By Larry Gordon
Let’s have a look back upon some important presentations. Call it a “Spiritual State of the Union.” The themes, the messages, and the derashos themselves are carefully thought-out as the past year is reflected on and as the Jewish
community embarks on yet another Passover celebration, marking the creation of the people and nation of Israel that we are an integral part of today, all these years later.
It has become a tradition of sorts–since each of us can only attend one such Shabbos HaGadol derashah at a time–to on occasion preview these much-discussed events or, as in this year’s case, look back and present a review and analysis of the themes struck by leading rabbinical figures in their shuls.
One of the well-attended and much-talked-about presentations was that of Rabbi Eytan Feiner of Congregation Kneseth Israel (The White Shul) in Far Rockaway. A most erudite, scholarly, and influential–as well as popular–personality, Rabbi Feiner addressed the crowd on avodas Hashem, service to Gâ€‘d. The rabbi urged his listeners to monitor the fashion in which they are growing and developing in their study of Torah, their davening, and their overall avodas Hashem. He said it is vital that we chart or gauge that growth and make certain we are experiencing advancement in those areas on a monthly and even weekly basis.
He began his derashah with a brilliant exposition on the sugya of Pesach Rishon and Pesach Sheini. He focused on whether the mitzvah of retelling and discussing the exodus from Mitzrayim is also an obligation on the second Pesach, held in the month of Iyar. This debate took place during the generation of the Acharonim, when some of those great sages of that period held it is incumbent upon us to do so, while the Maharal maintained there is no such obligation on Pesach Sheini.
Rabbi Binyomin Cherney was the guest derashah deliverer this year at Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence. The rabbi analyzed our approach to the yom tov from many angles. Most intriguing was his exhortation that while the world lives “al derech ha’teva,” according to the rules of nature, it is not so with Am Yisrael, the people of Israel. Rabbi Cherney said that the Jewish people live with miracles, which are part and parcel of everyday life for us as individuals, as well as collectively for the nation of Israel.
He elucidated the theme of the makos and how everyday miracles, so to speak, were displayed during the period of the ten plagues that befell the very stubborn Egyptians at the time preceding the Jewish exodus. The commentaries tell us that during the plague where all the water in Mitzrayim turned to blood, the water used by the Jews remained miraculously clear. And when the later plague of darkness hit the Egyptians, the Jews were able to experience usual clear light. This, Rabbi Cherney pointed out, was not a matter of some areas being shrouded in darkness while others were not. Instead, it was indeed a matter of darkness and light existing side by side. That is, in a sense, routine everyday miracles performed by Hashem for His chosen nation.
Rabbi Zev Friedman of the Rambam minyan in Lawrence addressed the issue of freedom. He told his congregants that the type and manner of freedom that we celebrate on Pesach bears little resemblance to what the word freedom means to the world at large. There are really no similarities, he said, to what we commonly refer to as national liberation movements. The word might be the same, but that is where the likeness ends. “A free person is one who lives a life attached to Torah,” the rabbi said.
Rabbi Friedman also spoke about the matter of rejecting idol worship, avodah zarah. The challenge was a very great and difficult one that the ancient Jews had to face up to before leaving Mitzrayim. In sum, they had to take the Egyptian deity–the lamb–and acquire it as an object that would be sacrificed as an expression of remembrance and gratitude to Hashem. Rabbi Friedman compared that under-highlighted event as being something akin to a Jew taking a swastika in a concentration camp or labor camp during World War II and stomping on it or ripping it to shreds. This is, on a lesser level perhaps, what we need to do today as Torah Jews, to take a look around and reject the things that so much of the modern world worships.
Rabbi Moshe Brown of the Agudah of West Lawrence addressed the theme of our leaving Mitzrayim, posing the question whether it was our “Emancipation Proclamation” or an even more profound matter. The rabbi said that our leaving Egypt was not just that we plain and simple left our status as slaves, but that we became an Am Hashem. It was not just a physical exit, but a great geulah in terms of our spiritual capacity as Klal Yisrael and our relationship with Hashem.
Rabbi Brown explained that the events of Pesach, as well as the other yomim tovim we observe, express the profound greatness and spiritual reach of a Jew.
And finally, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman of the Agudah of Madison in Brooklyn explained that there are different dimensions to understanding our status as Jews whom Hashem chose to redeem from Mitzrayim. He spoke about Rav Chaim Brisker’s understanding of eved Ivri and applied the idea to how we view ourselves on Pesach. Rav Chaim states that there are two components to an eved ivri: he has to perform labor and he is also the “cheftza” of an eved. It is a profound insight that essentially says that we have to see ourselves in this manner as well. That is, we have to do the work required in serving Hashem and we must view ourselves from the outside looking in as a Hebrew slave of sorts. He added that aspiring to serve Hashem in this fashion defines who we are and what it is we represent and stand for.
This is merely a taste of some of the important words presented by a cross-section of our rabbis who offered up their insights just prior to Pesach. Their constructive and inspirational words ring true, and their messages will indeed resonate as we emerge from a glorious yom tov and endeavor to improve ourselves and the world around us. v
Post-Traumatic Shopping Disorder
It was just last Sunday, what we affectionately refer to as “erev the second days.” Some of the discussion over the chag was the matter of contrasting two days of the holiday being directly attached to Shabbos against this year’s format with a day in between, this time a Sunday.
I did venture into the nearby supermarket to pick up some odds and ends to round out the food supply for those second days. I was quite surprised to witness a buying frenzy that almost stacked up to what was going on before the first days of yom tov. Actually it was somewhat of an anomaly. The store was packed with people scurrying about, but large swatches of shelves were empty.
There was one aisle in particular where hundreds of bottles of soda used to be on display, but on this day there was one sole bottle left, apparently not chosen by anyone because it was missing a label. To me it looked like it was black cherry, but no one was able to make a definitive identification. The lone bottle punctuated the emptiness of the aisle, which would ordinarily be cause for some alarm. The staff, however, was very cool about the setup, which illustrated why this day was so different from any other shopping day of the year.
On this one day, erev yom tov of the second days, the shelves are, in a sense, supposed to be empty. One can even sense a certain pride in the staff on the floor when they are asked about whether this or that item is still available at some other location in the store. “Nope. Sold out–all gone” is the refrain I heard repeatedly. And that was good, for them anyway.
My guess is that there is no other day when a kosher food store, or any food store for that matter, can so gleefully announce that, yup, you got us–we are totally out of stuff. On one level, that accomplishment is a tribute to the buyers who work vociferously for months stocking up these stores so that we can fill, or actually overstock, our homes with items for the all-important food festival that Pesach has become. Their goal, that is, the buyers’ goal, is to call the shots and do their utmost to be out of kosher-for-Passover foods by the time yom tov ends, and that is quite a challenge. So while we are moving about the aisles looking for those last-minute things, they seem to be pleased that they do not have them.
In all fairness, that is not true about everything. The meat and fish counters were overflowing with fresh items. Just those items specifically packaged for Pesach that there was a run on prior to yom tov were all gone. I suppose you can say that this should in fact be that way after all. The odd thing is that there was somewhat of an additional reversal of roles (not rolls) this time around. Instead of people perusing the shelves to select whatever it was that was their pleasure, there was instead a calm air of desperation as shoppers just dropped whatever was available into their carts.
For now, anyway, that frenzy is over. Now we have to hustle back to life as it was before Pesach. Hopefully the holiday experience left us somewhat uplifted in a more lofty fashion–that is, aside from the additional poundage we may have accrued courtesy of the matzah, the potatoes, the cheesecakes, the quinoa, and so on.
The other night, after yom tov, I was driving someone back to Cedarhurst. On my return home, driving down Central Avenue, I was contemplating how nice the chag was. There were family, friends, great davening, and festive meals, and even the weather, while not great here in New York, was okay.
It was late already and the streets were fairly empty. Off in the distance I was able to see the silhouettes of a number of figures just standing around on the sidewalk. As I neared the scene, I slowed down to see what was going on, why there was a gathering crowd. And then I realized that they were all standing in front of a pizza store–not even waiting for that first post-Pesach pie to emerge from the ovens, but still waiting for the place to open. That meant that, depending on when the shop would open, the first pie would be out at about midnight. I guess the people really missed their pizza. While that may or may not be the case, one thing the scene clearly communicated was that Pesach was indeed over. v
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