Saturday, March 31, 2007

Shabbos HaGadol IV

The Shabbos that precedes Pesach is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol. The word gadol is similar to the word gedil, which means attached or intertwined. The Maharal (Gevuros HaShem 60) writes that many aspects of the Korban Pesach denote unity, such as eating the korban in one group and not breaking the bones. Thus, we can suggest that this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol because prior to offering the Korban Pesach, the Jewish People had to abandon idolatry (Rashi Shemos 12:6 from Shemos Rabbah 16:2).
The sefarim write that when the Jewish People worshipped the Golden Calf, they reflected disparity. The Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 11:2) states that each tribe made their own Golden Calf. At Sinai the Jewish People had united as one and with one heart, and the sin of the Golden Calf caused them to be divided. The construction of the mishkan unified the Jewish People, as it is said (Shemos 36:13) vayehi haMishkan echod, so the Tabernacle became one.
When the Jewish People abandoned idolatry in Egypt, they took the sheep for the Korban Pesach, and the Maharal explains that the sheep denotes unity (Ibid). Thus, it was specifically on the Shabbos preceding Pesach when the Jewish People reflected gedil i.e. unity. This is also the explanation for the Jewish People tying the sheep to the bed, as tying is referred to as gedil. By tying the sheep to the bed, the Jewish People demonstrated their unity with each other and with HaShem. For this reason we refer to this Shabbos as Shabbos HaGadol, i.e. the Shabbos of unity. We can also understand why we specifically commemorate this event on Shabbos, as Shabbos itself is referred to as the Secret of Unity.

Shabbos HaGadol III

The Tur (O.C. 430) writes that the reason why the Shabbos prior to Pesach is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol is because of the great miracle that occurred to the Jewish People in Egypt. The Sar Shalom from Belz asks, does not HaShem performs miracles for us every second of the day, and we find (Yoma 69b) that the Anshei Kneses HaGedolah returned the Crown to its glory when they reinstituted the recital of the words Gadol and Nora in Shemone Esrei. The reason why they reinstituted this is because they said, “these are HaShem’s strengths and awesomeness, that a nation like the Jewish People can exist amongst the nations of the world.” This being the case, why is it that specifically on this Shabbos we refer to the Shabbos as Shabbos HaGadol because of the miracle that occurred?
The Sar Shalom answers that the miracles that HaShem performs for us on a constant basis are considered hidden miracles, but the miracles that HaShem performed for us in Egypt were deemed to be open miracles, as it was evident to all that HaShem is our Father and King. For this reason a miracle is called nes, which connotes something that is high, as it is said (Yeshaya 49:22) viel amim arim nisi, and I will hoist my banner towards people.
It is written in the sefarim that the three festivals correspond to Gadol, Gibor, and Nora, and Pesach corresponds to Gadol. It is well-known that on the Shabbos that precedes the festival, the power of the festival is aroused. Thus, on the Shabbos that precedes Pesach, the “great” power of Pesach is aroused, and for this reason, this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Shabbos HaGadol II

This week is Shabbos HaGadol, literally translated as the Great Shabbos. The standard explanation for this term is that the Jewish People, prior to the Exodus from Egypt, tied the sheep that they were going to slaughter for the Korban Pesach to the foot of their beds. The Egyptians were dismayed that the Jews would slaughter the very sheep that they, the Egyptians, worshipped as idols. Yet, the Egyptians were powerless to do anything, and because of this great miracle that occurred on the tenth of Nissan, which that year was Shabbos, we commemorate this event every year on the Shabbos that precedes Pesach.
The commentators offer many other explanations for the name Shabbos HaGadol. Perhaps we can suggest a novel approach to this title that will shed light on Shabbos, Pesach, and the entire Exodus. The word gadol, or gedulah, means greatness. Avraham Avinu is referred to as haadam hagadol baanakim, the biggest man among the Anakim (Yehoshua 14:15 see Rashi Ibid). The reason Avraham is thus referred is because he personified the attribute of chesed, kindness, which is reflected in gedulah. Avraham was the first person that we find in the Torah who employed the language of humility, when he declared before HaShem (Bereishis 18:27) veanochi afar vaeifer, but I am dust and ash. A Jew only achieves true greatness by humbling himself. A practical approach to achieve humility is when one does chesed, kindness, for others. When the Jewish People each took a sheep and tied it to the foot of their beds, they were not merely performing a sacrificial ritual. They were demonstrating with their actions that they were now becoming unified in their service of HaShem. There can be no greater kindness than the Jewish People uniting to serve HaShem, as the Zohar states, who is a Chasid, a pious person? One who performs kindness with his Master. Avraham embodied this idea when he disseminated to the entire world the concept that there is only one God, and that G-d is the one who cares for every person. HaShem promised Avraham by the Pact of the Parts that the Jewish People will serve the Egyptians for four hundred years. Regarding the liberation, it is said, veacharei chein yeitzu birchush gadol, and afterwards they will leave with great wealth. The word that is used for great is gadol. Thus, by being persecuted and afflicted by the Egyptians, the Jewish People would become humble, allowing them to be rewarded with great wealth.
The matzah that we eat on Pesach is referred to as lechem oni, the poor man’s bread. The Maharal explains that a poor man has nothing except himself, and in a similar vein, matzah only contains flour and water with no additives. One can only perform true kindness with another person if he feels that he himself is dust and ash. Although one must always declare that the world was created for him, he must balance this thought with the idea that he is merely dust and ash. (Kotzker Rebbe). The Sfas Emes explains in many instances that Shabbos is when everything returns to its original form. Thus, on both Shabbos and Pesach the Jewish People return to their roots, and our roots are founded in humility. When we reach true humility, we can perform kindness to Hashem and our fellow man.
This Shabbos HaGadol we should invoke the memory of our Patriarch Avraham, who humbled himself before HaShem and disseminated HaShem’s greatness to the entire world. Avraham merited that his descendants were liberated from the Egyptian exile with great material and spiritual wealth. May HaShem grant all of the Jewish People throughout the world a wonderful Shabbos and a Chag Kosher V’sameach, and may we all merit the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shabbos HaGadol

The Tur (O.C. 430) writes that the reason that the Shabbos that precedes Pesach is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol is because of the miracle that occurred to the Jewish People. The year that the Jewish People left Egypt, the tenth of Nissan occurred on Shabbos, and every Jew tied the sheep that they were going to sacrifice for the Korban Pesach to the foot of their bed. When the Egyptians questioned the Jews regarding this strange behavior, the Jews responded that they would be sacrificing the sheep for HaShem. The Egyptians were irritated but they could not respond. The Bais Yosef quotes Tosfos who writes that the Medrash states that when the Jewish People took their sheep for the Korban Pesach, the firstborns of the Egyptians questioned them and the Jews responded that they would be sacrificing the sheep to HaShem, Who would subsequently slaughter all the Egyptian firstborn. The Egyptian firstborns requested from their fathers and from Pharaoh that he allow the Jews to leave Egypt, and Pharaoh refused. The firstborns then waged a battle and many of them were killed, and this is the meaning of the verse (Tehillim 136:10) lemakei Mitzrayim bivchoreihem, to Him Who smote Egypt through their firstborn. The Belzer Rebbe, Reb Yissachar Dov zt”l asks, we can understand according to the Tur that the miracle was that the Egyptians did not kill the Jews, despite the fact that the Jews were slaughtering the Egyptian gods. According to the Medrash quoted by Tosfos, however, it is difficult to understand what the miracle was for the Jewish People. Reb Yissachar Dov answers by quoting his father who said in the name of Reb Dov Ber that it is said (Shemos 2:23) during those many days, it happened that the king of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their outcry because of their work went up to G-d. As long as the gentiles dominate the Jewish People, the prayers of the Jews cannot ascend to heaven. Thus, when the king of Egypt died, only then were the cries of the Jewish People capable of ascending heavenward. According to this explanation, says Reb Yissachar Dov, we can understand the Medrash that Tosfos quotes. When the firstborns killed many Egyptians, this was the beginning of their downfall, and this was the miracle for the Jewish People. It is specifically for this reason that this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol. Alternatively, it is the nature of a father to have compassion on a son, and the Egyptians should have had compassion on their children that they should not die. Thus, the Egyptians should have freed the Jewish People prior to the plague of the death of the firstborn. Had the Jewish People left with permission from the Egyptians, the Jewish People would have retained some form of gratitude towards the Egyptians, and the Exodus would have only been in a physical manifestation. HaShem desired that the Jewish People be freed physically and spiritually, i.e. that no contamination from the Egyptians remain by the Jewish People. Furthermore, HaShem desired that in the merit of the great revelation, the Jewish People would be prepared to receive the Torah. For this reason HaShem demonstrated to the Jewish People that the Egyptians were still rebellious and their hearts were hardened, which did not allow the Egyptians to let the Jewish People go free. In this manner the contamination of the Egyptians was completely uprooted from within the Jewish People, and this was a great miracle for the Jewish People. For this reason this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pesach: Festival of Freedom

Pesach is a time of freedom. What does freedom mean? The Mishnah in Avos teaches us that the true free person is one who toils in Torah study. If this is the case, why do we celebrate Pesach as a festival of freedom? The festival of freedom should be commemorated on Shavuos, when the Jewish People received the Torah. Let us examine the meaning of Pesach that we celebrate every year and then we can gain a better understanding of why Pesach is specifically the festival of freedom. HaShem informed Avrohom Avinu by the Bris Bein HaBesarim, The Pact of the Parts, that his descendants would be enslaved for a four-hundred year period. They would be persecuted and then HaShem would mete out retribution to the nation that had enslaved the Jewish People. Subsequently, the Jewish People would be redeemed and they would be liberated with great wealth. Why was it necessary for HaShem to inform Avrohom of what would transpire? We do not find that Avrohom prayed that this should not occur. The Gemara in Nedarim states that this revelation to Avrohom was actually a punishment for Avrohom having questioned HaShem regarding the likelihood of the Jewish People inheriting the Land of Israel. How can it be that Avrohom was punished and the Jewish People were eternally rewarded with the festival of Pesach? In order to understand this enigma, we must focus on the meaning of a festival. It is well known that the light that existed at the time that a miracle occurred returns every year on the festival. Thus, when the Jewish People were redeemed on the first Pesach of history, a light was created that is perpetuated every year on the festival of Pesach. When we celebrate Pesach, we obviously have to perform the mitzvos that are associated with the festival. The performance of these mitzvos allows us to benefit from the great light that returns on the festival. This is the meaning of the verse in Mishlei (6:23) that states ki ner mitzvah veTorah ohr, for a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light. A commandment is a lamp for one to benefit from its light. The Exodus from Egypt was performed for the Jewish People so that they could perform mitzvos and thus benefit from the great light. Reb Yeruchem Levovitz writes that we do not don Tefillin and wear tzitzis because HaShem liberated us from Egypt. Rather, HaShem liberated us so that we could don Tefillin, wear tzitzis and perform other mitzvos. Now we can understand whey it is specifically Pesach that is the festival of freedom. HaShem was looking for a means that would allow the Jewish People to perform His cherished mitzvos. While enslaved in Egypt, the Jewish People were naked and devoid of mitzvos, as is reflected in the Hagadah Shel Pesach. Rashi writes that HaShem saw that the Jewish People were not worthy of being redeemed from slavery, so HaShem instructed Moshe that the Jewish People should circumcise themselves and offer the Korban Pesach. One must wonder why the Jewish People were not instructed to circumcise themselves many years earlier. The answer is that although they were required to perform this mitzvah from the time that Avrohom was instructed by HaShem, they were not cognizant of the light contained within the mitzvah. It is noteworthy that the Greeks, who sought to darken the light of Israel, prohibited the performance of circumcision. The Greeks understood that the only way to conquer the Jewish People was by removing the light of mitzvah performance from them. Prior to circumcising themselves and the liberation from Egypt, it is said ulechol Bnei Yisroel hayah ohr bimoshvosom, but for all the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings. Once the Jewish People received the light, they were able to properly perform the mitzvah of circumcising themselves and offering the Korban Pesach. With this premise we can understand why Avrohom questioned HaShem regarding the Jewish People’s right to inherit Eretz Yisroel. Despite the fact that HaShem promised Avrohom that the Jewish People would inherit the land, Avrohom could not fathom how they would be worthy of inheriting the land when residing in the land is predicated on mitzvah performance. HaShem responded that the Jewish People would be enslaved in Egypt, but the bondage would be a forging of their souls so that they would be capable of performing mitzvos. Even before receiving the Torah, the Jewish People had to be liberated from a spiritual darkness, and subsequently they were worthy of receiving the Torah. Pesach is the time of freedom, as the light that the Jewish People merited upon liberation from Egypt returns to us every year on Pesach, the festival of freedom. Hashem should bless us all with the light of freedom, and that light should enhance our mitzvah performance and Torah study. May we merit the light of Moshiach, speedily in our days.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Moshe and the Bais HaMikdash

In this week’s parashah, Pekudei, it is said eileh fekudei HaMishkan mishkan haeidus asher pukad al pi Moshe avodas haleviim beyad Issamar Ben Aharon HaKohen, these are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moshe’s’ bidding. The labor of the Levites was under the authority of Issamar, son of Aharon the Kohen. Rashi writes that the reason the Torah repeats the word mishkan is to teach us that the Bais HaMikdash was nismahkein, taken as collateral, i.e. destroyed, because of the sins of the Jewish People. This statement is quite perplexing, because the verse is discussing the construction of the Mishkan, which was a joyous time in Jewish history. Why would the Torah choose this instance to highlight future sufferings and devastation? Furthermore, Rashi in his next comment writes that the Mishkan was referred to as mishkan haeidus, Tabernacle of Testimony, because it was a testimony for the Jewish People that HaShem was willing to forego the sin of the Golden Calf. This was reflected in the fact that HaShem rested His Divine Presence amongst the Jewish People. One must wonder why Rashi initially writes that the extra word mishkan alludes to future destruction, and then Rashi writes that the mishkan itself was a testimony that the Jewish People gained atonement. This is further perplexing because the Bais HaMikdash is referred to as Levanon because it whitened, i.e. cleansed the sins of the Jewish People. How can it be that the terms used to describe the Bais HaMikdash have positive and negative connotations? To gain an understanding into this perplexity, we must examine an equally perplexing statement that is brought in various sefarim in the name of a Medrash (see Orach Chaim Bamidbar 20:8; Devarim 1:37). The Medrash states that had Moshe entered into Eretz Yisroel, he would have built the Bais HaMikdash, which never would have been destroyed. Were the Jewish People to sin, HaShem would have had no choice but to annihilate the Jewish People, as He could not destroy the Bais HaMikdash that was built by Moshe. This statement is difficult to comprehend, because reason would dictate that HaShem would prefer to destroy the Bais HaMikdash, which was a structure of wood and stone, than to destroy His Chosen Nation. The answer to these questions can be found in the Zohar that states that the Jewish People received two crowns when they accepted the Torah, and they forfeited these crowns when they worshipped the Golden Calf. Nonetheless, the Zohar states that Moshe returns these crowns to the Jewish People every Shabbos. These crowns are spiritual rewards, and on Shabbos, a Jew is elevated to a level above the sin of the Golden Calf. Although this sin is a permanent stain on our record until the End of Days, Shabbos in some form mitigates the effect of this sin. This rectification is performed through Moshe. We can now better understand the perplexing statements of Rashi. The Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of our sins, yet the destruction was only collateral, because the Bais HaMikdash itself serves as atonement. In a similar vein, despite the fact that the Jewish People sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, the crowns were only taken from them as collateral. Moshe, who had it in his power to sustain the Bais HaMikdash forever, is also capable of restoring the crowns on Shabbos, as Shabbos in time is equivalent to the Bais HaMikdash in space. It is noteworthy that the words asher pukad al pi Moshe can be interpreted to mean: that was rendered deficient through Moshe. The word pukad can also mean deficient, as it is said (Bamidbar 31:49) velo nifkad mimenu ish, and not a man of us is missing. Thus, our verse alludes to the idea that the Bais HaMikdash was allowed to be destroyed because Moshe was missing, i.e. Moshe did not enter Eretz Yisroel. It is also worth noting that the words pukad al pi Moshe equal in gematria Shabbos hi, it is Shabbos, as Moshe returns the crowns to the Jewish People on Shabbos, and this is the equivalent of the Bais HaMikdash serving as an atonement for the Jewish People. This idea is also reflected in the extra reading this week of Parashas HaChodesh, where we read the words (Shemos 12:4) veim yimat habayis mihyos miseh velakach hu ushcheino hakarov el beiso, but if the household will be too small for a lamb or kid, then he and his neighbor who is near his house shall take according to the number of people. This verse can be interpreted as follows: if the “house” is missing, i.e. the Bais HaMikdash is destroyed, because of miseh, which can be read as Moshe, i.e. because Moshe did not enter into Eretz Yisroel, the Bais HaMikdash was allowed to be destroyed. What then is the solution to have the Bais HaMikdash be rebuilt? Then and he and his neighbor who is near his house shall take… i.e. the Jewish People shall unite as one, and Shabbos, which is the secret of unity, will provide us with the awaited redemption. It is truly amazing that the words hu ushcheino hakarov equal in gematria Shabbos. May HaShem allow us to merit becoming unified and then we will be truly deserving of the arrival of Moshiach and the Ultimate Redemption, speedily, in our days.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pesach Stringencies

The Heilegeh Ishbitzer in Mei HaShiloach quotes Reb Bunim MiParshischa who said that all the stringencies that the Jewish People adopt on Pesach are adornments to holiness, and this is alluded to in the verse that states (Shir HaShirim 1:!0) tzavareich bacharuzim, your neck with necklaces. This means that every limb of a person’s body has a corresponding ornament or garment, whereas the neck can be adorned with an ornament that is not unique to the neck. A precious stone is not designed to clothe someone. Rather, it is intended to be suspended from a person’s neck. Similarly, the stringencies that have been adopted by the Jewish People on Pesach is due to the fact that the neck is the vehicle through which the food enters, and it is specifically regarding food matters that all the stringencies on Pesach apply. This is despite the fact that there is not really a place for all these stringencies. In fact, the festival of Pesach is a time when food related issues are filtered. Thus, although the stringencies regarding Pesach appear to be distant from the mitzvah of eating on Pesach, they are nonetheless ornaments for holiness. For this reason we find a distinction between Maaser Sheini and Pesach, in that one can be deceptive regarding Maaser Sheini (See Mishnah Maaser Sheini 4:4) whereas we are stringent regarding Pesach. The reason for this distinction is that regarding Maaser Sheini it is said that one should separate Maaser in order that he should become rich. Thus, the mitzvah is clothed with wealth, so it follows that a wealthy person should not be so particular in his giving of Maaser, i.e. charity. One should not begrudge someone who caused him harm, and he should not be particular with that person regarding the giving of charity. For this reason one can be deceptive regarding the giving of Maaser Sheinei. Regarding Pesach, however, the mitzvah is to be limited, and we find that matzah is referred to as the poor man’s bread, as the Gemara states (Pesachim 115b) the manner of a poor person is with a broken piece of bread. Subsequently, the mitzvah of Pesach is clothed in the idea that one is particular, and even a seemingly insignificant matter is rendered a matter of great magnitude. For this reason the Chachamim allowed room for many stringencies, and “one checks (for chametz) as far as his hand extends,” and even the slightest amount of chametz is prohibited on Pesach. Nonetheless, a Jew is cognizant that all these stringencies are for our benefit, so that all our actions should be incorporated into holiness. In essence, though, “poverty does not exist in a place where there is wealth.”

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Names in the Megillah

Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l writes that we find many names in Egypt where the name consists of the letters pey, reish, and ayin. I have written in the past that in the Megillah there are many names that contain the letters reish and shin, like Zeresh, Seresh, Karshena, Seishar, and Sarshish. This allude to the Gemara in Megillah 11a that states that Achashveirosh was thus called because hakol nasu rashin beyamav. The literal translation of this statement is that all the people became rashin, impoverished, in Achashveirosh’s reign. We can interpret this statement homiletically to mean that all the people in his era were rashin, i.e. their names contained the letters reish and shin. I would like to suggest in a similar vein that the words Mordechai HaYehudi contain the letters yud and daled, which equal in gematria 14. The word yad, hand, also equals in gematria 14. It is said regarding Amalek (Shemos 17:16) ki yad al keis koh, for the hand is on the throne of G-d. This is interpreted to mean that Amalek, so to speak, has his hand on the throne of HaShem, and HaShem’s Name and His throne will not be complete until Amalek is annihilated. It is fascinating that it is Mordechai HaYehudi who is the vehicle for the downfall of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. It is the Yad HaShem that is manifest through Mordechai that brings about Haman’s defeat. Kein yovdu kol oyvecho HaShem, so may all Your enemies be destroyed, O HaShem. May we merit seeing the destruction of Amalek and the arrival of Moshiach with the rebuilding of the third Bais HaMikdash, speedily in our days. Amen.

Megiallh 13b Silver and the Tree

It is said in the Megillah (3:11) vayomer hamelech leHaman hakesef nasun lach, then the king said to Haman, “ the silver is given to you.” Tosfos in Megillah 13b writes that the word hakesef, the silver, equals in gematria the word haeitz, the tree, as this was a hint to Haman that he would be hung on the tree. It is noteworthy that Achashveirosh added the word lach, to you, and the word lach is in gematria 50. This alludes to the idea that Haman was hung on a tree that was fifty cubits high.

At Bash for Tzom Kol and Mammon

It is said in the Megillah (4:16) lech kenos es kol haYehudim, go, assemble all the Jews. We mentioned last year the famous gematria that the words tzom kol and mammon all equal 136, and the word kenos also equals 136. Thus, Esther was hinting to Mordechai that the Jewish People should engage in fasting, prayer, and charity. I would like to add this year that by using the method of at bash, where the letter aleph is substituted for taf, bais for shin etc. the word Purim can be broken down as follows: pey is vav and vav is pey, so 80+6=86. Yud is mem and mem is yud, so 10+40=50. Add 86 and 50 and we have 136, the numerical value of tzom kol and mammon. The reish in the middle in at bash is gimmel, which equals 3. This alludes to the 3 things that the Jewish People engaged in: fasting, prayer and charity.

Megillah 17a Reading Megillah Backwards

The Gemara in Megillah (17a) states that one who reads the Megillah lemafreia, literally backwards, has not fulfilled his obligation. The word lemafreia , when one scrambles the letters, is an acrostic for the words pur leam, Purim for the nation. Thus, we can interpret this ruling to mean that if one views the Purim story as happenstance, and it remains by him a pur, he has not fulfilled his obligation, because he has failed to see the Hand of HaShem that was involved in every event that culminated in the great miracle.