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513: 11 Nissan

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April 10, 1998 - 14 Nissan 5758

514: Pesach

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  513: 11 Nissan515: Shemini  

Let 'em Eat Cake  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  Rambam this week
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Let 'em Eat Cake

by Tzippy Robinson


It's almost Passover, and we want to talk about cake? Discussing the merits of matza would make sense. Trading gefilte fish recipes would seem appropriate. But cake?

The statement, "Let them eat cake," allegedly expressed by Marie Antoinette, sums up the glaring class division in France that led to the French Revolution. So far removed was she from the plight of most of her fellow countrymen that she couldn't begin to comprehend their condition. To us, her response to the situation seems absurd and ignorant. "The people have no bread? Let them eat cake!" However, it was indicative of a far greater problem.

The upper class of France held themselves so far above the rest of the population, that they couldn't even begin to relate to their problems, let alone solve them. The main problem of the French royal family was arrogance, an arrogance so severe that it took an all-out revolution, a war in the streets, to bring about change.

And getting rid of arrogance is the connection between the French Revolution and Passover.

On Passover we are forbidden to eat leavened foods, chametz. In fact, we cannot have any chametz in our homes, nor can we benefit from it in any way during the week of Passover. Therefore, in the days and weeks before Passover we devote time to ridding our homes of even the slightest crumbs of chametz.

Chasidic philosophy compares the character trait of arrogance to chametz, and the trait of modesty to matza, because chametz must rise up and become inflated (as in ego), while matzo is by its very nature flat, unobtrusive.

There is a story of a disciple of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe. This student was granted a private audience with the Alter Rebbe, and when he entered the Rebbe's study he asked him, "What do I lack?" The Rebbe answered him, "You lack nothing in the area of scholarship and fear of G-d. However, you must get rid of the chametz in your character, your inflated ego. The cure for this is matza, which symbolizes humility and the setting aside of one's own self for the sake of serving G-d."

Implementing the advice given by the Alter Rebbe to his student, we can look at Passover cleaning as something we do not just to our homes, but to ourselves. As we peer into each and every corner, dig through every closet, and clean out every cupboard, we are instructed to do the same with our own characters, to look for areas in which our arrogance may be cluttering things up.

We hope and pray that all of this cleaning will finally lead us into the days of Moshiach, when the whole world will be "Kosher for Passover" (so to speak), free of all crumbs of "chametz," when, freed from the burdens of our own egos, we will at last be able to serve G-d without impediment.

Living with the Rebbe

According to the Chabad tradition, the four questions at the Passover seder are asked in the following order:

  1. On all nights we need not dip even once, and on this night we do so twice.

  2. On all nights we eat chametz (leavened bread) or matza, and on this night only matza.

  3. On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror (bitter herbs).

  4. On all nights we eat sitting upright or reclining, and on this night we all recline.

What is the reason for this particular sequence?

We cannot say that the questions are ordered according to importance, for if they were, the obligation to eat matza on Passover - a mitzva explicitly stated in the Torah - would have been first. By extension, eating maror, which in our times is a mitzva decreed by our Rabbis, would have been second. Reclining, symbolic of freedom, would have been third, and the question as to why we dip twice would have been last, as it is only a custom.

Are the questions arranged according to the chronological progression of the seder? Again, the answer is no, for the first thing we do is to make Kiddush, which is then drunk in a reclining position. If the questions were asked sequentially, "reclining" would have preceded "dipping," for the vegetable is dipped in salt water only after Kiddush.

"Dipping," however, is the first question that is asked by the Jewish child. The "dipping" is what initially attracts his attention and catches his eye, despite the fact that it is not a mitzva explicitly mentioned in the Torah nor one even decreed by our Rabbis. The child's curiosity is aroused, precisely by a Jewish custom.

There are some who contend that every effort must be made to observe the Torah's mitzvot no matter how difficult the circumstances, even demonstrating self-sacrifice when necessary. But in their opinion, Jewish customs are not so important. If it is hard to keep a custom they are willing to forgo it, and downplay its significance.

The order of the questions at the Pesach seder, however, teaches that one must never belittle the importance of a minhag Yisrael, a Jewish custom. It is precisely the custom that is mentioned first in the Hagada. The custom stimulates the child to go on to ask the other questions.

It is specifically our Jewish customs that distinguish us from our non-Jewish surroundings. For it is only when a Jew observes these customs that his uniqueness is apparent, as we say, "You have chosen us from among the nations." "A Jewish custom is Torah!"

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1

A Slice of Life

Great Passover Odyssey
by Harriet Schranz

The Passover experience has become an annual routine in our family, as fixed as the planets in their orbits, as steady as the sun which never fails to rise in the east.

My dear son, may he live and be well, started us on our Great Passover Odyssey. It all boils down to three words: Clean-In, Clean-Up, and Clean-Out.

"Ma," he said one fine day, "there's an enemy in your closet."

"Sure, dear," I replied. "The clothes that don't fit me since the 20 pounds I put on when I was pregnant with you and each of your brothers. Every one of them is an enemy, reminding me of failed diets, great restaurants, and parties."

"No, Ma," said David, patiently. "The clothes are not your enemy. The name of your enemy is chametz, and it's lurking around the house." "Lurking?!" I shouted. "Nothing lurks without my knowing about it in this house. I forbid anything to lurk! If you see anything lurking, just let me know and I'll give it a zetz with the broom."

I was rather proud of my outburst. Little did I know how true this bit of theatrics was going to prove. In my naivet‚, I carried on with all sorts of phrases like: "Just show me this phantom chametz [leaven], son!" So that is just what my patient little son did.

David proceeded to shake my trenchcoat upside down. Out came three pennies, two cough drops, the cellar door key, a barely recognizable hamantash, one remarkably intact cracker, my mother's telephone number, and a dry cereal coupon. I had to admit that was impressive.

Next, the kid went for my shoes. "What possible chametz can lurk in the soles of my shoes?" I wondered. After managing to dislodge the inner sole and some dust and nothing else remotely chametz, the kid looked a little sheepish. "Well, you never know, Ma," he said. Next he went for his father's hat. I watched in utter amazement as David dislodged a stick of gum from the hat band! It was even in its wrapper. Wow! Now I was face-to-face with the enemy.

We went through the piano, the guitar, the bookcases, the dressers, the couch, the crib, the box springs, the car, the stove, the stairs, the refrigerator, the stamp collection, the seashells, the button box, the toy chest, the U-Name-It, and we cleaned it up and out.

When the enemy had been met and disposed of to my son's satisfaction, we went out shopping for Passover. After a long day's work I felt very righteous, albeit overwhelmed by it all. We loaded the car with every imaginable Kosher-for-Passover product that the kosher grocery store had. Then we proceeded to the supermarket to get those items that the grocery didn't have, and shopped with glee. I must have spent over $300 that afternoon. I had blurred visions of matzas dancing with macaroons in my head. I walked like a zombie to the car trunk to fit in four more bags of Passover stuff. I was happily daydreaming of a good seder and a good sleep (and not-so-happily dreaming of my husband discovering our low checking account) when a woman with a package approached me for a ride home.

The woman pointed in the opposite direction from where I was headed. Normally I'm a good natured sort, willing to give someone a hand whenever I can. But here I was, tired and overworked, suffering from combat fatigue.

"Sorry," I said, "I can't help you." I proceeded to drive home. My son turned to look at me with big soulful eyes.

"What?" I said, feeling his eyes bore into me. "Did I forget to buy something essential?" "Ma, you don't get it," he said gently. "That woman who asked you for a left her standing in the road. We have to remember those who are less fortunate." I tried to explain to my son that it is good to do a mitzva, but I was so tired and worn out from shopping for Passover. "But, Mom," he said, "every mitzva we do helps bring Moshiach and the Redemption, and what is Passover without redemption?"

I felt the tears come down. They ran down both cheeks, and they were hot. A young child had just reinforced something that my grandmother (may she rest in peace) once said to me on Passover. "It's not how well you clean, how much money you spend, how long you prepare, how shiny the silver, how elaborate the seder, how hard you work. It's who you are. You are a Jew and a Jew does kindness." I turned the car around, went back to give the woman a ride, and moved a step closer to the Redemption.

Reprinted from the Holiday Consumer, a publication of N'Shei Chabad of Rockland County, New York.

Rambam this week

Rambam for 10 Nisan, 5758

Prohibition 256: We are forbidden to deal harshly with widows or fatherless children. This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 22:21), "You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child." This includes harsh words or deeds.

Prohibition 301: We are forbidden to bear tales. This mitzva is based on the words (Lev. 19:6), "You shall not go up and down as a tale- bearer [rachil] among your people."

Prohibition 304: We are forbidden to take vengeance on one another; that is, if one has done us a wrong, we are not to insist on pursuing him till we have requited his evil deed, or hurt him as he has hurt us. This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:18), "You shall not take vengeance."

The Rebbe Writes

Free Translation

11th of Nisan, 5721 [1961]

To Our Brethren Everywhere; G-d Bless You All:

Yetziyat Mitzrayim, the Exodus (the departure) from Egypt-the focal point of the festival of Pesach - occupies a central place in Jewish life, both on the collective as well as on the individual level. As such it is a source of instruction and inspiration, not only in its general theme, but also in every detail and aspect of it.

One of the fundamental features of the Yetziyat Mitzrayim message is the unlimited bitachon [faith] - the absolute reliance on Divine Providence - which found such poignant expression in the historic event of the Exodus from Egypt. A whole people, men, women and children, several million in number, eagerly leave a well-settled and prosperous country, with all its fleshpots and material blessings, and go out on a long and perilous journey, without provision, but with absolute reliance on the word of G-d coming through Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses].

Moreover, they do not follow the well-trodden and shorter route (through the land of the Philistines) which, although possibly entailing war, was yet more logical by far than crossing the vast and desolate desert. For in the fortunes of war there is a chance of victory, and even in defeat there is a chance of escape and survival for many, whereas the chances of survival in the terrible desert without food or water were, by all laws of nature, virtually nil. Nevertheless, they follow the obviously "irrational" route solely on the word of Moshe speaking in the name of G-d.

Still greater is the wonder considering that this takes place after spending 210 years in a highly agricultural country, where nomadic life was despised, a land of fertile soil, independent of rain and climatic inclemencies, richly irrigated by the faithful Nile River, in short, a land completely secure in its natural resources and natural laws and conditions.

"Since the days of your departure from Egypt" and to the present day, these aspects of Yetziyat Mitzrayim, namely, the absolute bitachon in the Divine Providence and its implementation in life, down to the daily conduct in accordance with the Divine precepts, regardless of the dictates of human considerations and natural laws, must be the indispensable companion and guiding light, in the experience of our people as a whole, and in the daily life of the individual Jew in particular, every where and at all times.

When the non-Jewish world, and even those of the Jewish world who have strayed from the true Jewish way of life, challenge the observant and practicing Jew: You, who like us, live in a materialistic world, in the midst of a highly competitive society facing a desperate struggle for economic survival, how can you escape subservience to the idolatry of the land (be it the dollar, or the fear to be "different," etc.) ? How can you adhere to a code of 613 precepts which "burden" your life and limit your competitiveness at every side and turn?

The answer is - Yetziyat Mitzrayim provides the clue.

And as in the case of Yetziyat Mitzrayim, when the Jews responded to the Divine call and precepts, disregarding so-called rational considerations, and breaking with the negative past, it turned out that precisely the application of this principle in actual life was the road to their true happiness, and not only spiritually (receiving the Torah and becoming the G-d-chosen people and holy nation), but also materially (in coming to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey).

So it is also today and always. By virtue of the Divine Law, which is called Torat Chaim, the Law of Life, and the mitzvot, whereby Jews live and experience the daily life-regardless of how the past has been-the Jew attaches himself to the Creator and Master of the World, and liberates himself from all "natural" restrictions and limitations, and attains his true happiness, materially and spiritually.

"Know Him in all your ways." Jews are enjoined to know and remember and permeate with holiness every aspect of the daily conduct and activities. In doing so the observant Jew may frequently face the above-mentioned challenge and test. Therefore, the Jew has been enjoined: "Remember your deliverance from Egypt, every day of your life." Remembering and identifying oneself with the aspects of Yetziyat Mitzrayim is a source of limitless strength to make every day meaningful and full of true Yiddish life, and as my father-in-law of saintly memory has emphasized: The festival of Pesach irradiates not only every day, but every moment of the Jew's life.

With the blessing of a kosher and Happy Pesach,

What's New


Staff and children in the new building Chabad of the South Bay (California) recently purchased a new 10,000 sq. ft. building situated on a one acre plot of land across from their present facility. The building will house the ever-growing Maimonides Torah Academy upper classes and eventually the shul as well. The new building has been named "Beis Rebbe."

A Word from the Director

This coming Friday night, April 10, [1998] the holiday of Passover begins and we celebrate the first Passover seder. Among the many customs and laws that surround the seder is the obligation to drink four cups of wine, to recall the four expressions of redemption written in the Torah.

When G-d told Moses that He would free the Jewish people from Egyptian enslavement, He used four different terms:

  1. "V'hotzeiti - I will take you out,"

  2. "V'hitzalti - I will save you,"

  3. "V'ga'alti - I will redeem you,"

  4. "V'lakachti - I will take you."

These four expressions correspond to the four decrees that Pharaoh issued against the Jews: the decree of hard labor, the decree that the midwives should kill all male children, the decree that all baby boys should be drowned in the Nile, and the decree to withhold from the Jews the straw necessary to make bricks, even though the quota of bricks to be filled wasn't decreased. For each additional act of cruelty, G-d promised to free His people.

However, if we continue reading the Torah, we come across yet a fifth expression of redemption, "V'heiveiti - I will bring," meaning that not only will G-d take the Jews out of their misery, but He will continue to take them out until they have reached the land that He has promised to them. This is considered the last term of redemption, the one that will be fulfilled with the coming of Moshiach. This fifth term is also symbolized by a cup of wine at the seder, Elijah's cup.

The Rebbe notes that the custom of Elijah's cup is not mentioned in the Talmud or in any of the earlier texts regarding Jewish law. Its earliest source is in the writings of the sixteenth century. This is attributed to the fact that pouring a cup for Elijah is an expression of our faith in the coming of Moshiach, and with each passing year the feeling of anticipation grows stronger and more widespread.

This year, may we see the fulfillment of our anticipation as we conclude the seder with the words, "Next year in Jerusalem," when G-d will fulfill His fifth and final promise with the revelation of Moshiach and the Redemption.

Thoughts that Count

Passover - "the Festival of Spring"

The Exodus from Egypt took place in the springtime (the 15th of Nisan), as the Torah states (Ex. 13:4), "Today you are going out, in the month of spring." At that time of year the forces of nature are most manifest and the natural world is at its peak of beauty. To the Egyptians, who worshipped nature, it seemed as if their deity was ascendant. G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt in the spring to demonstrate that nature has no power or existence of its own and is completely subservient to G-d.

(The Rebbe)

The Passover seder

One of the reasons it is called seder, literally order or arrangement, is that it alludes to the order or sequence of all of Jewish history in macrocosm. Everything that has ever befallen the Jewish people is part of G-d's plan and is guided by Divine Providence.

(The Maharal of Prague)


When a Jew eats matza and introduces it into his body, it sanctifies all his limbs and makes them holy. It is therefore appropriate that we prepare ourselves before performing this great mitzva and ensure that our mouths and bodies are worthy , as it states, "You shall eat matzot in a holy place."

(Tiferet Shlomo)

It Once Happened

Pesach in Siberia
by Eliezer Naness

Excerpted from his book Subota, which details his experiences in a Russian labor camp where he was imprisoned for nearly two decades
Just before Passover in 1938, I was summoned to the camp office. The commandant's aide informed me that my wife had sent a package containing warm clothing, a hundred rubles and a packet of matzot. He gave me everything except the matzot. "Because you do not work on Saturday, you will be having enough troubles. I advise you, for your own welfare, not to take the matzot. Ask the commandant to return them to your wife. Then there can be the possibility of discussing transferring you, and maybe your friend too, to some lighter work."

I thanked him for his advice and good intentions, and asked him to give me the matzot because I would not eat chametz (leaven) on Passover.

The representative apologized and added, "I can only warn you that you are doing yourself, and especially your young friend [Shmuel], a grave disservice. There is talk in camp already that you are demoralizing the other prisoners of your brigade. You know that there are plenty of ways of eliminating undesirable elements here. They'll send you off some place. On the way 'something' will happen. Your bones will never be found."

He gave me the matzot and said no more. I walked off delighted that we had matzot for Passover. The day prior to Passover, we went out to work as usual.

In the evening, when all the prisoners went to eat, Shmuel and I prayed the Passover evening service. Then we spread out a sack on the shelf where we slept at night and set the seder on it. We put out three matzot for both of us. We didn't have maror (bitter herbs) but we didn't lack bitter experiences. We had no wine either, but we had it in our thoughts, and we began the seder. First we recited the Kiddush. Then Shmuel asked me the four questions.

Shmuel and I spoke of our relatives. I thought of how my wife and my mother were now sitting in their houses alone, and that they were surely shedding tears over my condition in this brutal camp.

Shmuel's thoughts were of his parents, also sitting at the seder without him. We decided then, that whatever awaited us the next day, on the holiday of Passover, we would not work. Just as the nation of Israel believed that G-d would redeem them from Egypt, so we believed that G-d would save us from this camp and that He would take all the Jews from Russia and bring them to Israel; just as the Jews could not escape from Egypt, so the Jews could not escape from Russia. Only G-d could take them from Russia and bring them to the Land of Israel.

Late that night we presented our brigadier with some matzot. He was very grateful and promised to help me.

"You'll have to go out with the rest of the brigade. Otherwise I'll have to report you. Out there we'll find a way to keep you from working on the holiday."

On the first day of Passover, Shmuel and I evaded the brigade. The brigadier pretended not to notice our disappearance as we went wandering around the area. We found a tiny abandoned, unheated room, where we huddled in the intolerable cold. In the evening, when the brigade finished its work, we came out. Our reception was unfriendly.

After roll-call, everyone went to the mess hall while we prayed, conducted the second seder, and lay down to sleep. The following morning, the brigadier had a paternal conversation with us.

"You know that there are no secrets in camp. The commandant has already been informed that you did not appear for work yesterday because of your holiday. The rumor is that you will be tried for 'collective refusal to work.' You are well aware that your reward for this can be a rope. I won't force you to work on your holy days, but I will not suffer along with you. Do as you wish without involving me. I want nothing to do with the whole thing."

Avoiding work that day was much more difficult than the first day, but we managed. Frozen and famished, we wandered around the work area. When night finally fell, we davened and then returned to our brigade and started working. Returning to the zone, we found our supervisor waiting for us.

"Look here," he said to me. "If you want to destroy your life, that's your affair. I don't wish you any evil, G-d forbid. The commandant isn't the least interested in your trial, because this can cast a shadow on his whole career. He can send you to the other world without any trial, and he has done exactly that more than once to others. Consider very carefully how to get out of this danger."

In the commandant's office we found an NKVD colonel. The colonel spoke calmly and patiently, as though he counted his words. "What is the nature of your refusal to work on Saturdays and Jewish holidays?"

"Only religious."

"We have taken a particular interest in this matter. We are informed that, according to Jewish law, work is permitted on Saturday if danger to life is involved. Hence, it is clear to us that your refusal to work, especially in a collective manner, is of an absolutely political nature. Crimes of this sort may be punished by execution. We shall grant you one more chance. If you assure us that henceforth you will work honestly and diligently every day of the week, as do the others, we will give you your proper sentence. In addition, if your conduct is good, we might transfer you to lighter work."

He paused for our answer. "Well, what do you say?"

"I will not work on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays under any condition," I answered categorically. Shmuel said the same.

"I believe you will reconsider this," the colonel answered in a mixture of anger and exasperation. "In the meantime, go to sleep." Despite threats, beatings, and torture, Eliezer Naness never "reconsidered" when it came to the observe of mitzvot.

In 1965, ten years after he was released, Eliezer Naness and his wife were finally allowed to leave and settle in Israel, where he lived until his passing last year.

Moshiach Matters

The Baal Shem Tov established a custom to eat a third meal on the last day of Passover. This meal is known as "Moshiach's Meal," for on this day Moshiach's radiance is revealed. This revelation foreshadows the Redemption.

It takes place specifically on the last day of Passover, for this is a day which is added only in the Diaspora. The essence of the added day is that in the Diaspora and in the time of exile, the Jewish people transform 24 mundane hours into a day of holiness. On the last day of Passover this means transforming them into a festival of freedom and redemption. And this process of transformation is the essence of the imminent Redemption - converting the very exile itself into redemption, so that G-dliness is revealed even at the very lowest levels of creation.

(Likutei Sichot)

  513: 11 Nissan515: Shemini  
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