After a year of no indoor services or programs, we enjoyed a truly beautiful yom tov in Montana. The needy in our community were gifted maos chittim funds to help with their holiday needs, 540 Jewish homes received handmade shemurah matzah, the yeshiva boys visited homes and businesses around the state, placing mezuzot and wrapping men in tefillin, and more than 60 individual Jews joined us for our public Sedarim and meals, which was a breath of fresh air.
As part of our Pesach experience, we always endeavor to share with our community the spiritual meaning of the holiday. Not just the halachah, but the reasons explained in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, Sefer HaChinuch, Ta’amei HaMinhagim, and elsewhere, adding the Chassidic ideas of what each aspect of the yom tov does for our spiritual journey, as we leave our personal Egypt. When people have a better understanding of the depth of the mitzvah, what it can do for our spiritual well-being and growth as a Jew, then it’s easier getting them to do it with joy, with simcha.
This was palpable at Seudas Mashiach, when a small group of locals gathered for the Mashiach Meal instituted by the holy Ba’al Shem Tov. Just two hours before we bought the chametz back from our local gentile, James, we sat together eating matzah, drinking four cups of wine, singing niggunim, and celebrating the imminent arrival of Mashiach. That’s what Acharon Shel Pesach is all about; originating in the reading of the haftarah from Yeshaya, the day is thematically connected to the ultimate redemption, culminating the process that started 5,781 years ago at creation.
Yet, it’s vital that we focus on personal redemption as well. It’s not enough to focus on geulah klalis, the collective redemption of the world; we must deal with our geulah pratis, too, each of us personally freeing ourselves from our limitations, soul barriers, that keep us from actualizing our neshamah, our life experience as conduits for HaKadosh Baruch Hu on earth. Zooming in on Mashiach without seeking to reveal the Mashiach within ourselves, the etzem ha’nefesh, the core of our soul seeking freedom to be itself, would be fruitless. Any so-called spirituality that doesn’t help us bond with Hashem is not healthy, not productive, not G-dly.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, which we’ve studied for two weeks now, we read about the untimely passing of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron’s two sons who entered the Holy of Holies in a state of drunkenness. The holy Ohr HaChaim explains that they weren’t simple drunkards, but rather two brothers on a holy journey that went overboard, and they lost themselves in the Divine light to the point of no return. They were so enveloped in the Divinity that they lost their focus, their anchoring, in the will of Hashem. No doubt they were holy, but they didn’t channel their holiness in the ways that Hashem demands of us, and it ended in tragedy. Whatever a Jew does must be grounded in Hashem’s ratzon, His Divine Will, not our personal desires, even a holy desire like Mashiach.
When Judaism becomes so blinding for us that we lose focus on what Hashem intends for us to accomplish with Torah and mitzvos, we could end up misusing the holiness to actually contradict Hashem and His ideas. We can intend to love Hashem and end up “loving” Him in ways He doesn’t like. Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote: “Love can often be misguided and do as much harm as good, but respect can do only good. It assumes that the other person’s stature is as large as one’s own, his rights as reasonable, his needs as important.” She’s right—we need to not only love Hashem, but respect Him and His commandments with every fiber of our finite being.
The topic of Mashiach is no different. We must spend time learning about Mashiach in the Gemara in Sanhedrin, in the halachos in Rambam, in Midrash, in Abarbanel, and so many other wonderful Torah sources. We are to learn the topics practically and be familiar with them, as Rav Aharon HaKohen Pietrokov, the Chofetz Chaim’s son-in-law, writes, “How will we look when Mashiach comes and no one knows the laws of korbanos, the sacrificial offerings, needed to serve in the Beis HaMikdash HaShlishi (the third Temple) in Jerusalem?” We should raise our kids with the firm faith that “we want Mashiach now” and that “we await his salvation all day” as we say in Shemoneh Esrei, but we need more than learning, planning, and believing.
Above all, we mustn’t forget that it’s about incorporating Mashiach in our way of thinking, our way of seeing the world, our way of serving Hashem. The only way this can be done is by focusing on the self-refinement, the freeing messianic expression of our souls, allowing ourselves to make Mashiach a reality in our daily life experience. We work tirelessly to bring Mashiach—that’s the main goal and always will be—but we don’t give up on the individualistic experience of making Mashiach a reality inwardly. Nadav and Avihu went big, which is nice in theory, but they failed because holiness needs to be personal and grounded.
The more we focus on the meaning of what we do, the easier time we will have doing it in a way that benefits our journey and illuminates Hashem’s light in the world—and, naturally, fellow humans will feel the love and light, too.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.