Leadership in the Hillel Model | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | A Call to Action | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
One of the rituals of the Passover seder is to eat the unique "Hillel" sandwich comprised of two pieces of matza with maror (bitter herbs) inside.
Why did Hillel insist that the Passover lamb, matza and maror be eaten all in one bite, whereas the rest of the Sages felt it sufficient for the three foods to be eaten at the same meal?
Jewish mysticism teaches that the Passover lamb, the matza, and the maror, symbolize three Jewish profiles: the inspired Jew, the "regular" Jew and the bitter Jew. The delicious taste and aroma of the lamb symbolize the passionate person, whose heart burns with a G-dly fire. The bland taste of matza represents the average Jew who is neither turned off nor very turned on. The maror is the person who is bitter toward tradition and religion, perhaps toward life in general.
On a more subtle level, the three foods represent the wholesome person, the struggling individual and the one who is weak:
The Passover lamb was sacrificed in the Holy Temple. This symbolizes the tzadik, whose entire life is saturated with holiness, spiritual delight and inspiration.
The matza represents the intermediate Jew, who lives a moral life, yet confronts many bland moments. He struggle at times with apathy.
The maror reflects the weak human being who fails to live up to his true human and spiritual identity. During life's pressures, and in the presence of powerful challenges, he falls prey to immorality and addiction. A bitter taste pervades this person's days and nights.
Each of these three profiles is included in the Passover experience. Each one must aspire to liberation; on Passover each one is given the opportu-nity to free himself and his environment from the shackles that keep him from reaching his potential and bringing the world closer to redemption.
According to the Sages, each of the three types of people has his place on the seder table. Yet, the three categories remain distinct. They are worlds apart; each viewing reality and interpreting the meaning of life in very different ways.
Yet Hillel insisted that if the lamb, matza and maror weren't sandwiched together, the seder was invalid. If these three types of people did not learn to experience Passover as a holistic entity, none of them could internalize the freedom of Passover. To truly experience liberation we must unite lamb, matza and maror into a single wrap.
But how can the impossible occur? How can the lamb-Jew truly unite with the maror-Jew without compromising his ideals? How can the inspired and the bitter Jew get along? How can people from such diverse backgrounds and ideologies come together?
One of Hillel's most famous sayings is: "Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them close to Torah." This line captures Hillel's philosophy. If you wish to draw people close to Torah, you must first love them, relate to them and identify with their individual journey.
Hillel also taught: "What you dislike, do not do to your fellow." His life was a commentary on this instruction. It was therefore Hillel who wrapped up the Passover lamb, matza and maror and ate them together. Hillel believed that the three profiles symbolized by these three foods can and must be brought together. Hillel once said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I care only for myself, what am I?" The lamb-Jew must always remember that his or her freedom can only be achieved if he or she can join with the matza-Jew and the maror-Jew to embark on the path toward liberation.
Four days before Passover, the 11th of Nissan, marks the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a modern-day Hillel. The Rebbe has taught hundreds of thousands how to make the Hillel wrap, how to bring together Jews from very distinct backgrounds and walks of life. He has taught how to truly respect and embrace people who are very different. Most importantly, the Rebbe never stopped teaching that the lamb-Jew can never enjoy full liberation as long as his matza counterpart was left behind and showed how even the most maror-Jew is innately connected to G-d and to Torah. May each of us merit to continue the work of the Rebbe and never cease to "wrap" Jews together, the world over.
According to the Chabad tradition, the four questions at the Passover seder are asked in the following order:
- On all nights we need not dip even once, and on this night we do so twice.
- On all nights we eat chametz (leavened bread) or matza, and on this night only matza.
- On all nights we eat any kind of vegetables, and on this night maror (bitter herbs).
- 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 (commandment) explicitly stated in the Torah - would have been first. By extension, eating maror, which in our times is a mitzva decreed by our Sages, 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 Sages. 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 down-play its significance.
The order of the questions at the Passover 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 talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1
A Free Man
by Tzvi Jacobs
Daniel's apartment was unlike any other college student's pad. Beautiful furniture, the smell of delicious food in the kitchen, a tastefully set dining table. I guess his upbringing in Paris had an influence on him. While Daniel prepared a salad in his kitchen, I looked around and saw a sheet on the coffee table, A Thought for the Week, adapted from talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Kagan. "This week's Torah reading speaks about a Jewish slave who is set free after six years of working off his debt..."
I interrupt the verse with my own thoughts. A slave! The Torah speaks about slaves! How archaic! Even my great-grandfather, who was an Orthodox Jew all of his life, did not believe in slavery. "I didn't escape the poverty of Poland to die for the right to own slaves," he had said. Back in 1861, two Confederate officers came looking to recruit him into the army. My great-grandmother said, "Mr. Jacobs went on a business trip to Cincinnati and won't be back for months."
Her 2-year-old Louis tugged on her skirt, pulling it like a cowbell, "Mommy, Mommy. Daddy's there, under the bed." The officers sized up the situation. They didn't want any faint-hearted fighters. "Mrs. Jacobs, when he returns from his trip," one of the officers said with a wink, "tell him to report to the recruiting station."
My great-grandfather kept peddling his wares in South Carolina, but never fought for the right to own slaves. He later opened a shoe store in Charleston that was closed on the Jewish Sabbath. With his long beard and yarmulke on his head, the people of color affectionately called him "Jew Jacobs." I imagine for him, too, the Jewish slave was also a thing of the past... so how did he accept the Torah as something relevant today?
The words of the Thought for the Week continued, "But if the slave says, 'I love my master, I don't want to go free' you place the slave opposite the doorpost, and pierce the ear and put a ring in it." How demeaning, I thought. Still I kept reading, thinking there must be something ...
But we're like that slave, the Lubavitcher Rebbe says. For six days a week, we work hard and often long hours, might even skip lunch and supper, too, miss time with the family, in short, we work like slaves... But then comes the seventh day, and G-d says, "You're free. No work, the bills can wait, no master to report to, phone rings unanswered, even social obligations connected to work are turned down." G-d says, "One day a week, only Me and you and time to be with your family and get connected again. But if someone says, 'I love my master, I don't want to go free,' you discourage that temptation to be a slave to the outside world and bore a hole in his ear and put a ring through it..."
I looked at my life. Monday through Friday I studied at the University of South Carolina School of Public Health, working towards a master's in epidemiology. On the weekends, I published the school's magazine. It was non-stop work. Maybe I am like a slave. Even though no one was actually forcing me to come to work on Saturday, I "loved my master" and wanted the outside world to honor my contributions and look up to me. I was a slave to the outside world. I went beyond the request to publish a newsletter, instead I produced a magazine. I lost contact with myself, my family, my close friends, and my quest to find the Truth and meaning of life..
Yes, I was a slave. Now I was given a chance to be free...at least one day a week. What was I going to do? Habits of a secular lifestyle were strong. Then again a powerful light shone through the Rebbe's teachings. For the first time in my life I saw that the story of the Hebrew slave was not archaic at all, but rather it was speaking to someone in modern America, an intelligent graduate student - to me.
Daniel invited me again to his Shabbat table. I returned after a few weeks and again he delighted me with delicious food and warm company. But more than that, my soul craved truth for with a capital T. My heart needed guidance and healing, and my mind wanted to make sense of life. Daniel shared with me the insights that were written in the Thoughts for the Week. I became stronger and broke away from my master more and more often, and ran to his home for Shabbat. After a while, I stopped catching a ride to his apartment, and instead peddled my bicycle. By the time winter came, Daniel invited me to sleep over and before winter came I became a regular sleepover guest, and began encouraging others to come to Daniel's personal Chabad House for a meal or two.
In the spring, Daniel and I drove to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which teemed with guests from all over the world. We sat in a sea of thousands of men and boys, listening intently to the crystal clear voice of the Rebbe celebrating his 80th birthday.
The Rebbe started speaking at 9:30 p.m. and delved into many subjects: the significance of a birthday, the weekly Torah portion, the holiday of Passover that was beginning in four days. I was surprised and impressed that the Rebbe spoke about impending advances in solar energy and the need for the U.S. government to invest in solar cells to bring prices down. Throughout the night, the Rebbe looked at each of the birthday well-wishers, and nodded and smiled to their toasts of "l'chaim." At 1 a.m., dozens of children were still sitting at the Rebbe's feet. To me, that was the best proof that this lifestyle was more advanced than anything in modern society. At 3:30 a.m., the Rebbe ended his talks and handed specially printed volumes of Tanya (the basic text of Chabad Chasidic philosophy) to every man, woman, and child for the next three hours. There were hundreds of children and babies in the line.
The Rebbe handed me a Tanya. The shackles of slavery were broken. That night I walked out of 770 a free man.
Next week we have the opportunity to fulfill a unique, once-in-28-years mitzva (command-ment) known as Birkat HaChama. This mitzva is fulfilled when the sun returns to the same position, at the same time of the week, that it was in at the time of its creation. We will perform the mitzva this year on Passover eve, Wednesday April 8, 2009. It should be recited outdoors in view of the sun, preferably before the first quarter of the day (but can be recited until midday). It is preferable to recite the short prayer service publicly amongst many people. However, it can be recited alone The text of the blessing can be found at www.LchaimWeekly.org/sun/ Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out where your closest Birkat HaChama service is taking place or for a do-it-yourself guide visit chabad.org/sun.
Translated and adapted from a letter of the Rebbe
11 Nissan, 5723 (1963)
Passover is the first day of Jewish independence, and the first festival in the history of our Jewish people.
It is first in rank and significance, for it brought the liberation of our people from enslavement and made it possible for them to live a free and independent life as a nation, governed only by the Torah and its commandments dictated by G-d alone.
As such, Passover is especially meaningful for our Jewish people, and for every Jew individually, at all times and in all places. For this reason also, every aspect of the festival and every detail attending the historical Exodus from Egypt, has a special significance in the way of a timeless message and practical instruction for the individual, the community and our people as a whole.
One of the important details of the Exodus is the haste with which the Exodus took place. When the hour of liberation struck, the Jewish people left Egypt at once, losing not a moment, or, as our Sages express it - not even a "heref ayin," "the blink of an eye."
They add, moreover, that if the Jewish people had tarried and missed that auspicious moment, the opportunity of the liberation would have been lost forever.
This seems incomprehensible. For it was already after the Ten Plagues, which prompted the Egyptians to virtually expel the Jews from their land. The situation was thus "well in hand."
Why, then, do our Sages teach that if that moment had been missed, the whole liberation would have been in jeopardy?
Above all, what practical lesson is contained in this detail, so that the Torah makes a point of revealing it to us with particular emphasis?
The explanation is as follows: When the end of the road of exile is reached, and the moment arrives for the liberation from the "abomination of Egypt," the opportunity must be seized at once; there must be no tarrying even for an instant, not even to the extent of "blink of an eye."
The danger of forfeiting the opportunity lay not in the possibility of the Egyptians changing their mind, but in the possibility that some Jews might change their mind, being loathe to leave their habituated way of life in Egypt, to go out into the desert to receive the Torah.
The practical lesson for every Jew, man or woman, young or old, is:
The Exodus from Egypt as it is to be experienced in day-to-day life, is the personal release from subservience to the dictates of the body and the animal in man; the release from passions and habits within, as well as from the materialistic environment without.
This release can only be achieved by responding to the call of G-d, Who seeks out the oppressed and enslaved and promises, "I shall redeem you from bondage... that I may be your G-d." As at the time of the first liberation, true freedom is conditional upon the acceptance of the Torah and mitzvoth (commandments).
This call of freedom never ceases. The Exodus must be achieved every day; each day the opportunity beckons anew.
Unfortunately, there are individuals who tarry and consign the opportunity to the "three solemn days" of the year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; others, at best, postpone it for Shabbos and Yom Tov, still others, who recall and experience the Exodus in daily prayer, fail to extend it to every aspect of daily life.
What is true of the individual, is true also on the community and national levels, except that on these levels the missing of the opportunities is, of course, even more far-reaching and catastrophic.
As in the days of our ancestors in Egypt whose exodus was not delayed even for a moment, whereby they attained full liberation of the body and full liberation of the spirit with the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, which was the purpose and goal of the Exodus.
May G-d grant that every Jew seize the extraordinary opportunity of the present moment, to achieve self-liberation and to help others in the same direction; liberation from all manner of bondage, internal and external, and above all, liberation from the most dismal bondage - the idea of "let's be like the rest."
And when we return to the ways of Torah and mitzvoth in the fullest measure, we will merit the fulfillment of the promise: When the Jewish people return, they are redeemed at once, with the true and complete redemption through our righteous Moshiach.
Get Rid of Your Chametz
Jewish law prohibits one from eating and owning chametz (leavened foods) on Passover. Any chametz that is still in your possession on Passover eve can be set aside in a special place in your home and sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. Through your rabbi or local Chabad Center you can sell your chametz. If you do not have access to a rabbi you can sell your chametz online at Passover.net by April 8, 9:00 a.m. est.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
It is a Jewish custom to say daily the chapter of Psalms associated with the number of one's years. Chasidim and followers of the Rebbe also recite daily the Rebbe's chapter.
The 11th of Nissan (this year Sunday, April 5) marks the Rebbe's 107th birthday, and so, we begin reciting chapter 108.
The first verse begins, "Shir Mizmor L'David - A song, a Psalm by David." The Chaza Tzion points out that the first letters of this verse spell the word "shalem" which means complete. This refers to the ultimate perfection that the royal line of King David will achieve in the Messianic Era.
Verse two reads: "My heart is steadfast [with You], G-d, I will sing and offer hymns even with my soul." Radak explains that King David is saying, "Although this exile seems non-ending, I firmly cling to my belief that G-d will send the redeemer."
Sforno comments on this verse that one of the biggest problems of the exile is the absence of strong leadership. This has distorted our hearts and minds. Moshiach will restore strong leadership and will strengthen our moral fiber, making our hearts steadfast once again.
In verse four we read: "I will thank You among people, O L-rd, and I will sing praises to You among the nations." Rav Avraham Azulai explains that this means that in the future, we will thank G-d for everything that transpired in the course of the exile, both the good and the bad.
The second half of the Psalm, verses 7-14, is almost a complete replica of the same verses in Psalm 60. In Psalm 60 the verses relate to King David's flight from King Saul and ultimate salvation. According to Radak, in Psalm 108, the verses refer to the salvation of the entire Jewish people in the Messianic Era.
The final verse reads, "Through [the help of G-d] we will emerge with might, and He will trample our adversaries." The might, says Sforno, is the strength garnered from the Torah study that Moshiach will teach to his "soldiers."
May we merit very soon to be part of this powerful Army, studying the special Torah with the revelation of Moshiach NOW!
This is the law (teaching) of the burnt offering; it is the burnt offering...and the fire of the altar shall be burning on it (Lev. 6:2)
The person who brings the burnt offering should have in mind that he himself should have been the offering. Yet G-d, in His infinite mercy, is willing to accept a sacrifice in his stead.
This is the Torah (law) of the burnt offering ("ola," lit. "which ascends"), the burnt offering which shall be burning upon the altar (Lev. 6:2)
The great Chasidic masters explained: What kind of Torah learning truly ascends on high? That which "burns upon the altar" - Torah that is studied with a burning and fiery enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the mem of the word "mokda" (altar) is smaller than the other letters, to teach us that our ardor must be inwardly contained and not demonstrated outwardly beyond a tiny light.
A perpetual fire (Lev. 6:6)
There were two types of fire in the Sanctuary and Holy Temple: one that burned on the outer altar, and one that burned in the menora inside. The priest whose job it was to light the menora did so with a flame taken from the outer altar. This teaches an important lesson: The outer altar is symbolic of our Divine service with other people; the kindling of the menora alludes to Torah study, as it states in Proverbs, "The Torah is light." Thus in order to merit the Torah's light it isn't enough to concern oneself with one's own spiritual progress; the concern should be extended to others as well.
This is the law (Torah) of the burnt [offering], of the meal [offering], and of the sin [offering], and of the trespass [offering] (Lev. 7:37)
The Torah is an elixir of life for those who believe in it, but an elixir of death for those who pervert it. It can serve as a burnt offering or meal offering, or lead to sin and trespass.
(Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin)
The customs of the seder night are ancient and profound. For example, there is a mnemonic device which has been taught for a thousand years to help remember the fifteen parts of the seder. It begins: "Kadesh, urchatz...etc.," and means "Recite the kiddush, wash the hands...," etc. It has been the custom over the many generations for teachers to instill these words in the minds of their tiniest students, who then recite them on the seder night, explaining each of them in the Yiddish vernacular.
The first word, "kadesh" is explained, 'When Father comes home from shul on the evening of Passover he must say the kiddush right away so that the little children don't fall asleep without saying the Four Questions, beginning 'Mah Nishtana.'"
It so happened one year in the home of Rebbe Aryeh Leib of Shpole (known as the Shpoler Zeide) that his small son began the recitation with the word "kadesh" and proceeded with the Yiddish explanation, saying, "When Father comes home from shul (synagogue) on Passover night, he must recite the kiddush immediately." His explanation, however, went no further, and his father asked, "Why don't you continue?"
"My teacher didn't tell me anything else to say," replied the child.
The Shpoler Zeide then proceeded to tell his son the rest of the explanation, which continued: "...so that the little children won't fall asleep and will ask the Four Questions beginning with 'Why is this night different from all other nights?'"
On the second night of Passover the boy's teacher was among the guests at the Shpoler Zeide's table, and the tzadik asked him, "Why didn't you teach the children the rest of the explanation of the word 'kadesh?'"
"Oh," he replied, "I didn't think it was so important for a little child to know. Anyway, that's not the most important part of the explanation."
The Shpoler Zeide was upset by this reply, and said, "How do you dare to take it upon yourself to alter the venerable customs of our illustrious ancestors? You simply don't understand the depth and profundity of this teaching. Listen, and I will explain the inner meaning of those words:
"The words 'recite kiddush and wash the hands,' these are the introduction to the whole seder. In the holy Zohar it is written that Rabbi Chiya opened up his discourse with the words from the Song of Songs 'I am asleep but my heart is awake,' meaning 'I am asleep during the Exile.' During the long Exile the Jews are as if asleep, lacking the heights of spiritual sensitivity.
"The true meaning of the children's words, then, 'When Father comes home from shul on Passover night', is 'When our Father in Heaven returns to His Abode on High and He sees that all the Jews - no matter how exhausted from their preparations for the holiday - all go to pray and give thanks to Him,' then: 'He must recite kiddush right away,' which is to say, G-d must renew His vows of betrothal to His deserted bride, the Jewish People, as it says in the prophet Hosea: 'And I will betroth you to me forever.'
"And what is the reason He must do this with haste? That is explained, 'So that the little children won't fall asleep.' The prophets often refer to the Jewish people as the small, precious children of G-d. The Alm-ghty must act immediately to redeem His people, lest the deep sleep of the Exile totally overwhelm them (G-d forbid), and they cannot be awakened, so that the Redemption would be impossible.
"The end of the phrase, 'So that they will ask the question 'Mah nishtana...' Why is this night different from all other nights?' is explained as follows: We ask 'Why is this terrible, dark Exile longer than all the other exiles we have previously endured?'"
As he uttered these words the Shpoler Zeide couldn't contain his emotions and he burst into bitter tears. "Our Father in Heaven, redeem us quickly from the exile while we're only in a kind of half sleep and our hearts still remain awake! Don't wait until we fall into a sleep so deep that we cannot be awakened!"
Everyone who witnessed this scene was shaken to his core with the desire for repentance, many weeping from the depths of their souls.
The Rebbe then abruptly interrupted this sad mood saying, "Kinderlach, children, let's have some liveliness and give our Father a little 'nachas.' Let's show Him that His little children can dance and be joyful even in this deep darkness!" And with that, the tzadik began to whirl and turn in a dance of spiritual rapture.
In the first few pages of the Passover Hagada we read: "This year we are here; next year, may we be in the Land of Israel. This year, we are slaves; next year, may we be free people." On these words the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, "Mentioning the Land of Israel and our ultimate freedom at the beginning of the Hagada suggests that the purpose of the seder is not only to relive the exodus from Egypt, but to prepare for the Redemption."