By Yochanan Gordon
We can all relate to the thought of a bad dream. Upon waking in the morning, we feel relief as the realization sets in that it was only a bad dream and in no way reflective of reality. By the same token, however, the flipside is also true. There are times we can imagine a certain reality, or dream about it, to the point where it feels so real and so right, and then reality sets in that it was but a fleeting dream.
I encountered this experience as day turned to twilight and the thought occurred to me that I would be back in my chair, staring at a blank computer screen, wondering what message to treat my readership to this week. Don’t misunderstand me: I am thankful for the gift of writing and the opportunity to be able to communicate with you on a weekly basis. However, after eating the bread of faith and healing for eight days and retelling the story, making it real and relatable for the kids and some of the adults around the table, my expectation was to be able to hold on to that experience a little longer, if not for eternity. And so, there is somewhat of a disappointment from my perspective, after having put myself in the right frame of mind and having lived the experience in the most optimal way, to have to be here again doing the same thing that I did before the holiday came in.
Chazal, in delineating the extent to which the story of our national Exodus from Egypt should be retold, states: “Kol ha’marbeh l’saper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach.” Many commentators question the usage of the word “l’saper.” In addition, I was always perplexed by the phraseology of “harei zeh meshubach—this is praiseworthy,” as opposed to “harei hu meshubach—he [the one who is retelling the story, in elaborate fashion] is praiseworthy.” The reconciliation that occurred to me in this light relates to the distinction in the level of prophecy between Moshe Rabbeinu and the rest of the prophets. Chazal distinguish them by saying that Moshe prophesied with the words “Zeh ha’davar” and the other prophets commenced their prophecies with the words, “So said G-d.”
In saying “Harei zeh meshubach,” Chazal were perhaps saying that the more one elaborates in his retelling of the Exodus story, the greater chances it has of materializing on the level of “zeh.” All this just compounded those feelings of disenchantment when it became increasingly clear that the lights of redemption would indeed subside and that we’d have to find our place, once again, in the rut and routine of galus.
In a recent article, I relayed a story about the shliach from Milan, Reb Gershon Mendel Garelik, ob’m, who passed away recently at the age of 88. He was sent in 1958 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to serve as the Chabad emissary to Milan at a time when the idea of shlichus was a far thought, even among the chassidim who would later embrace that lifestyle and mission. Reb Gershon Mendel poignantly described the thought of a chassid having to leave the succor and security of his Rebbe as being asked to jump from a ten-story building. So I can’t say that my experience was that intense, but there certainly was a somber emptiness that I could sense, realizing that the experience of the previous eight days wasn’t enough to bring us home for good.
For a moment I came in touch with the sadness that perhaps compelled the tradition to conclude the Pesach Seder with the hymn of Chasal Siddur Pesach, which is not a part of the Chabad rite. During the last days of Pesach, which I spent in elaborate fashion at my childhood home in Lawrence, not far from my home in Cedarhurst, my brother Nachi asked me why it was that Chabad ends the Haggadah with “L’shanah ha’ba b’Yerushalayim,” omitting Chasal Siddur Pesach, Echad Mi Yodeya, and Chad Gadya. The Marcus brothers, of 8th Day fame, answered this question in a song they recorded a few years back titled “Chassidim Don’t Say Goodbye.” Some of the lyrics to that song are: “Chassidim don’t say goodbye to old horses, no, no/ Chassidim don’t say goodbye, sukkah walls, oh/ Chassidim don’t say goodbye to the four cups of wine/ Chassidim hope to see them all again.”
Along the lines of not reciting the Chasal Siddur Pesach, which has undertones of sadness and leaves one with a wanting feeling, Chassidim also don’t escort the holiday out with a ne’ilas ha’chag but rather a Mashiach Seudah. The distinction may seem to be a bit nuanced conceptually but the experience is like night and day. At a Mashiach Seudah, we don’t usher out the redemptive spirit that we lived with throughout the eight days of Pesach but turn the focus from the past into the present in an attempt to utilize the redemptive spirit of Pesach and allow it to express itself yet again in fulfillment of the dictum of Chazal: “B’Nissan nig’alu, u’v’Nissan asidin l’higa’el—we were redeemed in the month of Nissan and we will once again be redeemed in the month of Nissan.”
As easy as it would have been to resign myself to the reality that was setting in and allow myself to be bothered by it, I owed it to myself to resolve the difficulty and perhaps to find a silver lining within what seemed to be a negative circumstance. I then recalled an interpretation that I had learned earlier, in preparation for the Sedarim, on the son at the Seder table who doesn’t know how to ask questions, the she’eino yodei’a lish’ol about whom the author of the Haggadah advises the conductor of the Seder: “At psach lo—You create an opening for him.” The roshei teivos of the words “at psach lo” spell “ofel,” which means darkness. The sofei teivos of the words “at psach lo” yield the numerical value of two times the word “ohr,” which is 414, as Chazal state, “Yisron ha’or mitoch ha’choshech,” that the light is much more potent when it emanates from within darkness.
There is a notion that the redemption will occur by G-d extricating us from this narrow exile into the expanse of redemption—that is that the distance between exile and redemption is vast. However, if we look at the words in Hebrew for exile and redemption, we will immediately notice that they are almost identical save for the letter alef inserted within the word “geulah,” meaning redemption. This indicates that the worlds of exile and redemption are in fact the same, the only difference being the awareness of G-d in the world during the redemption era.
This compelled me to recall one of the first pieces of Torah that I learned from Reb Nachman of Breslov on the verse: “Batza’ar hirchavta li—You created expansion for me within the narrowness.” There is a great story that occurred at the wedding of the grandchildren of Reb Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al HaTanya, and Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that encapsulates this idea. The two tzaddikim were supposed to walk down the aisle side by side, but the doorway was only wide enough to fit one at a time.
The Berditchiver, who was very excited by nature, exclaimed, “Let’s widen the doorway by breaking through the wall.”
The Ba’al HaTanya responded, “Why break the wall if we can make the doorway expand?”
The message that I began to realize is that we need to be reinserted within the darkness and constrictions of exile in order to appreciate the expanse and light of redemption. So while my expectations were to remain within the cocoon of Zeman Cheiruseinu, it seems that G-d ordained a different plan for us. So here I am again, writing to you this week, as I did prior to the yom tov, hoping that this foray within the constraints of exile will lead shortly to the final redemption, soon, in our days.
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.