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by Rabbi Berel Bell
One of the central ideas of our reading of the Hagada at the Passover Seder is that "in every generation, we are obligated to view ourselves as if we personally came out of Egypt."
One obvious difficulty in fulfilling this obligation is the simple fact that we did not come out of Egypt, never having been there in the first place.
Furthermore, the Egyptian kingdom dissolved many years ago. Even had our forefathers not been released from Egypt, we would still not be there today!
The statement of the Hagada means, however, that we personally experience the Exodus. How can this be possible?
The Hebrew word for Egypt is "Mitzrayim," literally "boundaries." In the book Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains the above obligation as a commandment to free oneself of one's personal "Egypt" - to transcend the many factors that constrict and prevent a person from achieving a more holy way of life.
Personal difficulties - even the very coarseness of physical existence - repress the soul and obstruct it from cleaving to its Divine source. Thus we are given the command, and with it the ability, to break through these barriers and attain a more holy existence.
The Torah therefore wants us to view ourselves as having personally come out of Egypt - because we have actually done so in a spiritual sense.
The problem then arises: having already gone out of one's personal Egypt today, how can one fulfill this command tomorrow? For each new day the same obligation to leave one's "Egypt" applies, yet our state of boundary was already left behind the day before!
A seeming state of liberation can in itself be imprisonment. This concept can be understood by examining a prior bondage in Egypt, occurring before that of the entire Jewish nation described in the book of Exodus.
The Torah describes how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and later imprisoned. He was subsequently released and brought before Pharaoh. Having found favor in Pharaoh's eyes, he was given royal status and appointed second-in-command over Egypt.
When Joseph was taken out of the pit into which his brothers had put him, he certainly was released from a severely restricted environment. He came out of a personal "Egypt," so to speak. However, he was still in a state of limitation. After all, he ended up in jail!
When designated second-in-command to Pharaoh, he went one step further out of his limited state. However, he was still subject to Pharaoh's orders. More so, he was still in Egypt, away from his family, and far from the Holy Land where he wished to dwell.
Each step represented a stage of personal Exodus. When compared with a higher level, though, this state of liber-ation was actually a state of bondage.
When Joseph was freed from prison, he could be considered liberated. In comparison with where he wanted to be, however, he was still in bondage.
The same applies to the ongoing spiritual Exodus referred to in the Hagada.
When the soul is allowed to express itself through the unencumbered pursuit of spiritual matters, it goes through a form of spiritual Exodus. In comparison with a more complete level of spiritual expression, however, it is still in "Egypt."
As long as the soul is here in the physical world, it is still subject to limita-tion. The Jewish soul is a spark of G-dli-ness; a reflection of its infinite source. As long as it is confined in a physical body, it is still in a kind of "Egypt."
We must always strive to release ourselves from our limitations, breaking away from the elements which restrain us from living holy lives. However, we should not be disappointed to discover that our newly attained spiritual liber-ation is still considered "bondage" when compared with higher spiritual levels.
Our continued spiritual growth, the Hagada tells us, is to come every day out of our personal "Egypt."
Passover is not only the first of the three major Jewish festivals, but the foundation and root of all of them. The Exodus from Egypt prepared the Jewish people for receiving the Torah on Shavuot. Sukkot, too, is connected to Passover, in that it commemorates the booths (sukkot) that the Children of Israel inhabited in the wilderness.
The main significance of Passover is that it is "the season of our freedom," the time when the Jewish people went out of slavery and became an independent nation. The Torah describes what happened as follows: "G-d has ventured to go and take or Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and by wonders... according to all that G-d did for you in Egypt before your eyes." The keys words are "a nation from the midst of another nation," which express the true uniqueness of the event.
What does it mean that the Jews were "a nation in the midst of another nation"? On the one hand it implies that the Children of Israel were already a "people," in the sense that they spoke their own language, lived in their own land (Goshen), and were careful to wear distinctive Jewish dress. At the same time, they were subservient and dependent upon the Egyptians.
Our Sages likened this situation to a fetus in its mother's womb. The fetus is a separate entity from the mother, with its own head, hands, legs and other limbs. Yet it is not a truly independent being, as it is forced to go wherever the mother goes, derives its sustenance from whatever she eats, etc. In truth, the fetus is completely dependent on the mother.
This accurately describes the Jews' circumstances in Egypt: While recognizable as a separate people, they were completely dependent on the Egyptians - so much so that it appeared as if they, too, were tainted by the Egyptians' idolatry.
The "umbilical cord" was severed when the Jews were commanded to slaughter and eat the Pascal lamb, an animal that the Egyptians worshiped. The courage and self-sacrifice it took to do this was the first step in the Jewish people's liberation from Egypt and its mentality.
This contains an eternal lesson: A person may think that he is free and independent because he has his own thoughts and desires. Upon reflection, however, he may discover that he is connected by an invisible "umbilical cord" to his surroundings and that in reality, he is a slave to whatever non-Jewish mores and conventions happen to be in vogue. Worse still is that he thinks that this is the true meaning of "freedom."
The holiday of Passover endows us with the strength to attain true freedom. The first step is to "slaughter" any "idols" that might be worshiped even subconsciously, and rid oneself of dependency on "what the world thinks." For the Jewish people are servants of G-d and no one else!
Adapted from the Rebbe's Hagada, 5751 edition
by Rabbi Yossi Gordon
My father was the rabbi of a shul (synagogue) in Maplewood, New Jersey. Originally the shul was in Newark and my parents lived there. When it moved to Maplewood, they moved as well. On certain Shabbat and Yom Tov (Jewish holiday) mornings, my father would walk the long, four miles to immerse in the closest men's mikva, which was situated in Newark. He would leave at 5:00 a.m. in order to be back in time for the Torah class he taught at 8:00 a.m.
On the last day of his first Passover living in Maplewood, shortly after the holiday meal, my father announced that he was making another round-trip journey to Newark, despite already having done so in the morning. My father explained that there was a bakery under the kosher supervision of the local Vaad Harabonim (Council of Rabbis) that he was a member of. He felt a personal responsibility to ensure that the bakery was closed for the entire duration of the Passover holiday, as required by Jewish law. In previous years, when my father still lived in Newark, the baker would not have dared to start baking chametz on Passover. But now, with my father living many miles away, there was the concern that the baker might take the chance.
Obviously, it would have been a lot more convenient for my father to assume that the baker was not up to any trouble. In fact, my father's position with the Vaad Harabonim did not even require him to be personally involved with kosher supervision. However, kosher was of paramount importance to him, and he was ready to greatly inconvenience himself in order to ensure that all was as it should be.
My father set out for the bakery. Unfortunately, his worst suspicions were confirmed. The baker had not been able to withstand the temptation, and was hard at work in the bakery. Surprised at being caught red-handed, he tried to convince my father that Passover really ends right after Yizkor. Obviously, my father stood firm. He removed the Vaad Harabonim's stamp of approval until the bakery agreed to hire a permanent on-site supervisor.
My father began displaying signs of illness about a year before he passed away. The extent of his illness could not be fully determined without surgery, which was scheduled to take place in the Newark Beth Israel Hospital, where he had served as the Jewish Chaplain for some 40 years.
On the day before his operation, my father arrived at the hospital quite early, and made his usual hospital rounds, as if he didn't have a care in the world. He went from room to room, bringing cheer and comfort to many people. He put on Tefilin with a number of patients, visitors and doctors. Finally, at noon, he presented himself to the admissions nurse. Well known and deeply beloved and respected by the staff at Beth Israel, he was treated like a VIP every step of the way.
Prior to the operation, the family met the surgeon, Dr. Donald Brief, Chief Surgeon of Newark Beth Israel. He and my father had been very good friends and professional colleagues for many years. Dr. Brief advised us to hope for a long drawn out surgery. "The longer the procedure, the greater the indication that things are going well," he told us. A quick operation would suggest that the disease was inoperable.
Unfortunately, the procedure was very short, and it wasn't long before Dr. Brief emerged from the operating room. He shook his head as his eyes welled up with tears. "I am sorry. I am just so, so sorry." The tumor was inoperable. Chemotherapy and radiation would be tried, but there was little hope for success.
The entire medical team joined my family in the recovery room. Dr. Brief turned to my father and said very softly: "Sholom, I am so very sorry. If there is anything I can do - anything at all - to help you through these trying days, please ask it of me. I am here for you."
My father looked up, and in a very calm and measured tone of voice, said to Dr. Brief, "If you really want to do something to help me, I have been asking you for about 25 years to put on Tefilin. You have consistently declined. If you are serious and truly wish to help me, I will ask my son to put on the Tefilin with you in my merit."
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Dr. Brief said, "Of course I will put on Tefilin, my dear friend, Sholom." With the tears continuing to flow, he performed the mitzva.
After my father's passing, on the last day of Passover, my brother Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon and sister Chanie Friedman went to the Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, to see the plaque that had been put up in my father's memory. It was already late at night when they arrived and the security guard refused to allow them to enter.
When my brother mentioned that they had come to see the plaque in memory of Rabbi Sholom Gordon, suddenly the guard's demeanor changed completely. The guard said, "Rabbi Gordon? You came to see Rabbi Gordon's plaque? Of course, you can come in - you can come in 24 hours a day! You see, when Rabbi Gordon came to the hospital every day to make his rounds, he always noticed me. He always greeted me with a 'Good morning' when he arrived, and a 'Good evening' when he left." My father's simple and sincere gesture went a long way in touching this security guard.
This issue of L'Chaim is for April 6/Nissan 14 and April 13/Nissan 21. The next issue, 1217, will be for April 20/Nissan 28.
New Torah Scrolls
Nearly 1,000 people from all walks of life escorted a new Torah scroll into the Rashbi Synagogue in Sunrise, Florida. A new Torah scroll was paraded down the streets of Seoul, South Korea to the Chabad Jewish Community Center - with great fanfare by hundreds of people. A Torah scroll that was completed at Lubavitch World Headquarter, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, was donated to the renovated Tzemach Tzedek Shul in Baltimore, Maryland. Chabad at Beekman-Sutton, in New York, New York, paraded a new Torah scroll along Manhattan's Second Avenue along the way to the Chabad Center. The Chabad Jewish Center at University of Illinois & Champaign-Urbana, in Champaign, Illinois, recently welcomed a new Torah scroll.
Freely translated and excerpted from a letter of the Rebbe dated Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5743 (1983)
To the Sons and Daughters of
Our People Israel, Everywhere
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
The inner significance of Passover, which is also known as "the Festival of Matzos" (Chag HaMatzos) is reflected in the two aspects of observation: the obligation to eat Matza, and the prohibition against eating Chometz (leaven), to the extent of it being "neither seen nor present."
There is a significant difference in regard to this two-fold observance:
The obligation to eat Matza is limited in terms of the quantity of Matza that has to be eaten, as well as in respect of time (one may fulfill the obligation by eating Matza the size of two olives on each of the first two nights of Pesach; the rest of the time one may eat any and all Pesachdige foods, without Matza). However, the prohibition of Chometz is absolute, even a minutest quantity, and it applies to each instant in time of the entire festival.
Herein is to be found an allusion and instruction for the spiritual life of the Jew, to be derived from the distinct natural characteristics of Chometz and Matza respectively.
The nature of Chometz (leaven) is that the dough rises and expands more and more; and this also provides the special taste of baked bread. Matza is quite the opposite; the dough is not allowed to rise and expand at all.
Thus it is explained in our holy sources that Chometz alludes to haughtiness and arrogance, which (Heaven forbid) creep into the everyday life. At the same time it is so explained that the trait of haughtiness is the root of all undesirable aspects in human character and as is written: "Everyone who is arrogant at heart is an abomination to G-d." So our Sages declare that G-d says of a person who is arrogant, "There is no room for Me and him in the world," and more expressions in this vein.
Hence, one of the reasons (although G-d's precepts have to be carried out as Divine imperatives, and not for any other reason) why the prohibition of Chometz applies even to the minutest quantity, thus indicating that haughtiness and arrogance must be rejected completely.
Furthermore, inasmuch as people are involved with "Chometz" all year round, in working for a livelihood ("six days you shall work"), in non-spiritual circumstances and in a gross materialistic world, etc., it is almost inevitable that some thought of self-importance, a trifle of egotism, and the like, should not rear their ugly heads, and be prompted further by the natural tendency to be prejudiced in one's own favor, as mentioned above. Consequently, it is possible that the said attitude and conduct may become not only a "second nature," but should also be considered as "justified" and equitable," etc. Hence this must be ruled out in the strongest possible terms.
Therefore, when Passover eve comes around, a Jew is required to carry out a thorough "house-cleaning" - to search and eradicate the "Chometz" that a accumulate in the course of the year, however minute it may be; and from then on to guard himself and his entire household from the least bit of Chometz during the entire week of Passover (with the extra eighth day in countries outside the Holy Land); a period that includes and represents all Sundays, Mondays, and all the other days of the week throughout the year; keeping them free of Chometz to the extent that it shall "neither be seen nor present."
All this, together with the obligation to eat Matza and all that it teaches, instills into the Jew the strength to reject effectively all mundane influences of the materialistic world, as well as to overcome one's own unworthy tendencies, in order to identify with the Exodus from Egypt in the fullest measure of personal cheirus as an everyday experience.
May G-d grant that everyone of us should have a truly kosher Chag HaMatzos materially and spiritually, and enjoy true liberation from all matters that are not conducive to peace of the soul and "peace" of the body.
And this should be a preparation for the imminent complete liberation that the complete and true Redemption will bring to each and all Jews, with the fulfillment of our fervent prayer: "Hasten and bring us in peace to our land from the four corners of the earth ... and our eyes will behold our Teacher"; when also all of the world will feel the impact of the Redemption, in fulfillment of the prophecy; "And the nations shall go by your light... and the glory of G-d shall be revealed and all flesh shall see ... the awesome might of G-d and the splendor of His majesty."
With esteem and blessing for a Kosher and joyful Pesach
Daniel the Prophet
The prophet Daniel was a young man when he was brought as a captive to the court of King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylonia. As a member of a princely family, he was held in high esteem by Nebuchadnezzar for his unusual intelligence. After Daniel interpreted the King's dream, he was appointed to a high ministerial post. The Book of Daniel describes the fall of the Babylonian Empire to the Persians. After Babylonia was defeated by the Persians, Daniel remained a distinguished advisor to the new Persian rulers.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday night, Jews around the world will sit down to celebrate the first Passover seder. According to tradition, an unseen guest will also grace the table, together with our relatives and friends: Elijah the Prophet.
During his lifetime, Elijah refined his physical body to such an extent that it accompanied him "in a tempest up to heaven" when he passed away. Since then, Elijah visits every Jewish home during the Passover seder and also attends every brit mila (circumcision) ceremony that is performed. Although we cannot see his physical body, his spiritual presence takes part in our celebrations at these special times.
Elijah the Prophet will also be the one to herald the Redemption, as the Torah states, "For behold, I will send Elijah the Prophet to you, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd."
As Jews, we anxiously await Moshiach's coming every day. But what about Elijah the Prophet? How can we realistically expect Moshiach to come today if Elijah did not come yesterday to announce his imminent arrival?
One of the answers to this question is that Elijah the Prophet is supposed to precede Moshiach only if the Redemption comes about "in its time" - in accordance with natural law. If, however, the Redemption comes about in a manner in a miraculous way, transcending the laws of nature, it is quite possible that Moshiach can actually arrive first.
So regardless of who will make the first appearance, let us all ponder the Rebbe's words as we celebrate this festival of freedom: "It is absolutely certain, with no doubt whatsoever, that the time for Redemption has arrived. The only thing remaining for us to do is to actually greet our Righteous Moshiach, so that he may fulfill his mission and redeem the entire Jewish people from exile."
A kosher and happy Passover!
The Torah commands us to be joyful on Shavuot - "You shall rejoice before the L-rd your G-d," and on Sukkot - "You shall be joyful before the L-rd your G-d," "You shall be happy" - but there is no specific commandment for Passover. This is because an entire nation (Egypt) was punished; G-d said, "My handiwork is drowning in the Sea." Thus our joy on Passover is tinged with sadness and therefore incomplete.
The Hebrew word "seder" means "order," alluding to the fact that everything that has ever happened to the Jewish people, from the Exodus until today, has unfolded according to Divine plan. Nothing occurs by accident, even if we don't always understand why an event must take place.
Blessed is the Omnipresent One ("Makom," literally "Place")
Why is G-d referred to as "Place"? Because in truth, the world is "located" in G-d; G-d is not merely "located" in the world...
The Seventh Day of Passover: the splitting of the Red Sea
During the festive meal of the Seventh Day of Passover 1843, the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Chabad Rebbe), who had recently returned from a mission to Petersburg to try to convince the Russian government to annul its anti-Jewish decrees, declared: "The Seventh Day of Passover is the Rosh Hashana of self-sacrifice. When Moses conveyed G-d's command - 'Speak to the Children of Israel that they should go forward' - Nachshon ben Aminadav immediately jumped into the sea. This was a continuation of the self-sacrifice shown by our forefather Abraham. On the Seventh Day of Passover, each and every Jew can and must resolve to have self-sacrifice for Torah and mitzvot and the service of the Creator throughout the year."
(Sefer HaSichot 5703)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, attracted to himself a circle of most distinguished disciples, each a great Talmudic scholar in his own right. To this distinguished group, which was divided into three groups, Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught his concepts of Chasidic philosophy.
Many of these disciples had formerly been opponents of the new teaching, but had been won over to it by the depth and profundity they found in Chasidic philosophy and the evidence of its power to refine the Jew's character.
One of these young men arrived in Liozna and soon made a name for himself as a person who devoted every moment of his time to the study of Torah. He spent hours immersed in meditation and contemplation and in a relatively short amount of time he achieved a remarkable mastery of the topics of Chasidic philosophy.
One evening, near the end of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, he was feeling the effects of the fast, and so, exhausted and weak, he decided to retire earlier than usual. He prepared himself by washing his hands and reciting the Shema, which is said before retiring. However, he did not get a wink of sleep that night. Instead, he fell into a reverie of mediation upon the mysteries of the Divine names which are woven into the words of the Shema. Lost in thought, he remained standing by his window until dawn filled the sky.
In those days, to have a private audience with the Rebbe was a rare event, preceded by intense preparation and introspection. When the day arrived for this particular young man to enter the Rebbe's study, he asked the Rebbe: "What do I lack?" The Rebbe replied, "You lack nothing in scholarship and fear of heaven. However, you must see to it that you get rid of the "chametz" in your character, the leavened, the puffed up nature of an inflated ego. The remedy for this is matza, a poor food which symbolizes self-abnegation.
The Rebbe continued to speak to his young disciple in this vein, explaining a certain Jewish law with which the young man was thoroughly conversant. Now, however, the student understood not only the plain meaning, but also the inner, esoteric meaning of the halacha (Jewish law). The Rebbe explained, "If a kitchen utensil which is used for Passover comes into contact with chametz (leavened), the law requires that it be heated so intensely that it emits sparks or its outermost part comes off."
The young man listened well to what the Rebbe told him, and when he left the Rebbe's room he was a different person. Speaking of it to his companions, he said, "The Rebbe taught me one of the laws of Passover as it is learned in the Torah Academy in the next world. He has infused me with the strength to work on my own character and to accomplish this law in my own day to day life."
The wife of the Apta Rav, Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel, was busy finishing up the last minute preparations for the Passover Seder when there was a knock on the door. A servant opened the door, and there stood two charity collectors who were making the rounds gathering matza for the town's poor. The servant, seeing a stack of matzas wrapped in a napkin on the table, took it and innocently gave it to the men.
When, a bit later, the rebbetzin entered the room and noticed the matza missing, her heart fell, for this was no ordinary matza. They were the meticulously-prepared and guarded matzas which her husband had baked himself just before the holiday was ushered in.
She called in her household servants and soon discovered how it happened, but there was nothing to be done about it. She couldn't bring herself to disappoint her husband by telling him about the mistake, and so, with a heavy heart, she wrapped some ordinary matzas in a napkin and placed them on the table and said nothing about it.
Several days after Passover ended a young couple came to Rabbi Heschel seeking a divorce. The Apta Rav asked the husband why he wanted a divorce. He replied that his wife had refused to cook the Passover food according to the custom requiring that no matza come in contact with water.
The Rav called over his rebbetzin and asked, "Tell me, what kind of matzas did we use for the Passover seder?"
His wife was startled by the question, and she was hesitant to respond. The Rav encouraged her and calmed her fears, and she went on to explain to her husband the entire episode that had transpired on the eve of the holiday.
The Rav then turned to the young husband and said in a kind tone, "Listen to me, son. On the first night of Passover I ate regular matza and I pretended not to notice any difference. Why did I do this? I didn't wish to bring about any hard feelings or anger, G-d forbid. And you wish to divorce your wife over this Passover custom!!"
The young man immediately recognized his folly and the couple left completely reconciled.
The Talmud states: " 'All the days of your life' as including - le'havi - the Era of Moshiach" Le'havi translated as "including" literally means "to bring." Thus, this Talmudic passage, quoted in the Hagada, can be interpreted as a directive: All the days of your life should be permeated by a single intention: to bring about the coming of the Era of Moshiach.
(Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)