New Stories Acharei-Mos 5776
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Acharei-Mos 5776
Thoughts About Pesach After Pesach
(This piece was written in a year prior to Pesach but is applicable now also)
Distance yourself from the actions of the Egyptians and take the sheep of mitzvah
כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו וכמעשה ארץ כנען אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לא תעשו ובחקתיהם לא תלכו, do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. (Vayikra 18:3)
As we approach Pesach, our minds are focused on the last minute preparations of these holy days and the rituals that we will perform by the Seder and the rest of the Pesach festival. Prior to Pesach is a day referred to Shabbos HaGadol, which has much significance yet is not celebrated in a physical manner. What is Shabbos HaGadol, how does it relate to the reading of this week’s parasha, Acharei Mos, and how does it connect to Pesach?
Refraining from Following the Actions and Traditions of the Gentiles, Baking Matzos, and Slaughtering the Egyptian god
Before we explain the significance of Shabbos HaGadol, it is noteworthy that in Parashas Acharei Mos there is a subtle reference to our redemption from Egypt. It is said (Vayikra 18:3) כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו וכמעשה ארץ כנען אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לא תעשו ובחקתיהם לא תלכו, do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. The word כמעשה contains the letters כמע, which equal in gematria 130, and the letters שה, which means sheep. The Gemara (Eruvin 18b) states that when Adam Harishon separated from his wife for 130 years, he was producing spirits and demons. The Arizal writes that when one sweats in the process of baking matzos for Pesach, he atones for this sin of Adam. The Medrash states that the Egyptians served the constellation of the שה, the sheep, and for this reason HaShem instructed the Jewish People to take a sheep for the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Taking the sheep would negate the Jewish People’s previous worship to the Egyptian god of sheep. The question here is, how do all these seemingly esoteric ideas relate to our service of HaShem in observing the Pesach?
How can we celebrate Freedom on Pesach when we are still deemed to be slaves?
The fundamental concept regarding Pesach is that HaShem has liberated us from slavery. Let us understand how this works. On Shavuos we celebrate the receiving of the Torah and the essence of the day is to study Torah. On Sukkos we dwell in booths to commemorate the fact that HaShem took us out of Egypt and placed us in the Clouds of Glory during our sojourn in the Wilderness. On Pesach, however, we recline at the Seder and eat matzah and drink wine, all symbols of freedom. Yet, to quote the Gemara (Megillah 14a), we are still slaves of Achashverosh, so how can we declare that we are emancipated when we are for all practical purposes shackled in exile and servitude?
Resisting Arrogance and Immorality Is the Catalyst to Freedom and Mitzvah Performance
In order to better understand the festival of Pesach, we must first understand the power of Shabbos. The Sfas Emes writes that on Shabbos one negates and destroys any thoughts of arrogance and pride in one’s self. In truth, Pesach specifically is referred to as Shabbos, because prior to Pesach we remove the chametz from our midst, and chametz symbolizes the Evil Inclination. Thus, the first step one must take to freedom is to remove arrogance and pride, and the Gemara (Sota 4b) states that one who is arrogant is akin to an idolater. For this reason the Torah in this week’s parasha instructs us to desist from acting like the Egyptians. Although this appears to be merely another negative commandment, this prohibition is parallel to what it is said (Ibid 12:21) משכו וקחו לכם צאן משפחותיכם ושחטו הפסח, draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock for your families. The Medrash interprets this verse as follows: draw your hands away from idolatry and take for yourselves a sheep for mitzvah. Once a person withdraws from idolatry, i.e. arrogance, he can begin to perform the mitzvos properly. The first mitzvah that we perform by the Seder is קדש, which literally means to recite קידוש, but can be interpreted to mean sanctify one’s self. One sanctifies himself and his household by not engaging in immoral thoughts and by not dressing in an immodest fashion. The Medrash (Pesikta Zuta Shemos 6:6) states that one of the three catalysts for the redemption was that the Jewish People did not change their clothing. In addition to dressing in Jewish fashion, they also were modest in their dress. When one distances himself from “the practices of the land of Egypt,” he can begin to take the sheep of mitzvah. This is also the explanation for the statement of the Arizal regarding matzah baking atoning for the sin of Adam HaRishon. When one is toiling in a mitzvah, he is far removed from any immoral thoughts and deeds, and is certainly worthy of atonement.
Tying the sheep to the Bed Reflected Subservience to HaShem
This Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol, and the word גדול, great, is associated with the word גדיל, which means a twisted thread. When the Jewish People in Egypt took the sheep to offer the Korban Pesach, they were demonstrating that they had distanced themselves from the actions of the Egyptians and they were prepared to connect to HaShem and His service. For this reason the Medrash states that the Jewish People tied the sheep to the foot of their beds. They certainly had more convenient locations to house sheep. Tying the sheep to their beds reflected their desire to harness their desires and will to HaShem’s will.
Our first requirement is to remove from within ourselves and from our households any immoral thoughts and material that is preventing us from serving HaShem properly. Once we have desisted from arrogance, immorality and any act that is akin to idolatry, we can take the sheep of mitzvah and serve HaShem wholeheartedly. HaShem should grant us that this Pesach we merit true freedom, and that He redeem us from this long and bitter exile, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
The Shabbos Connection
This Shabbos we can practice patience and compassion in light of all the preparations for Pesach that our household members have been engaged in. It is a time to appreciate our wives and children who have worked hard to prepare our houses for Pesach.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
The composer of this zemer is Shlomo, a name formed by the acrostic of the first four stanzas. Nothing definite is known about him, although some speculate that he was the famous Shlomo ben Yehudah ibn Gabriol. The zemer concentrates on the requirement to honor the Shabbos with culinary delights and closes with the assurance that the observance of the Shabbos will herald the final Redemption.
וּלְווּ עָלַי בָּנַי וְעִדְנוּ מַעֲדָנַּי, שַׁבָּת הַיּוֹם לַי-הֹ-וָ-ה, borrow on My account, My children, and enjoy My Pleasures. This passage is based on the Gemara (Beitzah 15b) that sates, “HaShem says, borrow on My account, My children, and recite the Kiddush of the day. I will repay. Why does Hashem want Jews to borrow for Shabbos expenditures? Is Shabbos not HaShem’s gift to us? Did one ever hear of one borrowing to receive a gift? The answer to this question is that the Gemara (Kiddushin 7a) states that if a woman gives money to a woman to marry her, and the man is a distinguished personage, then the transaction is valid, as she is marrying him through the benefit that he receives is his accepting her gift. HaShem offers us His beautiful bride, the Shabbos Queen. If we express our desire to “marry” the Shabbos Queen, then we must obtain the money that is necessary for the marriage, and HaShem demonstrates His satisfaction with us by repaying us for our expenses.
Saved from the Army
A man owned a printing press in Jerusalem. Once a year, he was called upon for reserve military duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. He never tried to avoid his service when called upon. His army job was that of watchman, which allowed him to spend many hours learning Torah.
Then came the day when he found a notice in his mailbox: reserve duty for three weeks. The service would fall out in the month of Nissan. Making a rapid calculation, the man realized that he would be gone from home on the night of the Passover Seder, as well as all the remaining days of the holiday. At the prospect, a shadow fell across his face.
The notice arrived on a Friday. “I haven’t had such a Friday in a long time,” he thought. His spirits plummeted sharply.
That night, he ate his Shabbat meal, sunk in gloomy thought. He pictured his family’s Seder table, minus his presence. Who would be there to answer his sons’ Four Questions? And what would he himself eat during all the days of Passover?
Friday evenings usually found the printer in the Zichron Moshe Shul, listening to Rabbi Sholom Schwadron speak. On this gray night, however, he decided to diverge from his custom and take a walk instead. After a long stroll in the company of his melancholy thoughts, he found his legs carrying him, as though by habit, to the shul. He hesitated at the door, then went in.
Zichron Moshe has a book-lined foyer at the entrance, from which one enters the main sanctuary of the shul. The printer stood in this foyer, listening to Rabbi Sholom’s clear voice roll out to reach his ears:
“I just remembered a story,” Rabbi Sholom was saying, “and when that happens, you already know what we must do. The story has nothing to do with our topic, but…” Rabbi Sholom embarked on his tale:
In the early 20th century, when yeshiva students would visit the saintly Chafetz Chaim to discuss the problem of the Polish military draft, he would return a variety of answers. There is a wealth of stories concerning these amazing responses, and the divine guidance that often prompted them. If the Chafetz Chaim placed a copy of the book “Machaneh Yisrael” (regarding the laws of Jewish military behavior) in the student’s hand, then he knew nothing would avail him; he would be drafted.
But if the Chafetz Chaim’s response was to say, “Whoever accepts the burden of Torah is released from the burden of the government and livelihood,” then the young man knew he must not spare any exertion in Torah — and his freedom from the draft would be assured.
“Whoever accepts the burden of Torah!” Rabbi Sholom’s voice rang out. “Whoever accepts that burden — whatever happens!” He continued to relate two examples of men who undertook the burden of Torah and were spared the draft. When he was finished, he asked where they had been up to before he began his story, and resumed the thread of his original topic.
“My heart was pounding very hard,” the printer told us much later. “My whole body was covered with a cold sweat. I had never before felt such a personal divine intervention. Rabbi Sholom remembered the story at the very instant that my feet crossed the shul’s threshold, and everything he said was directed at my own difficult situation. As he returned to the original subject of his talk, I saw that it really had no bearing at all on ‘whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah.’ In other words, the thing had not come about through natural means, one topic leading naturally into the next.
“But apart from any considerations of divine intervention, I was greatly encouraged by what Rabbi Sholom had said. I decided at once to add an hour of Torah learning to my regular schedule — one extra hour every day. I didn’t wait for Sunday, or even for Shabbat morning. Immediately after the lecture ended, I went into the study hall and learned for an hour. I believed with a powerful faith in the words of our Sages, ‘Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah …’ All my worry fell away. “On Sunday, I told my partner at the printing press that I had some news for him, and a request. The news was that I had received a draft notice for the month of Nissan. And the request was that we close up shop an hour early each day, so that I would be able to use it for the study of Torah.”
A week passed, then two. One morning, the man’s partner walked in with his own startling announcement. “Rabbi Yaakov, I’ve also received a notice for reserve duty in the month of Nissan!”
The army rule is that two business partners do not have to serve at the same time. In such a case, one of them is released from duty. “The two of us took all our papers and went down to the army office,” the printer relates. “A few days later, the letter came: I was released! I would be home for Passover with my family. Unfortunately, to my distress, my partner was still required to serve his time.
“I was grateful to the Almighty for helping me, in a natural way, to be free of my army duty. But it soon became clear that we had not yet come to the end of this marvelous episode. My letter of release was only the first stage in the story.
“On the day my partner left for his reserve duty, I parted painfully from him. None knew better than I what he must be feeling at such a time.”
The next morning, the printer walked to his printing shop as usual, and placed his key in the lock. To his surprise, the door wasn’t locked! Slowly he twisted the knob and opened the door, then stepped instead, hesitant and afraid. A few steps into the room, he saw something amazing. There was his partner, working busily away!
“Shalom aleichem! Good morning!” the man greeted his partner, in open astonishment.
“What happened? Have you gone AWOL?” the printer asked.
The partner smiled. “I arrived at the base yesterday,” he said, “and an hour later, they sent me right back home! The supervisor came over and told me, ‘There’s been a mistake — some sort of misunderstanding. Your draft notice was for two months from now, and was sent to your address by accident.’ I was dumbfounded. Such a thing had never happened to me before. But the supervisor apologized and sent me respectfully home, saying, ‘Sorry about this mistake. You are released!’”
When he had finished telling his story, the partner stood up and cried out emotionally, “We have just seen, with our own eyes, the amazing results of following the words of the Sages, ‘Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah is exempt from burdens.’ In order for you to be released from your duty, I received a draft notice by mistake.”
The printer himself adds a final note to this story. “When we took financial inventory several months later, it turned out that, from the time we began closing up shop an hour early each day, our income had increased greatly.” Raising his voice with great feeling, he concludes, “Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah…!”
The Seder Guest
Time, it’s been said, is often like a sharp gust of wind that can move you and turn you with its invisible force, and then disappear as quickly as it came. But time, it seems to me, is also like a river, flowing from one end of eternity to the other, winding through ages and places in unstoppable regularity. And while one current passes by and is soon beyond our grasp, the river of time stays right where it is, and you can step right up to its banks any time you feel like it, just by closing your eyes and dipping in. Right about now, every spring before Passover, I smile with sweet mystery at my Seder with Reb Pinchas.
I was a junior in college back in 1975, part of that mixed-up generation that had soured on the idealism of the sixties but hadn’t yet caught the Yuppie Fever of the eighties. I was going to school in northern Pennsylvania, changing majors as fast as best friends, undergoing that rite of passage known as “finding yourself.”
When spring vacation approached, I thought about going home, like I usually did, but eventually decided against it. My folks were going to Palm Springs, I had plenty of work to catch up on, and I kind of liked the way Pennsylvania changed its seasons right before your eyes. So I opted to spend the break at school, and I looked for some part-time work to pass the time. I noticed an interesting ad on the campus bulletin exchange, “Jewish student wanted for spring work,” and I gave them a call.
It turned out I was applying for work at a matzah factory. Now, about all I knew concerning matzah was that you eat it on Passover, that it tastes only slightly better than the box it comes in, and that cream cheese and jelly is the best way to disguise it. But they told me I didn’t have to know a whole lot in order to get the job, and I soon found out why.
They put me to work cleaning the dough out of the huge vats where it was kneaded and prepared for baking, making sure that every last particle of flour was removed before the vats were scoured. This plant was like one giant bakery, where time was of the essence.
There were three main areas of the factory. First, there was a mixing room, where the matzah ingredients were blended together by large kneading machines, quickly turning the flour and water into a doughy consistency that would produce the flat, unleavened bread.
Then there was the cutting room, where the dough was taken automatically to be cut and shaped into squares, flattened and then perforated with dozens of tiny holes that would spread the heat evenly and quickly during baking.
Finally, conveyer belts brought the sections of dough through large ovens, where intense heat baked them as they passed through, emerging as the finished product: matzah, the bread of affliction, “poor bread,” the key reminiscence of the Exodus from Egypt. They were grouped eight together, sealed in cellophane, and boxed and labeled as soon as they cooled.
I marveled at the efficiency of it all. I had always pictured matzah-making as a painstakingly slow and involved process, performed by hand by elderly scholars in long, black coats. This factory was completely automated, a mass of whirring machines that combined age-old ritual law with the modern need to supply thousands of homes with fresh matzah for Passover. While much matzah was still made by hand, I was told, the majority of Jews in America ate machine-baked matzah, which was both cheaper and more plentiful than the personally-baked product.
The foreman, one Paul Thom (I never did figure out if he was Jewish or not, but he sure knew his matzah) explained to me that the most crucial aspect of the production was time. He cautioned that the whole baking process could not exceed eighteen minutes, because after that time the dough starts to leaven and is impermissible for Passover. The entire line had to be completed before the eighteen minutes, and, like clockwork, the machines automatically shut down before the deadline. A series of staccato bells would sound, the kneaders would stop kneading, the mixers would stop mixing, the rollers would stop rolling, the ovens would shut down and cool off. The workers had a ten-minute break, while I and a few other hardy workers got down to business.
We climbed into the vats, and scraped every last piece of dough out. We cleaned the hooks, and the trays, and even the conveyer belts. We had only seven minutes to do it, because there was a two-minute steam cleaning that preceded each new cycle. Between our scouring and the steam, not even an infinitesimal particle of dough remained that might have become chametz, that forbidden leaven that was our principal enemy…
I worked hard for those two weeks of vacation, as Passover approached. I had never been very religious, but it felt good being part of something Jewish, knowing that in hundreds of homes in the days ahead, other Jews would be depending on my work to eat these unusual flat breads. I thought about writing up the whole thing for my student paper, a kind of culture-clash piece about how religion keeps up with modern times.
As the day of Passover drew close, the activity at the factory intensified. We were told that, for the first time, there was a chance that the Soviet Union might allow matzah to be brought into the country. Ten thousand pounds of matzah were being prepared nationally, and we were given an allotment of a thousand pounds to contribute. We worked almost around the clock, and when we tired, one of the Rabbis would smile and say, “You’ll rest when the ship sails!”
Even the eve of Passover was no exception. We were asked to work as long as possible, with various people leaving throughout the day, depending upon where they lived and their travel time home. I told the foreman that because I lived close by, and had no family to prepare for, I could stay until closing, just a couple hours before the sun set. I volunteered to actually shut down the plant, and lock everything up for the holiday.
As the day progressed, the skies became progressively darker, and a Pennsylvania storm began to move in. This prompted many of the workers to leave even earlier, not wishing to be caught in the rain. When the Rabbis announced that this would be the last run, I was one of only a handful of employees left. I said goodbye and good holiday to my co-workers, and set about to clean the last few vats. “Don’t forget to close the lights,” said Mr. Thom. “The doors will automatically lock behind you.”
There was a strange silence when everyone had left. The huge machines had come to a rest, their reward of sorts for the holidays, after all their hard work in preparation. The lightning outside seemed to silhouette the vastness of the place, created by men but powered by a desire to fulfill an ancient, Divine decree. The sound of the rain on the skylights told me that darkness would be upon me faster than I had anticipated.
I quickly closed all the lights, made sure that every machine had been shut down, and grabbed my coat. But as I made my way for the door, there was a tremendous clap of thunder, and a stunning bolt of lightning lit up the room. Suddenly I heard a crash, almost like a tree falling over my head, and the whole factory seemed to shake for just a second.
Determined now to get back to the relative safety of my dorm room, I rushed to the door and pushed on the exit bar. Nothing happened. The lock remained frozen in place. I pushed again, and still no response. And then it dawned on me; all the doors were electrically locked, automatically operated! I flipped the light switch by the door; the darkness remained. The storm had knocked out all the power in the plant, including the power to open the doors.
I spent a few frantic, futile minutes trying other doors, looking for low, open windows, searching for an escape. There was none. Even the phones had been rendered useless. As I pondered my situation, trapped alone in the factory with several hundred remaining boxes of matzahs, I could only think of that novel I was assigned to read, ‘No Way Out.’
About two hours into my ordeal, I heard a strange tapping noise coming from somewhere in the plant. At first I was just slightly terrified, imagining that certain reptilian creatures were now asserting their hours of supremacy, and challenging my intrusion on their time. But as the tap, tap, tapping continued, and as my frustration grew, I decided to look for the source of the noise. A hero, I knew, was someone too tired or cold to care much about the risks.
It was now pitch dark in the plant, except for the flashes of lightning which illuminated the place at regular intervals. With each brilliant burst of light, I proceeded to make my way slowly toward the source of the noise. As I got closer, I perceived that it was coming from somewhere above me, perhaps from the storage rooms near the roof. I had only been back there once, and then by elevator, but I remembered seeing a staircase at the very rear of the plant. I gingerly felt my way there, totally unprepared for what I would find.
As I climbed the stairs, holding on to the rail for dear life, I no longer heard the tapping sound. Now, however, I heard a low, humming noise, almost an imperceptible singsong. When I reached the top of the landing, afraid to go on but even more scared to back down those stairs (I counted 112), I saw a dim light coming from beneath one of the rooms at the end of the hall. I gathered up my courage and pushed open the door.
I almost fainted with surprise, and no little relief, to be greeted by an elderly man with a broad smile on his face. “Come in,” he bellowed, with the faintest tinge of an elusive accent. “What a marvelous wonder to find you here!”
By the light of two long candles burning on the table, I beheld an incredible scene. Here was a man, dressed in a flowing white robe, sitting cross-legged upon a pillow. In front of him was a low, oriental-style table, set as if for a banquet. A medley of delicious smells rushed at me, reminding me of how hungry I was, and my appetite moved right in, pushing the fear away completely.
“Who are you?” I asked sheepishly, glad to have a human, any human to talk to.
“My name is Pinchas, young man,” he said, “but my friends ― and I think you’ll be one ― call me Reb Pinchas. I was just about to begin my Passover Seder, and I would be honored if you would join me. Like a lot of things,” and now he winked with a grin, “it goes better with two.”
“But who are you? What are you doing here? I’ve never seen you. Do you work here? Does the foreman know…?”
“Relax, son. Mr. Thom knows all about me. You see, I used to be the foreman here, a long time ago, before they decided to make the matzahs by machine. Then, it was all hand-crafted, a real art, and I was the supervisor. But when they automated the place, I became kind of obsolete, and had to retire. But they gave me this place to live, as a kind of good deed to an old man who had served the company well. Now, since I’m the one with seniority here, I want you to be my guest. Tell me about yourself.”
I told him my name, and how I had come to be stuck in the factory ― he smiled at the wonders of automation ― and how I had followed the tapping noise.
“Oh, that was just me, chopping walnuts for the charoses, the mortar-like food that we eat at the Seder. I’ve got to do all my preparation myself, you know, from the soup to the grinding of the horseradish root to the mixing of the salt water. But I’ll tell you what. Let’s try some of your machine matzah tonight, if you can find your way back to retrieve some.”
Borrowing one of the candles, I retraced my steps and took a couple boxes of matzah. I was fairly overwhelmed by the whole scene, but, on the whole, it seemed better than spending what could be a couple of days alone in the dark. I knew that the foreman would return in two days, when the first days of the holiday were over, but that could be an eternity without food and companionship.
When I returned, I saw that the old man had set a place for me at his table. I sat down next to a large pillow, relaxed, and we began to talk.
“Have you been to many Seders?” asked Reb Pinchas.
“Oh, I’ve been to a lot, but mostly they were just eat-fests, huge banquets of great food with a few vague prayers and blessings thrown in for good measure.”
The old man smiled. “This may be a new experience for you, then.”
And we proceeded to talk about, well, to talk about life, for a very long time. Reb Pinchas asked me about freedom, and what it means to me. I told him it means independence, and making my own decisions. He agreed with that, but he pointed out that true freedom is based on law and routine, moving from anarchy to established patterns of behavior in a civilized setting.
“I’ll bet America has more laws than any other country around,” he said, “and yet look how free a place this is. Laws don’t stifle freedom, they protect it.”
“Judaism isn’t so different, either. Why, some people look at the Torah and all its commandments and feel suppressed, when they should really feel liberated. After all, it was the Ten Commandments that freed the whole world from lawlessness and injustice. It brought seder, order, to civilization.”
A lot of what he had to say made sense. We talked a lot about the matzah, and how the rabbis debated whether or not it stood for slavery (the bread of affliction) or was a symbol of freedom to lean back and eat in luxury. “Matzah is like life,” Reb Pinchas said, “it all depends upon your perspective, as to whether it’s a blessing or a burden. The minute you start taking it for granted, you may as well be under the taskmaster’s whip again.”
He asked me what my goals and future plans were, but, like most college students, I didn’t have too clear an answer.
“You know, son,” he said, between bites of the unleavened bread, “when we say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ we aren’t only speaking in the geographical sense. Every person has to have a dream, an ultimate Jerusalem where they hope to end up. You have to plot your life’s journey as soon as you can, set a course and follow it. Like matzah, as you well know, if you wait too long it begins to leaven and is no longer suitable or fulfilling. The clocks are running, and none of us can afford to waste precious minutes.”
I enjoyed reading from the Haggadah that Reb Pinchas gave me. I could still sing the Four Questions ― that much I had retained ― and I ended up doing most of the narration. We stopped all along the way to ask questions of each other and discuss. I think that’s how you really get to know someone, by asking them questions.
“You know, it’s a mitzvah to ask questions at the Seder,” Reb Pinchas said. “Most years, I have to ask myself the questions, and that sounds pretty senile. So I’m beholden to you for sharing this night with me and letting us really ask the questions.”
I remember so vividly discussing the four sons. “Some people think this is about four separate people,” said Reb Pinchas, “but I say it’s about four sides of the same person. After all, at different times in our life, we’re wise, or rebellious, uninformed, even apathetic. But as long as we know we have the capacity to be wise, that’s half the battle in getting there.”
There was a lot of that upbeat philosophy at the table. I remarked that the mix of symbols at the Seder, the bitterness of the horseradish and the sweetness of the wine, seemed to show that life contains all the elements of emotion, from deep depression and the feeling of being trapped to unbridled song and the sensory satisfaction of spring. It was just a question of making some kind of seder, order, of it all.
“There’s that chacham in you!” smiled my friend. “You’re talking like a scholar now!”
Even the matzah tasted good that night. Most of all, though, the taste that remains with me still is the wine. From a dusty, round bottle, we poured cup after cup of the delicious grape wine. I poured for him, and he for me, and I know I’ve never tasted anything so sweet and satisfying before. “Been brewing this since Egypt,” Reb Pinchas said with a twinkle in his eyes, and it must have been the wine that made those songs sound so on key and pleasant, even from my lips.
After talking long into the night, and eating and drinking our fill, we awoke barely in time to begin preparing for the second Seder. “I insist you stay,” my new friend urged. “We haven’t quite finished explaining all the mysteries of the universe yet!”
And so for two nights and two days, in the upper room of a dark factory, we lit up our little world with a friendship and a sharing that taught me more than any professor has, or will. I not only learned about a heritage I hardly knew I had, but I learned that I fit in, that I wasn’t an outsider, but a valuable, real player in this game of life, Jewish life. When I put on Reb Pinchas’s white robe the second night ― he said it was my turn to be the leader ― I really felt royal, as a leader should. I never knew ― until then ― that I had it in me.
“For about four thousand years you’ve had it in you,” said Reb Pinchas. “It just took a little wine and song to get it out!”
The wine was something out of this world. I fell asleep clutching a bottle of it in my hand, and I must have slept the better part of a day, because I awakened to the sound of voices downstairs. Rushing to the lower level, I saw Mr. Thom, who realized only once he saw me that I had been locked inside for the last forty-eight hours.
“I’ve heard of devotion to work,” said the foreman, “but this is beyond the call of duty. You must be famished, scared!”
“Not really,” I explained. You see, I found the old man upstairs. We had two wonderful Seders together. He taught me a lot about Passover, and about myself. All in all, I’d say it changed my life!”
Mr. Thom had a confused look on his face, but smiled when he saw the bottle of wine in my hand. “You must have been drinking one l’chaim too many,” he said. “I don’t know what old man you’re talking about.”
He seemed to be totally unaware of Reb Pinchas, and his association with the company, so I insisted he come upstairs and meet him for himself. But when I threw open the door to our little banquet hall, the room was completely transformed. No table or pillows or Reb Pinchas remained. Only boxes of matzah supplies, and machine parts, piled in a corner of the room. I looked at the boxes, searching in vain for a trace of the Seder, and I looked at Mr. Thom, who, after all, I hoped would re-hire me next spring.
I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and said, “You’re right; it must have been the wine.” And then I remembered the wine, still in my hand, and I smiled a knowing smile that none in the world could have erased.
The years have passed since that fateful Passover. Now, I conduct my own Seder with my own children gathered around the table. They ask good questions, those little chachamim, the kind my wife and I are hard-pressed to answer. But every time we’re just about stumped, I pour the tiniest bit of Reb Pinchas’s wine into our cups and, somehow, we seem to find all the right answers. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos in Halacha
ממרח – Smoothing
- To What Does this Prohibition Apply?
The Poskim debate whether the melacha of smoothing applies to food items. The Rema rules that one may follow the lenient view that exempts food from this prohibition, but nevertheless המחמיר תבוא עליו ברכה, one who is strict shall be blessed; i.e. it is praiseworthy to follow the stringent view that includes food in the prohibition. Thus, it is praiseworthy to avoid smoothing out any thick food substance.
However, this stringency applies only where one wants the food to appear smooth for decorative purposes, such as icing a cake or smoothing out an egg salad. In a case where one intends merely to spread the food substance over a large area, but does not care whether the surface appears smooth i.e. spreading butter on bread, there is no basis for stringency. Accordingly, one is allowed to spread any firm food substance, i. e. butter, jam, cheese, egg or tuna salad on a slice of bread, so long as one does not care to make the surface appear smooth.
NOTE: Non-foods, which are certainly subject to the melacha of smoothing, may not be spread or rubbed over an area even if one does not intentionally smooth out their surface.
Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Acharei-Mos 5776
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Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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New Stories Acharei-Mos 5776
Parents Just Don’t Understand
They were there for every first that mattered in my life. Except for one: my first steps onto the path of Judaism.
by Noah Dinerstein
I took my first step when I was 10 months old. My dad was there, either holding me up or a video camera.
At six years old, he put his hands on mine as I gripped the handle bars, and guided me up and down the street for hours until he finally let go and I rode that Huffy on my own.
A few years later I was still small enough to sit on his lap while he was driving but big enough that he trusted me to shift when he dramatically announced “Second!” VROOM “Third!” Awesome.
Sixth grade was Friday night skating where he tied up my skates for me and embarrassingly lead me out to the ice where all the Kelly Capowskis could see. “Dadddd!” I begged. “I can do it.” I couldn’t….but…y’know.
He was there for every first that ever mattered in my life, except one: My first steps onto the path of Judaism.
He taught me how to drive stick in the biggest parking lot in town at 15. At 16 he trained me for my driving test that I passed. And 18 he helped me pack and walked me to my dorm, hugged me in the parking lot squeezing as tight as I did the handlebars, and we cried.
He was there for every first that ever mattered in my life.
Every first except one: My first steps onto the path of Judaism.
You don’t need the details. Every story is different while being exactly the same: Grew up non-religious, met a charismatic Rabbi, went to Israel, got inspired, ate warm, fluffy challah, went to a lot of insightful classes, questioned everything ever, quit my job, went to yeshiva and (POOF!) yarmulke! (Well it may look like POOF! to the onlooker, but it’s a step-by-step journey for the Ba’al Teshuvah.)
The difference, though, in each and every Ba’al Teshuvahs story is the parents: Supportive or not. Guess what I got.
Neither my dad or mom were there for my first dive into the Orthodox Jew pool simply because they didn’t want to be. To them, it was a phase, like Pogs. When I came back from my Israel trip I talked about the trip. Whoa did I talk about the trip. I couldn’t stop. “Mom did you know about all the laws of kosher? And Passover? We’ve never cleaned the house before! Whoa SHABBOS!!! We should do Shabbos!….like this week! Why not??? On Friday nights we eat dinner anyways…all we have to do is turn off the TV and phone and music and it’s actually pretty sweet and feels great. Shavuot! I never learned about Shavuot in Hebrew school! We studied Gemara all night – wait! – I didn’t tell you about Gemara. It’s like Jewwy law school! Dad you would love it. I feel smarter! blah blah blah Jewish Jewish blah blah Jewish.”
At first, sitting at the kitchen counter, my mom’s face was one of pride and astonishment. I will never forget that she called her best friend Lisa and put the phone on speaker. “C’mon,” my mom said to me. “Say all those things about what you learned on your trip again!” Of course she was excited. She was always upset that my brother Zack and I would choose basketball over bar-mitzvah practice. Or the epic fight we had (which she won) over should I go to my Hebrew school “confirmation” or to my school dance. So, yeah, she was pumped. She showed me off.
My dad too. Until…..Well…Until I started actually doing it.
There was a breaking point. Two years since that homecoming. Two years of working in Boston and being a pretty successful young hotelier. And two years of slow learning, Shabbat meals from time to time, flexing my “Kosher-style” muscle. None of my Jewish stuff was in your face. My feet were planted in two worlds. I could party on a Friday night if I wanted. McDonalds was still cool (I’ll order the chicken sandwich). Learning the weekly Torah portion versus tennis? C’mon. So my parents still found ways to deny the tropical storm headed towards the east coast.
Until it was upgraded to a hurricane. Hurricane Tzitzit.
When your first time ever to start wearing tzitzit (a 4-cornered garment with long fringes) in your 20s, you stuff them into your pants like canned tuna, string cheese, and Doritos after zombies have just broken through the window and are wailing and waddling towards you “Walking Dead” style. You don’t want them to fall out and be caught. That sunny day in spring it took one string (cheese pun not intentional) to break loose and then so did all hell. One little string showed it’s measly, skinny, white face out of the back of my Levi’s and we were off. It was as if our family was in a competitive breath holding competition for two years and someone came along and smacked them all on the back at the same time.
That tzitzit string was the final straw. Things were said. Some not nice. Some rather loud. It was brought to a climactic movie-worthy halt when I exclaimed with a shaking, stuttering, yelp, “I’ve decided! I’m going to yeshiva!”
Silence. Crying. Silence. Explaining. Crying. Silence.
My parents later told me that during their four-hour drive home from Boston they did not exchange a word.
We entered a tough world of never saying enough and always saying too much.
They tried to talk me out of it, but I went anyway. They wrote love letters to the rabbis about brainwashing (what else?), they called me, and I called them and we talked but not really.
We entered a tough world of never saying enough and always saying too much. Never knowing when to swing or take a pitch. Never hitting or folding. Never giving in or giving up. Stalemate.
The Story Radically Changes
This is not about any of that though. It is about how everything changed. Some things simply through the passing of time and some things on the day I got engaged to my wonderful wife.
This note is about how my parents were at my orthodox wedding. How my mom planned half of the wedding with my wife’s mom. How they met this young, beautiful, authentic girl who came from a family of bearded rabbis and they loved her. And her family.
It’s about how my mom planned half of the wedding with my wife’s mom.
It’s about my dad’s pitch perfect wedding speech and when he looked me in the eye this past Friday evening and said he was thankful to me for bringing Shabbat into the house he built.
This is about my Reform father taking pride in taping up the refrigerator lights before Shabbos so I wouldn’t come to accidentally break rules he didn’t even abide by.
It’s about my mom calling one of the rabbis she had previously questioned (more like interrogated) but was now calling to explain exactly what it would take to make kosher an entire kitchen in a town that hadn’t seen a kosher kitchen since Nana’s time. And learning about checking labels at every grocery store to find some Hebrew words so they can just give their baby boy some kosher balsamic vinegar dressing that he loves so darn much!
It’s about how my parents go to the Chabad house that opened in their town, on their own volition! My mom offers to get the Rebbetzin’s sheital (wig) styled! Sheital!
How my dad learns new concepts from the rabbi and calls me to discuss. How the most prominent moment my brother and I ever shared was when he took a day off of work to accompany me to a 12-hour Jewish meditation seminar and hashtag emotional things went down!
This is really about how instead of thinking of all the ways my lifestyle limits our relationship, they adapted to make sure it expanded our relationship. This is about the letter I found in my dressing room at the wedding hall where my mom, pen probably shaking in hand, dug deep down into the most delicate place of her heart and confessed that I was always destined for this life and she couldn’t be more proud.
No, my father wasn’t there for my first steps to my return to our beautiful, rich heritage, but he was there for my most important. He walked me to my bride. We were circled by trumpets, cheering and singing, my best friends from high school pretending to mouth the words and my yeshiva brothers screaming “Od Yeshama” at the top of their lungs.
My father was there for my most important step. He walked me to my bride.
When the sea of bodies parted, I can only describe it as a laser beam of Divine connection to Aliza, my wife, eliciting the most powerful and spiritual experience of my life. I broke down. My father put his arm around mine and picked me up, giddy and overflowing with joy for his son. He taught me how to walk all over again.
I never wanted to hurt my parents. I feel sad that I put them in so much pain. I know they feel sadness too when they realize it wasn’t the easiest road for me. But now there is peace. My wife and I are establishing a Jewish home. My parents and I have never been closer, and my mom tells me that she can’t wait until we host them at our table for Shabbat. (www.aish.com)