Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Pesach 5776

Pesach 5776

New Stories Pesach 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Pesach 5776

Shevii Shel Pesach: Transcending Our Limitations


In addition to the festival of Pesach, there is a day referred to as “Shevii Shel Pesach,” the seventh day of Pesach. Although the festival of Pesach is one long eight-day holiday, the seventh day of Pesach bears its own uniqueness. What is so special about the seventh day of Pesach? Rashi quotes the Medrash that states that the Jewish People were liberated from Egypt on the fifteenth of Nissan, which is the first day of Pesach, and on the twenty-first of Nissan, which was the seventh day of Pesach, the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea and the Jewish People sang the Shirah to HaShem. On the eve of the fifteenth of Nissan, we celebrate our freedom from Egypt by conducting a Seder, and in the Diaspora, we conduct a Seder on the second night of Pesach. Yet, the Jewish People were not truly free from the clutches of the Egyptians until the seventh day of Pesach, when Pharaoh and his armies were drowned in the Red Sea (There is an opinion in the Medrash, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer §43 that states that Pharaoh himself did not drown). One must wonder, then, why we celebrate our freedom on the fifteenth of Nissan and not on the twenty-first of Nissan, which is the seventh day of Pesach?

Frogs, Locusts and Seor

I would like to suggest a novel approach to answer this question. It is interesting to note that regarding two of the plagues that HaShem sent against the Egyptians, the Torah uses the word gevul, boundary. Regarding the plague of tzifardeia, frogs, it is said (Shemos 7:27) viim maein atah lishaleiach hinei anochi nogeif es kol givulecha batzfardiim, but if you refuse to send out, behold I shall strike your entire boundary with frogs. It is also said regarding the plague of arbeh, locusts (Ibid 10:4) ki im maein atah lishaleiach es ami hinini maivi machar arbeh bigvulecho, for if you refuse to send forth My people, behold, tomorrow I shall bring a locust-swarm into your border. I have wondered for years why specifically by these two plagues does the Torah use the word gevul, boundary. It is fascinating to note that regarding the prohibition of keeping or eating Chametz, leavened bread, on Pesach, it is said (Ibid 13:7) matzos yeacheil es shivas hayamim vilo yeiraeh lecho seor bichol givulecha, matzos shall be eaten throughout the seven-day period; no chametz may be seen in your possession, nor may leaven be seen in your possession in all your borders. Thus, we see that a recurring theme of the redemption is the idea of borders and boundaries. What is the association of borders with chametz? We have previously mentioned that Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, Shlita said that Pesach is all about rising above our limitations. Based on this premise, we can understand why the Torah states that one should not find seor in all your borders. Chametz symbolizes stagnation, i.e. one who remains within his limitations (Although chametz is bread that has risen and appears to be limitless, we know that chametz reflects arrogance, and an arrogant person is truly limited. One who is arrogant only sees himself and cannot see the merits and value of others). The Torah prohibits one to remain within his borders on Pesach. The plagues of frogs and locusts represented a swarm, which in essence were a symbol of transcending limitations. These two plagues were specific lessons for the Jewish People, which culminated with the prohibition of seor within their borders.

The Plagues and the Prohibition of Seor Allowed us to Transcend Our Limitations

Let us now turn to Shevii Shel Pesach, when the Jewish People experienced true freedom from their Egyptian masters. The Medrash (Mechilta Yisro 3) states that the reason why HaShem orchestrated the Splitting of the Sea was so that the Jewish People should cry out to Him again, just as they had done in Egypt, and in this manner they would always remember that only HaShem can save them from their difficulties. Perhaps there is an additional dimension to the Splitting of the Sea. We are taught (Tosfos Arachin 15a s.v. kisheim) that there was no real need for the Jewish People to cross the Red Sea. Rather, HaShem sought to punish the Egyptians so He had the Jewish People walk through dry land and then He drowned the Egyptians. The Medrash (Mechilta Bashalach) states that the Jewish People felt trapped, as on one side were the pursuing Egyptians and on the other side they were faced by the raging sea. Based on the explanation we gave earlier, we can now better understand why the Jewish People were placed in such a predicament. The Jewish People were presented with a situation where the only option was to transcend their limitations. This was accomplished by Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehudah walking straight into the raging sea, and by the Jewish People praying to HaShem, their only Salvation. Thus, while we only attained true freedom on the seventh day of Pesach, the concept of transcending our limitations was already incorporated during the plagues and with the prohibition of not eating any chametz or seor for the entire seven days of Pesach.

The Jewish People Already Experienced Freedom in the Month of Tishrei

With this idea in mind we can understand a peculiar statement in the Gemara. The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 11a) states that the enslavement of the Jewish People ceased in the month of Tishrei. One must wonder, then, what the Jewish People were doing for a half a year while the Egyptians were being afflicted with plagues. I believe the answer to this question is a profound lesson in our service of HaShem. Even if one has not yet experienced true liberation from a difficult situation that he finds himself in, he must know that by merely attempting to transcend his limitations, he is already deemed to be a free person.

The Shabbos Connection

The Baal HaTurim (Shemos 10:14) quotes the Zohar that states that the locust rested on Shabbos. Perhaps this teaches us that when one expends the effort during the week to transcend his limitations and achieve his true potential, he will be rewarded with the true rest that is reflected in the Holy Day of Shabbos. HaShem should grant us this Shevii Shel Pesach that we move past anything that is inhibiting us from serving Him properly, and we should merit the Ultimate Redemption, with the downfall of all our enemies, speedily, on our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Shimru Shabsosai

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.

שִׁמְרוּ שַׁבְּתוֹתַי, לְמַעַן תִּינְקוּ וּשְׂבַעְתֶּם מִזִּיו בִּרְכוֹתַי, אֶל הַמְּנוּחָה כִּי בָאתֶם, safeguard My Shabbasos so that you may be nourished and sated. From the glow of My blessings when you arrive at the day of contentment. In the Shabbos Shemone Esrei we recite the words שַׂבְּעֵנוּ מִטּוּבֶךָ, satisfy us from Your good. HaShem is ready to bestow upon His Beloved Children all the good that he has, if we only observe the Shabbos properly. This is also the interpretation of the Gemara (Shabbos 118b) that states that if the Jewish People were only to observe two Shabbasos properly, we would merit the Ultimate Redemption. Two Shabbasos all it takes to merit all the good in the world. Let us hope that this Shabbos which is also Pesach, and Pesach is also called Shabbos, should herald in the final redemption.

Shabbos Stories

Symbolism Over Substance

A Jewish intellectual in post-war England approached Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, who headed the London Beth Din, with a cynical question: “In reviewing our Hagadah service,” he sniped, “I was shocked at the insertion of, ‘Who Knows One’, a childish nursery rhyme, at the end. Why would the sages put a silly rhyme – ‘One is Hashem, two are the Tablets, three are the fathers,’ and so on, at the end of the solemn, intellectual Seder night service? It is very unbecoming!”

Rabbi Abramsky was not shaken. “If you really want to understand the depth of that song, then you must travel north to the town of Gateshead. There you will find a saintly Jew, Reb Elya Lopian. I want you to discuss the meaning of every aspect of life with him. Ask him what are the meaning of the sea and fish, ask him what is the meaning of the sun and the moon. Then ask him what is the meaning of one, of six, of eleven and so on.”

The philosopher was very intrigued. He traveled to Gateshead and located the Yeshiva at which Reb Elya served as the Mashgiach (spiritual advisor). He was led into the room where a saintly looking man greeted him warmly.

“Rabbi, I have many questions,” the skeptical philosopher began. “What is the meaning of life?” “What is the essence of the stars?”

Rabbi Lopian dealt with each question with patience, depth, and a remarkable clarity. Then the man threw out the baited question. “What is the meaning of the number one?”

Rabbi Lopian’s face brightened, his eyes widened, and a broad smile spread across his face. “The meaning of one?” he repeated. “You would like to know the meaning of one? One is Hashem in the heaven and the earth!”

The man was shocked. “What about the depth of the numeral five?”

“Five?” repeated the sage. Why five has tremendous symbolism! It represents the foundation of Judaism – the Five Books of Moses!” The rabbi then went on to explain the mystical connotations that are represented by the number five, and exactly how each Book of the Torah symbolizes a component of the sum.

The man left with a new approach and attitude toward the most simple of our rituals. (

Shabbos in Halacha

ממרח – Smoothing

  1. To What Does this Prohibition Apply?


  1. Non-Foods


Ointments are generally subject to the prohibition of smoothing; one is prohibited to spread a salve, ointment or cream over any area of the body, or to spread them on a cloth which will be applied to the body [This applies often in diapering a baby. One is prohibited to spread any ointment (i.e. Desitin) over the diaper area; however, one may dab the ointment on several spots and cover it with the diaper, allowing the ointment to spread by itself.


There are many more details to this halacha (i.e. severe diaper rash, wounds, re-applying a bandage that fell off) that are beyond the scope of this discussion., We have mentioned the basic halacha because of the frequency with which it occurs.


Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Pesach 5776

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New Stories Pesach 5776

Passover and My Son’s Broken Femur

Why thank God for taking us out of Egypt? Didn’t He put us there in the first place?

by Moe Mernick

It was one of my most frightening incidents of being a father so far. I was studying for my MBA. It was a typical Tuesday; I was able to go home to be with my family for lunch because my classes for the day finished in mid-morning. What was atypical was the way I was greeted at the door – my son was screaming in a manner I had never heard, and my wife appeared quite shaken.

After some deep breaths, my wife informed me that she had just she tripped down the stairs holding our 9-month-old son and landed hard on the floor. She heard his head hit the tiles, but she wasn’t sure of the extent of his injury. Was he injured or just very startled?

After ensuring that my wife was okay, I held my son, eventually calming him down. But he seemed more subdued than usual and it looked as though he was in pain.

The doctor’s office advised us that if he wasn’t back to his regular self in another couple of hours, we should bring him in. A few hours later the doctor was checking for a head injury, but found nothing. He began to check other parts of our son’s body to see where an injury might have occurred. When he stood my son up, holding his hands, my son lifted his right foot, showing that he wasn’t able to apply pressure there.

We were sent for x-rays and while waiting for hours in the waiting room, we witnessed our son’s gradual improvement. We almost decided to take him home because, in our estimation, everything was probably all right – and we were exhausted.

My wife and I felt a sense of gratitude. It could have been much worse had he fallen from higher up the stairs.

But the x-ray results indicated otherwise. Our son’s femur bone had a crack just above his knee and they would have to put his entire leg, from his waist all the way down to his toes, in a cast for at least a month. Our precious little boy behaved so well while they plastered his leg, after which they finally sent us on our way, with a referral to see a specialist the next morning at a different hospital to reinforce the cast with a layer of fiberglass.

Through this dramatic episode, my wife and I expressed how appreciative we were. No, a cracked femur bone for our son who was on the verge of crawling was not going to be easy, never mind all the additional time and resources that would be required during the month of my final exams. Nevertheless, my wife and I felt a sense of gratitude. We recognized that if he cracked his femur bone from a short fall (only a few steps up from the ground), it could have been much worse had he fallen from higher up the stairs.

But I remember being asked, somewhat incredulously: Appreciative?! He fell down the stairs and cracked his femur bone and his walking was delayed by a number of months! Was I appreciative that God made my wife and baby fall?

And then an interesting parallel occurred to me. Passover was a few days away. Millions of Jews from around the globe were going to be celebrating the fact that God miraculously saved the Jews from 210 years of grueling slavery and led us into the Land of Israel.

But why thank God for taking us out of Egypt? Didn’t He put us there in the first place?

This question weighed on me for a couple of days, until I watched a near-horrific incident which clarified everything.

Over Passover while my wife and I were taking a pleasant stroll down the street, we saw halfway up the block a young mother pushing her infant in a stroller while her husband walked alongside their toddler daughter. Suddenly the young girl turned and headed for the street, running at full speed. On cue, just like it happens in the movies, a car appeared, moving too fast for driving on a residential street. Everything seemed to move in slow motion: the father’s shocked expression as if he were thinking N-O-O-O-O as he chased after his daughter, while the mother watched helplessly, in horror, from the side.

My wife and I stood there stunned, not knowing how to prevent the seemingly inevitable from taking place. The girl was darting into the road and the fast-approaching car did not seem to see her.

Then a small miracle happened. The little girl tripped and fell hard onto the ground. Astounded, her mother and father scooped her up and embraced her, feeling renewed appreciation for having her in their lives.

After my wife and I let out a sigh of relief, we watched an interesting scenario unfold. The little girl was crying in pain and her parents were just so happy and appreciative. The girl looked at them, confused: Don’t you love me? Don’t you care about me? Why are you so happy when I’m in so much pain?!

What this little girl perceived as a terrible misfortune, the parents perceived as the greatest gift. Their prayers to save her at any cost were answered, but this little girl had no perception of the greater damage that could have occurred. All she knew was the pain of her scraped leg.

This taught me a powerful message. Very often I’m like that little girl. My scope of understanding is limited and there is a Higher Source whose view far surpasses that of my own. He sees what came before and what will come after; He knows what is truly best for me, even though I think I know better. And most importantly, He loves me and cares about me far more than I can possibly fathom.

Just like that little girl, I can cry and get upset that I got hurt. But if I recognize that what just happened was done with the greatest attention, love, and care possible, I rise above that arrogant spirit inside of me that feels like it knows it all.

My wife and son fell down the stairs. Thank you, God. Thank you. Understanding that for whatever reason there had to be a fall, I am so appreciative that it was only from the second step and not from the twelfth step; I am so appreciative that it was only a cracked femur bone and that my wife and son are otherwise all right; and I am so appreciative that You gave me the insight to view this incident with such an outlook.

We naturally like to feel that we are in charge, that we know it all. But letting go and realizing our limitations is perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. Leaning on the Source far wiser than ourselves provides us with a great sense of comfort, serenity, and happiness. Everything does happen for a reason – a reason that is ultimately for our greatest benefit. If we can internalize the fundamental principal that God loves each and every one of us far more than we can possibly comprehend, then we can begin to inch toward understanding how the different variables in our lives were uniquely tailored for us, allowing us to reach our individual mission in this world.

What you can accomplish, I cannot; and what I can accomplish, you cannot. Therefore, we each are given different circumstances in which we lead our lives. Our families, our unique talents, our geographical setting are all designed solely with us in mind, serving as our guidepost for direction.

With this in mind, generation after generation, we have been celebrating Passover – thanking God for having taken us out slavery – because we understand that, notwithstanding the apparent need for us to be there (commentators provide numerous reasons for this), we are eternally appreciative for having been taken out in such a miraculous fashion.

The little girl who tripped taught me an invaluable lesson. As much as her parents might have tried to explain to her that had she not tripped she could have been hit by a car, she was simply too young to have understood.

So, too, with us – if we recognize our smallness, we can truly reach a level of greatness.

Excerpted from the newly released book, The Gift of Stuttering (Mosaica Press, 2016). (

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