guy has reconnected me with this good trait, and over Pesach I clearly saw people’s contentment as a result of my heartfelt goodness toward them. To me, that was a miracle.

Prior to our Erev Pesach trek to family for the sedarim, on the way to the garage, my husband and I met up with a woman in our building. A few weeks before, she started to confide in me about difficulties in her life. She is Jewish but not frum, and I realized that she was disconnected from HaKadosh Baruch Hu in a great way. She said that family members were taking advantage of her in a business-related matter and she couldn’t understand why Hashem would allow this to happen. I told her that although it seemed as if these people had the upper hand and that there was no way justice could be meted out, Hashem had wondrous ways of righting things. I then introduced her to a book about emunah that was written for frum and non-frum people alike. So before we left to celebrate Pesach, the holiday that strengthens emunah, she came to me with book in hand, telling me how it was helping her deal with everything going on in her life. She called me her little messenger from God.

Thus Pesach started off on the right foot. Hashem was allowing me to see that I, who had grown cynical about the beauty of helping others, was again able to reach out and touch someone. What a beautiful present.

And on Pesach itself, I was able to continue easing people’s pain. My husband and I visited friends who were struggling spiritually. They were questioning basic tenets of Jewish faith. We were able to say a few things to them that hopefully served as food for thought, leading them in the right direction.

We also came into contact with an elderly frum woman who had complications in dealings with close family and friends. She was tired from preparing for Pesach and bemoaned the fact that they did not truly appreciate her hard work. We made her laugh and helped her to just enjoy the beautiful weather, good food and zemiros that, Baruch Hashem, this holiday was filled with. Watching her unwind and become able to see positive results from her pre-Pesach exertions was miraculous indeed. Prior to Pesach I heard a beautiful, positive thought from a rabbi, on a radio program. He said that Pesach is a time of nissim geluyim (open miracles). Purim was all about hidden miracles, as yad Hashem was revealed through what appeared to be coincidences. Pesach, though, is a holiday of holy days since Hashem saved us with open miracles – the Ten Plagues, the Splitting of the Sea, etc. Therefore, this rabbi continued, we need to recognize that this holiday (and, as I later learned, the entire month of Nissan) is a time when the very thing that one believes to be impossible can often come true – through prayer. There is a spiritual energy during these holy days and we would be remiss not to avail ourselves of this spiritual uplifting. Here’s how I think of it: Hashem built into these auspicious days proverbial treasure chests full of pearls, diamonds, emeralds, gold and silver that are ours for the taking. It would be silly not to partake in this opportunity.

I did not know of this phenomenon until this year; perhaps there are others who also did not know of this. But I want them to know that I made sure to pray for everyone, and I am sure that what klal Yisrael may have believed was beyond possible may indeed happen.

Wakeup Call (Midot 1:9)

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

At about 4 a.m. on cold and damp autumn mornings in London, Dad would try to wake us in time for Selichot, the pre-Jewish New Year dawn prayers. As we heard Dad’s footsteps mounting the stairs, my brother and I would hide under our covers and mutter our displeasure at being disturbed.

Eventually, after a few more tries and realizing that the futile attempt to get us out of bed was only making him late, Dad would turn at the front door of the house, deposit the prayer books on the sofa and announce in a voice, loud enough to wake us up again, “Seliches on the couch!”  Then the front door would bang and Dad would disappear into the cold, wet night. We would surreptitiously emerge from under our covers. All clear. Peace at last!

Dad never criticized us for our sloth. But years later, reading about how the kohanim sprang into action in the wee hours of the morning to conduct the preparations for the daily Temple service known as the korban tamid and how they raced each other to the front of the line to be the first to report to duty, I realized I’d better clean up my act before Mashiach came.

In fact, the kohanim were so eager to be on time that they slept the night before on the marble surfaces of one of the chambers of the Temple known as bet hamoked, the House of Fire situated on the north side of the azarah, the Temple courtyard. The bet hamoked was built into the wall of the Temple so that half of it protruded into the azarah and half into the har habayit, the Temple Mount, situated outside the Temple.

The bet hamoked was permanently warmed by an open fire, which served the dual purpose of keeping the kohanim warm and providing a backup source of fire for the altar. It had an interior door leading into the azarah at its southern end and an exterior door leading outside to the har habayit at its northern end.

A staircase in the bet hamoked led down to a subterranean tunnel, which ran under the Temple to a mikveh situated outside of the Temple where the kohanim could immerse themselves at night in preparation for the morning service.

Long before dawn broke, there was a knock on the outside door of the bet hamoked. The kohen hame’muneh, the boss responsible for supervising the preparations for the korban, had arrived. The kohanim were prepared for his arrival. They had already changed out of their bedclothes and donned their priestly garments. They were eager to participate in the korban tamid activities.

The korban tamid was offered up every morning and every afternoon, including Shabbat. The korbanot tamid served as the bookends for all the other korbanot that were brought during the day. No other offering could be brought before the korban tamid of the morning or after the korban tamid of the afternoon.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore. The writer can be contacted at rafegrunfeld@gmail.com.

The Merit Of Living In Israel

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

“And Yaakov became very frightened, and it caused him much pain, and he split the nation that was with him, as well as the sheep, the cattle and the camels, into two camps.” – Bereishis 32:7

Yaakov Avinu received word that his brother Eisav was coming to greet him. He understood fully well that this was not to be a warm family reunion. Eisav came accompanied by a band of four hundred armed men, bent on revenge. The Torah says Yaakov was “very frightened,” so he prepared for war.

The Rishonim are bothered by why Yaakov would fear Eisav. After all, Hashem had promised to return him to his father’s house in peace. Throughout the many years, Hashem was right there protecting him, guarding him, keeping the promise. Why should he now fear a mere mortal?

The Dos Zakainim answers that Yaakov was afraid of the “zechus of Eretz Yisrael.” For the past twenty years, Eisav had been living in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov had not. Therefore, Yaakov was afraid that if he engaged in mortal combat with Eisav, that particular merit might win the day for him, and Yaakov might die in battle.

This Dos Zakainim is difficult to understand on a number of levels. First, Yaakov wasn’t in Eretz Yisrael not because he had abandoned the land but because he fled from Eisav. He spent the first fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem, and then he worked for Lavan.

But even more pointedly, what possible merit could Eisav have from living in Eretz Yisrael? He wasn’t practicing Torah and mitzvos. Quite the opposite; he was a rasha. His entire existence was focused against holiness. Eretz Yisrael is a land that has an enormous amount of kedushah and cannot tolerate wickedness; it is highly sensitive to tumah. Eisav’s very presence in the land should have been intolerable. The land should have desired to throw him out. So what type of merit could he have from being in the land? It would seem the opposite. His many years of defiling that holy land should work against him, not for him.

The answer to this question can best be understood with a perspective on capitalism.

The Contribution of the Private Sector

If a man owns a successful small business he might do a million dollars a year in sales. But that is the gross revenue, not the amount he takes home. As a rule in business, 15 percent of revenues is a reasonable profit margin. So, if his mark-ups are strong and his expenses are in line, he might bring in a net profit of $150,000. Some 85 percent of the monies he earns go to expenses. And this illustrates an interesting phenomenon. While his only motivation may have been to earn a living for himself, he is providing a substantial gain to those he does business with. In this scenario, $850,000 of his efforts are going to vendors, suppliers, and employees. And while it may not at all be his intention, he is making a substantial contribution to the economy as a whole.

In the same sense, Eisav was engaged in the building of Eretz Yisrael. While his interests may have been strictly his own, he maintained sheep, owned fields, hired workmen and built fences. His efforts directly benefited the land. It was cultivated and improved because of him. And this was Eretz Yisrael, the land Hashem chose as the site for the Jewish people to settle, the home of the eventual Bais HaMikdash. Its very ground is holy. While he may not have been a credit to the land, and may not even have felt an attachment to it, because of him the land was built up – and that is a great merit.

Yaakov did not in any sense think Eisav had more merit than he did as a person. He was well aware of the different lives they led. But Yaakov understood that Eisav had a tremendous zechus: he was responsible for building the land, and because of this Yaakov was afraid. In times of danger, a particular merit can stand up for a person, and that can change the outcome of a confrontation.

We Don’t Belong Here

This concept is very relevant in our lives. While we patiently wait for the imminent coming of Mashiach, one of the concepts that must be in the forefront of our minds is that we are in a foreign country. We don’t belong in chutz l’aretz. It isn’t our home. While the United States is one of the most benevolent lands we have ever resided in, a Jew doesn’t belong in Brooklyn.

A Jew belongs in his homeland, in Eretz Yisrael. Hashem invested very different properties into the land of Israel. It is a land steeped in holiness, and when a Jew lives there it is much easier to experience Hashem, much easier to reach perfection.

My Machberes

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Visiting Cemeteries In Nissan

The general custom is not to visit a cemetery during the month of Nissan, the month in which the nation of Israel was freed from slavery and in which we celebrate the Yom Tov of Pesach. Those having a yahrzeit for either a father or mother visit the cemetery immediately before or after Nissan (Gesher Hachaim 26:6, Orchos Rabbeinu 2:305, Piskei Teshuvos 429:4).

Of course, as with every rule there are exceptions. Some permit visiting a parent’s grave on a yahrzeit. The visit would be exclusively to the one gravesite. However, visiting the gravesites of tzaddikim is mostly allowed, with the specific gravesite being the exclusive destination. Consequentially, visits to gravesites of tzaddikim during Nissan are noteworthy.

Since visits to cemeteries are greatly reduced in Nissan, the international gathering of tens of thousands of Jews at the gravesite in Sanz (formerly in Austro-Hungary and today in Poland) of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, zt”l (1793-1876), revered Sanzer Rav and author of Divrei Chaim, on his yahrzeit, 25 Nissan (this year coinciding with Tuesday, April 17) is of major significance. The assembly of so many pious Jews to pray at the gravesite is testimony of the impact the Divrei Chaim had during his lifetime, as well as the continuing influence that affects chassidic Jewry to this very day.

Local Organized Cemetery Visits

Beirach Moshe, zt”l

Satmar in Monroe: Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l (1914-2006), late Satmar Rebbe and author of Beirach Moshe, passed away late in the afternoon of Monday, 26 Nissan (April 24), 2006, and is buried in Kiryas Yoel next to his uncle, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), first Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel. The yahrzeit this year is on Wednesday, April 18. Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, his eldest son and Satmar Rebbe, will conduct a l’chaim tisch after Shacharis in Kiryas Yoel and then visit the gravesite. The Rebbe will be accessible for berachos in his home at 5 Sanz Court, from 6 to 7 p.m. He will then conduct the yahrzeit tisch in the main Satmar Beis Medrash in Kiryas Yoel on Wednesday evening, beginning at 7 p.m.

Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe and son of the Beirach Moshe, will commemorate the yahrzeit with Shacharis in Williamsburg, followed by a Siyum Mishnayos, and then visit the gravesite at 2:00 pm. The Rebbe will conduct the yahrzeit tisch in the main Satmar Beis Medrash on Rodney Street in Williamsburg on Wednesday beginning at 6:30 pm, incorporating a siyum hashas. Thousands of chassidim will attend each event.

Sanz in New Jersey: Rabbi Yonah Landau, the renowned chassidishe historian who has brought American gravesites of tzaddikim to the attention of the observant community, organized coach buses to bring visitors from Lee Avenue at Ross Street in Williamsburg to gravesites on Sunday, April 15, and Wednesday, April 18.

The first group visited the gravesite of Rabbi Menachem Binyamin Ben Zion Rottenberg-Halberstam, zt”l (1881-1957), Voideslover-Sanzer Rebbe, who emigrated to the United States in 1922 and conducted his beis medrash in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He was the son of Rabbi Aaron Halberstam, zt”l Hy”d (1865-1942), of Biala-Bilitz and author of Meged Eretz and Pri Noah, murdered in the Holocaust; son of Rabbi Yosef Zev Halberstam, zt”l (d. 1890), Kshanover dayan; son of Rabbi Dovid Halberstam, zt”l (1818-1893), Kshanover Rebbe; son of the Divrei Chaim. Rabbi Menachem Binyamin Ben Zion is buried in the Washington Cemetery on Deans Rhode Hall Road, Monmouth Junction (Deans), New Jersey.

Rabbi Menachem Binyamin Ben Zion assumed the additional hyphenated name of Rottenberg after his second marriage in 1913. His second father-in-law was Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Reuven Yechezkia Rottenberg, zt”l (d. 1935), Voidislover Rav and author of Sifsei Avrohom. Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Reuven Yechezkia Rottenberg was the nephew of Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Alter (Rottenberg), zt”l (1899-1867), founding Gerer Rebbe and author of Chidushei Harim. Rabbi Menachem Binyamin Ben Zion was also the maternal grandson of Rabbi Alter Meir Rottenberg zt”l, Valbromver Rav. Rabbi Menachem Binyamin Ben Zion, prior to coming to America, lived in Voidislov and, as a great-grandson of the Divrei Chaim personified Sanzer chassidus there as well as later in America.

Being that he is a direct descendant of the Divrei Chaim and that his yahrzeit is just three days removed from that of the Divrei Chaim, his gravesite is much visited year round and especially in Nissan. A l’chaim tisch was prepared near the gravesite.

Manastrich in Queens: The second Nissan cemetery visit organized by Rabbi Yonah Landau will leave on Wednesday, April 18, from Williamsburg to the Old Montefiore Cemetery on Springfield Boulevard in St. Albans, Queens. Prayers will be said at the gravesite of Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel Rabinowitz, zt”l (1860-1938), Manastricher Rebbe who fled pogroms in Russia and arrived in the United States in 1924. His son, Rabbi Gedalya Aaron, zt”l Hy”d (1880-1919) was murdered in a pogrom.

My Own Hashgachah Pratis

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Several weeks ago I started a series on hashgachah pratis, or Divine Providence. Every believing Jew knows that events do not just unfold randomly; the story I told of two brothers named Yaakov and Yedidya clearly testified to that reality in a contemporary setting.

My column about the boys’ experience inspired many readers to share how their own personal challenges had enhanced their awareness of the guiding Hand of G-d in their lives.

What I never expected was that I would be sharing my own story of hashgachah pratis – certainly not under the circumstances I am about to describe.

For many years now, I and members of my family have spent Pesach at various resorts. This year was no exception. I had the opportunity to experience with some of my family the wonderful KMR program, run by the Werner family and featuring caterer Michael Schick, in the picturesque setting of the Park Hyatt Aviara in San Diego.

The program features a beautiful synthesis of entertainment and inspiration. Rabbis and rebbetzins are responsible for the enlightening Torah aspect of the program. In this case the rebbetzin, as you may have guessed, was me.

I was scheduled to speak at the beginning of Yom Tov and during the concluding days. The first days, Baruch Hashem, were wonderful, but the last days gave me a jolt I never anticipated.

On the final day of chol hamoed, in the middle of the night, I fell.

Some might wonder what on earth was I doing at 3 a.m., but those who know me are aware that my hectic schedule prevents me from going to sleep at a normal time. In any event, I fell, and it was not a simple fall. In all my years I don’t think I ever experienced such excruciating pain. My screams woke many guests. My daughter, whose room was nearby, came running with my son-in-law. I couldn’t move, not to the right or to the left. The pain was all encompassing.

Quickly the medics arrived and they called for an ambulance. As I was lifted onto a stretcher my agony became even more unbearable. While this was happening, it occurred to me somewhere in the back of my mind that most likely I would need surgery. Here I was in San Diego, far away from New York where I am familiar with the hospitals and doctors who attend to such acute injuries.

My daughter requested that the ambulance driver take me to the best hospital and, Baruch Hashem, we were not disappointed. I was blessed to receive the finest medical care and to encounter the kindest and most compassionate staff of nurses and physicians at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, led by an amazing CEO, Carl Etter.

The orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher Hajnik, operated with dispatch. Time was of the essence – the evening would usher in Yom Tov.

As I learned firsthand, Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas is one of the finest medical centers in the country. Of more than 6,000 hospitals in U.S., it is ranked in the top 100. Even as I write this column from my hospital bed I am in awe of this facility. B’ezras Hashem, I will be soon be transferred to Scripps rehab where the process of learning to walk again will commence.

In the interim, in the midst of my tears, I knew I had to give honor to Hashem – something that my saintly parents – HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avrohom, zt”l, and Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h – taught me and that I try to do on all occasions. I spoke words of Torah and I discovered listening ears, minds and hearts. This was evident among the nurses and physicians – and CEO Carl Etter as well.

Prior to being wheeled into the operating room I blessed Dr. Hajnik and prayed that Hashem should send the Malach Rafael – the angel of healing – to guide his hands. I was so grateful to see his reaction. His eyes reflected faith rather than cynicism.

This same faith was seen everywhere. I shared words of wisdom from our Torah with this genuinely warm group of people. Soon I discovered that the calling card of Carl Etter is his humility. He spoke of his genuine faith in G-d. He expressed this by referring to teachings from the Bible. He spoke of truth, compassion, charity, integrity, honor, love and loyalty. He told me of his admiration for the wisdom of the Jewish people, the people of the book.

Carl spoke of his passion to teach and share with others G-d’s Word. He considers himself a wealthy man with many treasures – spiritual treasures all stemming from his faith in G-d.

Then I met the physical therapist assigned to help me. He was humming a tune, and the lyrics made me pause: “G-d brought forth the people of Israel on wings of eagles…” What an amazing song to hear in San Diego at Scripps Memorial from my physical therapist. Of course, we Jews – Am Yisrael – should be singing about wings of eagles – wings that will carry Elijah the Prophet as he announces the coming of Mashiach, soon in our day.

Sefira And The Battle With Our Evil Inclination

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

During Pesach we experience liberation from slavery, followed by the dramatic encounter with Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. Then we trek through the desert to the great moment at Har Sinai.

This sequence anticipates what our Sages tell us will happen at the Final Redemption. The Chofetz Chaim is quoted as having said that “we can learn about the end of our exile from what happened at the end of our exile in Egypt” (Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, as noted in Redemption Unfolding by A. A. Mandelbaum).

It is well to have this in mind, because we are going to need all the help we can get in the days before Mashiach arrives.

Today the foundations and pillars of our civilization are shaking, just as the foundations and pillars of ancient Egypt shook during the Ten Plagues. The people and the land of Israel are surrounded today, just as we were surrounded at the Red Sea.

When Hashem took us out of Egypt, we were at Mem Tes Sha’are Tumah, almost completely submerged in the quicksand of Egyptian idolatry and immorality. As Rashi tells us (Shemos 13:18), only one-fifth of our people made it out of Egypt at all; the rest had become so assimilated that they disappeared during the Plague of Darkness.

Even those who left with Moshe Rabbeinu were redeemed only through Hashem’s mercy. Extrapolating from that, we can assume that Hashem will redeem us at the time of Mashiach not because we are deserving, but out of chesed. As we say in Shemoneh Esrei, God will send a Redeemer “l’ma’an shemo b’ahavah…for His sake, with love.”

But if we were on such a low level, how did we become worthy to receive the Torah? What happened between Egypt and Sinai?

The answer is that during that seven-week march through the desert, our job was to elevate ourselves so that we would retroactively merit our liberation and try to become worthy of receiving the Torah.

Today, we refer to those seven weeks as the days of Sefiras HaOmer, and our job is not simply to count the days between Pesach and Shavuos but to use each passing day to elevate ourselves. Just as we had to climb from the depths of impurity in Egypt to try to merit standing before God at Mount Sinai, so today we try to prepare ourselves for receiving the Torah once again by working on our middos during these seven weeks.

And so too we are preparing for the Great Day on which we will be redeemed forever from Exile. As we say, “Master of the Universe, You commanded us…to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations….In the merit of the Omer Count…may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefira….May I be cleansed and sanctified…and may it correct our lives, spirits and souls from all sediment and blemish….”

* * * * *

Since the Source of our protection throughout our long and challenging history is the Torah, and since we are now in the process of preparing once again to receive the Torah, I would suggest we concentrate very deeply in the weeks ahead on the spiritual program called Sefiras HaOmer, the crash course in self-improvement that this period affords us. After all, we are doing nothing less than ensuring our own personal and national survival – in fact, the survival of the entire world.

I think it is fitting here to quote from the words of Mrs. Chava Sandler, wife and mother of the recent martyrs of Toulouse, France: “To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this earth. Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and love of their fellow man. Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone. Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night.”

These are the words of a woman from whom so much was taken. Instead of drowning in bitterness, she gave us the message we need in these challenging times. She encouraged all of the Children of Israel to cleave to the One Source of strength, consolation and direction we possess in this world.

If you have read my book From Central Park To Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul, you know I was raised in a home devoid of Torah. Both my parents were Jewish. They were also great people, and we lived in a metropolis filled with Jews, but there was no Jewisness in our life.

Chad Gadya – Pesach & the Order of Things

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

As the Seder night ebbs away – long after the Four Questions have been asked and answered, after the festive meal has been eaten and the post-feast drowsiness descends, after the evening’s mitzvot have been observed and the fourth cup of wine emptied – we raise our voices in a curious, delightful, seemingly whimsical song at the end of the Haggadah.

The song is Chad Gadya, a lively tune that is one of the most popular of the many Pesach songs as well as one of the strangest.

On the surface, Chad Gadya appears to be nothing so much as a simple folk tune. Perhaps even a nursery rhyme suitable for the youngest among us, the very child who sang the Four Questions early in the Seder.

Like so many nursery rhymes – an egg perched upon a wall? A fork running away with a spoon? A cow jumping over the moon? Two young children tumbling down the hill? – it is filled with odd images and paradoxes.

What are we to make of these curious images? Likewise, what are we to make of a song that seems, on its surface, to be about the purchase of a goat? While it is possible to enjoy the song just in the singing, the paradoxes and troubling images draw us deeper as we search for meaning and significance.

Why have the rabbis placed this strange song in the Haggadah?

Certainly it keeps the children awake so that the end of the Seder is as filled with delight as its beginning. But more than that, the song is part of a sublime and meaningful religious/halachic experience.

A skeptical reader will no doubt ask: A religious experience? About goats? What does Chad Gadya – a song worthy of Dr. Seuss, a song that goes on and on about goats, cats, dogs, sticks and butchers – have to do with the leil shimurim, the night of geulah and redemp­tion?

Is this any way to conclude Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim?

* * * * *

Among many other things, our ancient rabbis were brilliant educators. God had commanded that we teach our children. The question then became, How best to teach? How best to fulfill this commandment?

The answer: To engage and to reward. And to keep the focus on the student – the child. For Pesach is a holiday of children. And it is right that it is so. Our Egyptian servitude was made more painful for its cruelty to our children.

“And he said, When you deliver the Hebrew women look at the birthstool; if it is a boy, kill him.” With these words, Pharaoh sought to cut off our future by denying us a generation of children. He demanded that “every son that is born… be cast into the river.”

Why did Pharaoh cause such suffering for the Jewish people? For no other reason than we grew. We became numerous. We gave birth to children, in accordance with God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Pharaoh felt threatened by our numbers. “The children of Israel proliferated, swarmed, multiplied, and grew more and more.”

How great was Pharaoh’s hatred of the Jews and our children? How threatened did he feel? So threatened that the Midrash teaches us that when the Israelites fell short in fulfilling the prescribed quota of mortar and bricks, the children were used in their stead to fill in the foundation of the store cities built in their servitude. Another Midrash describes Pharaoh bathing in the blood of young children.

When redemption was finally at hand, children were once again at the forefront of this historical and religious drama. When Moses first confronted Pharaoh with the request to be free to go into the desert to worship, he proclaimed, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters.” In making this proclamation, he was giving voice to the ultimate purpose of our redemption, found in the central command of Pesach, “You will tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt…”

Judaism is a faith rooted in the past but which is always forward looking. Tradition loses meaning unless it is passed forward to the next generation. We do not look for individual redemption so much as communal salvation.

For that to happen, our children must thrive. They must go forward with a solid foundation in the godly lessons of our history. The Exodus from Egypt is rife with the significant role our children played in its historical narrative.

Perhaps Chad Gadya, in its guise of a nursery rhyme, is no different from the afikoman, one more in a series of games and songs and techniques to stimulate and motivate the interest and curiosity of the youngest among us on the Seder night.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/chad-gadya-pesach-the-order-of-things/2012/04/04/

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