KEYING INTO PACHIM KETANIM – PARSHA VAYISLACH

 

 

After Yaakov and his family crossed the Yabok River, Yaakov returned  to retrieve pachim ketanim — small flasks. There, the Sar of Esau confronted him; what followed was the definitive battle for supremacy between the forces of good and evil. This battle continued to rage throughout the night until finally, Yaakov emerged victorious at which point he was informed of what his new name would become.

The stage was set for this momentous battle by Yaakov’s interest in recovering some small flasks. What could the Torah be hinting to when it informs us that the pachim were small? What relevance does their size have to the lessons in this episode?

Although many people assume that “bigger is better”, sometimes we find that very low-key events or small items actually are the “key” to accessing new horizons of achievement and success.

A key is a relatively small and inexpensive item, but it serves to open important doors. Without one’s keys a person could find oneself without entry into ones own home, car or office.

Like keys that open physical doors, the words of holy Torah open mental and spiritual portals, therefore let us try to “key-in” on the meaning of the name uttered by the Sar of Esau when he announced: “No longer will it be said that your name is Ya’akov, but YiSRAL, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.” (Vayishlach 32:29).

The Creator entrusted the “key” to insights and wisdom embodied in our holy Torah to Avraham Avinu. This tradition (“key”) was handed down to his son Yitzchok, who later gave it to his son Yaakov. Apparently at that time since the Bnei Yaakov were beginning their transition from a single family into a nation of millions, it was deemed the appropriate time for the Creator in His infinite wisdom to, so to speak, design within the developing Bnei Israel a tamperproof supernal combination lock for the Torah that only the Jewish people could access.

What is this mystical combination code that binds us with our unbroken tradition all the way back to the Avos? We know that a person’s name reveals his or her spiritual essence, purpose and potential. Therefore it behooves us to unlock one of the deeper meanings within the name given by the Creator to the entire Jewish nation as well as this same name given for our holy land. The Ari Z’l  reveals in a few short words one of the mystical secrets of our national name by informing us that the five (osios) letters of the name Y’SRAL are the acronym – roshei teivos – of the names of our three Avos and four Imahos: The Yud of  Yitzchak and Yaakov is coded within the Yud of Y’SRAL; the S of Sarah within the Shin; the R of Rivka and Rachael within the Raish, the A of Avraham within the Alef and the L of Leah within the Lamed. Imbedded with our Nation’s name and the name of our land is the spiritual genetic combination of all our Avos and Imahos! The name Y’sral, the “key” – combination code – to our existence is an example of a single word in the Torah that contains worlds of meaning and value.

May we, the Bnei Y’sral, soon merit the final geula allowing all of us to once again live peacefully in our promised land – Eretz Israel.

CHANUKAH & PURIM HIDDEN WITHIN OLIVES & GRAPES

 

There are two popular holidays in the Jewish calendar that can be celebrated even as we perform our ordinary weekday activities.  Even though they have no special Yom Tov or Shabbos requirements they do much more than just commemorate  events in history. Chanukah with its lighting of the menorah with, ideally, olive oil and Purim, in which wine is the drink of choice, have concealed within these days of joy and celebration, like olive oil that is extracted from olives and wine that exudes from grapes, heretofore untapped hidden powers that can aid us to help to rectify and elevate the entire creation.

How is this achieved and why is it necessary? When Adam and Chava ate the forbidden fruit, violating the specific commandment of the Creator, the yetzer hara became internalized causing an admixture within all mankind of tov and rah. Since four of their five senses – of touch (feeling), sight, hearing and taste – acted as accomplices to the primordial sin, we need to now use those very same senses, in the performance of mitzvos and acts and chesed, to rectify this cosmic error which continues to reverberate throughout the generations.

Partially because of a lack of enough sensitivity and an increase in senseless enmity (sinas kinom), that was a major cause of the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, our Sages wisely gave us specific additional mitzvos that focus on strengthening our sense of awareness thereby reawakening our sensitivity in our relationship others. How can this best be achieved?

We can learn how to rekindle the proper feelings between each other, through the teachings of the holiday of Chanukah which call for bending over and lowering ourselves, as the naros are ideally below ten tefakim, so as to be able for the flame of the helper candle, known as the shomus, to touch the Chanukah neros until that are lit up. So too in our relationship with people sometimes it is necessary to bend over in order to share our soul’s “flame” help kindle – ie. inspire – our brethren. The “message” hidden within the Chanukah lights is so enlightening that it even has the ability to remove the surrounding darkness for those who are still out in the shuk  – ie. – the marketplace of spiritual obscurity, thereby inspiring them to be included in the mitzvah when they joyously proclaim: (Sheasa nesim la-avosanu ba-yamim ha-haim bizman ha-zeh.  that Hashem made miracles for our forefathers in this time.

After Chanukah rekindles our feelings for others and gives us clearer insight on how to be best be of help to them, Purim in its own unique way teaches us not only how to be good listeners, while hearing the reading of the Megilla, but to also learn how to hear – ie. understand – the true needs of others so as to best share our blessings with them. How is this achieved? We accomplish this through the other three mitzvos of the day which are sending gifts – of food that need no preparation – to friends, giving charity generously and opening the “doors” of our homes and hearts for a tasty  meal and flavorable  experience.

    Sending  readymade foods to friends perhaps on a deeper level sends a message to all our acquaintances that just as this food needs no preparation, we are always ready and  prepared to accept you just as you are.

                May we, through these mitzvos, once again regain the proper level of love and respect between all of us, thereby meriting the final Bais HaMigdash soon in our days.

 

 

 

 

 

ELUL – MAXIMIZING UNTAPPED POTENTIAL

 

I recently heard the following insightful thought.

Let us begin by asking the following question. Did you ever ask yourselves why the ten days of (teshuvah) repentance, culminating with Yom Kippur, are not placed before Rosh Hashanah which is the coronation of our Creator? In other words wouldn’t it be better to first complete our repentance before the inauguration of our King of kings?

One possible explanation for this (seeming conundrum) is that in order to best be able to arouse a sincere teshuvah it behooves us to first realize how much potential we have for doing good. This therefore is the inner theme of Codesh Elul. How so? Since these days are the days we are preparing ourselves to inaugurate the King of kings on Rosh Hashanah our main focus is becoming the most positive (spiritually, mentally and physically) productive people we can be. This then by recognizing just how much untapped potential for doing good we have missed out on throughout the year, we can with a renewed positive attitude enter into the awesome ten days of teshuvah filled with a determination to repair any breaches of the past.

May this year we all merit to attain this lofty goal, thereby bringing closer the final geula soon in our days

TU b’AV – A DAY FILLED WITH – TOV – GOOD

 

The 15th day of the month of Av (Tu b’Ab) is one of those special days on our Jewish calendar that can almost be missed if we don’t pay close attention because, unlike other holy days, it does not require us to leave our weekday activities and immerse ourselves in special mitzvoth. Yet it contains a treasure trove of spiritual wealth that is available for us to mine. We enter the treasury through a portal called “awareness.”

Let us first take note that Tu B’Av falls out forty days before the 25th of Elul which is the first day of Creation. Our Rabbis (Chazal) teach that forty days before conception, a Bas Kol announces whom each child-to-be will marry. So also forty days before the creation of the world, a Bas Kol announced the future covenant between the Creator and the Jewish nation (B’Nei Yissaschar, Ma’amer Chodesh Tamuz, dalet).

It is written in our holy seforim that the month of Av is governed by the letter Tes and has within it a tremendous inner power for (Tov) good  as revealed through the numerous blessed  occurrences/proclamations that Chazal have associated with Tu b’Av.

The tractate (Gemora) Taanis 30b-31 lists a number of favorable events that took place in Jewish history all on this very auspicious day of the 15th of Av. Let us see if we can create a connecting correlation between the events listed in  Gemora Taanis with our seven shepherds and the sefortic attributes that they correspond to.

During the fledgling Jewish nation’s forty year passage through the midbar, all the men died upon reaching sixty; this decree was rescinded at the end of their journey, which became apparent on Tu B’Av. Also, the slain of the city of Beitar were finally buried on the 15th of Av. Both of these incidents reflect the attribute of chesed as exemplified by Avraham Aveinu as seen through altruistic kindness (chesed shel emes) he fulfilled sparing no effort or expense for the burial for his deceased wife – Sarah.

Then there was the “removal of the roadblocks” that had prevented access to Jerusalem. This possibly correlates to the attribute of spiritual strength (gavurot) as epitomized through Yitzchak Aveinu whose life was one of directed holiness through discipline, reaching its crowning glory when he “removed all barriers” through selflessly offering himself at the story of the Akeda.

Since after the 15th of Av the nights become longer, the Gemora tells of the importance of increasing ones Torah learning in the “evening”. Torah corresponds to the attribute of the balance between chesed and gavurot known as(teferiot) – as epitomized Yaakov Aveinu who exemplifies misiras nefesh for Torah learning especially during the long “night of the galus”. The Midrash tells us that after fleeing from Esau, Yaakov studied continuously for fourteen years, day and night, before meeting his next worldly challenge – that of Lavan.

On this day the ban against marriage between the tribe of  Binyamin and the rest of the tribes (Shafatim) was repealed.. This allowed for the Jewish nation to be “reunited”. Unity between Jews help us to “reunite” with the Creator (Ribbono shel Olam). This is the attribute of eternality (netzach), exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu who dedicated his life to the lofty goal of unifying us with Hashem.

Wood cut up to the 15th of Av (but not later) was used as fuel for the alter (mizbe’ach) where we offered our sacrifices through the descendants of  Ahron HaKohen, who exemplifies the quality of submissive splendor (hod). Just as the wood was totally consumed on the alter of Hashem, so was the level of total selfless dedication of Ahron HaKohan in his avodas Hashem.

Tu B’Av is the last day of planting before the New Year. Planting seeds at the proper time will, with the help of Hashem, begin a process that will later produce life- sustaining nourishment. Yoseph, who was placed in charge of the world’s food supply, corresponds to the attribute of yesod that channels Divine influences. This perhaps teaches us that as important as it is to plant seeds – meaning to have nice ideas – it is just as important to follow up by cultivating, harvesting and finally distributing the fruits of ones efforts.

This list of events that took place on the 15th of Av indicates to us that this extraordinary day is a repository for many blessings. Our Sages tell us that the 15th of Av is compared to Yom Kippur in a number of important ways. First they are both days of forgiveness: Yom Kippur was the day the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin of the golden calf (eigel); whereas on the 15th    of Av the Bnei Israel in the midbar were finally forgiven for the sin of the spies (cheit ha-meraglim). In the time of the holy Temple in Jerusalem (Beis HaMikdosh), both these days were also especially imbued with Heavenly assistance for shidduchim. (Gemors Ta’anis, 26b)

So great is the power of  Tu B’Av, the Pri Tzadik tells us, that the third and final Bais Hamikdash will be “built” on the 15th of Av.

This final redemption will come about through our long awaited Mashiach  ben David who exemplifies the power of – malcus – royalty to orchestrate, combine and develop all the mentioned above Divine attributes. May we merit this revelation soon in our days.

THE MYSTERY OF BAIN HAMETZARIM – THE THREE WEEKS OF POTENTIAL REDEMPTION

 

Bein Hametzarim – “between the tragedies.” Caught in the vise between – the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av – days in which our Temple (Bais Hamigdash) was destroyed as well as many other calamities befell us – it is difficult to perceive any redeeming aspect of this tragic period. However, we have long understood the spiritual value that lies within adversity.  For example our Rabbis (Cazal) inform us of the benefits we derived from our period of bondage in Egypt (Mitzraim), which prepared us for the next level in the service of Hashem. In Mitzrayim we were given the opportunity to extract precious sparks of holiness that only the most challenging of events and epochs could release.

Let us try to reveal a redemptive, positive view of this difficult period that we re-visit each year at this time. Perhaps one of the “keys” to releasing ourselves from personal and national bondage lies, ironically, in the name for the period – “Bein Hametzarim”.

Why is this time called “between the tragedies” and not “the time of tragedies”? The nature of many people, when beset by difficult challenges, is that they tend to become overwhelmed and even imprisoned in their own personal “bars” of anguish and hopelessness. Yet, many of us know those exceptional people who, in seemingly overwhelming circumstances, are able to overcome restrictions focusing not on the bars – of limitation – but on the spaces “between” them – the inner messages that offer new vistas of growth and change which are encoded “within” the challenges.

Cazal have foretold that one day the inner lights of these days called Bein Hametzarim will be unveiled revealing the crowning gem, our long awaited Moshiach, whose birth  date is the 9th of Av (Yerushalmi, Brachos).

Sfas Emes tells us that the ten sayings (maamoros) with which the world was created world were later channeled in Mitzraim through the ten plagues (makot) and finally revealed in the form of the Ten Commandments.[1] These ten sayings were the Divine D.N.A. that G-d used to formulate the world.  Had mankind cooperated and obeyed Hashem’s commandments, the world would have achieved perfection; however because of the various sins throughout the generations, a process of purification was deemed necessary including the ten plagues (macot) for the Mitzriyim (at  the same time that the Jewish people were the recipients of blessings) that led eventually to the exodus.        However, since freedom from physical bondage was not the final goal, the benevolent Creator led us to Har Sinai and gave us the Torah whose essence is coded within the ten commandments.  Perhaps we can draw a parallel from this to draw another connection among numbers: the twenty-two letters (oisios) of the Torah, twenty-two days of Bein Hametzarim and to twenty-two of our holiest days. As is well known the entire creation was and continues to exist through the twenty-two holy osios of the Torah. However, due to the ongoing failings of mankind, specifically the Jewish people have designated to be a holy nation charged with rectifying and elevating the whole Creation. We are assigned at times to descend into the darkest, most dangerous realms of time in the calendar year[2]  in order to reveal the inner radiance their intrinsic holiness. It is specifically during the depths of the frigid winter referred to as SHOVAVIM (TAT), during which the Torah reading retells of the bondage of our forefathers, that we can access the spiritual “genetics” necessary to rectify not only that period but all challenging times. This lofty goal is achievable through the dynamic vibrant power contained within the twenty-two readings (aliyot) of the Torah beginning with the story of Moshe our teacher (Rabbinu) and the burning bush (sneh) (the forth alia in Parshas Shemos), ( then seven alias each in Parshas Va’eira and Parshas Bo) and ending with the splitting of the Yam Suf (forth alia of Pashas Beshalach) for a total of twenty-two aliot.

It is specifically through the Torah, our spiritual catalyst, that even during the most  twenty-two searing intense summer days of Bein Hametzarim will be transformed in the near future into days of joy. Adhering to the Torah’s prescriptions will enable us to make the transition from the grip of stifling bondage to new heights of freedom in days of Divine radiance. Each and every day of the Bein Hametzarim period contains within it the seeds – the inner essence – of twenty-two of our holiest days.  [3]

May all of us merit to see, feel and experience the blessings encoded within each and every one of these days, thereby transcending the galus of limitation to arrive at the ultimate redemption (geulah).

 

[1]  S’fas Emes in the name of his grandfather the Chidushei Ha’rim.

[2]  The Bnei Yisaschar brings a Zohar that Yaakov Avinu received the portion (control) of Nisan, Eyar and Sivan while his brother Esau received control of the summer months of  Tamuz, Av ( the months of Bein Hamitzarim)  and Elul. (Ma’amrei Chodesh Tamuz-Av, Ma’amar alef, s’eef vav.) I also heard that Yaakov Avinu also received in addition the portion of the months of Thisre, Chesvon and Kislev whereas Esau received the portion of the strongest winter months of Tevet, Shevat ( the months of  Shovavim -Tat) and Adar. Only later did Yaakov Avinu take Elul and Adar into his realm of holiness.

 

[3]           Parshas Pinchas, read at this time, contains the mitzvot of theYamim Tovim, indicating that there is a connection between the Yamim Tovim and Bein Hametazarim. Additionally, the twenty two days from Shivah Asar B’Tammuz through the Tisha B’Av parallel the twenty two days from Rosh Hashanah to Shmini Atzeres (which are also twenty-two days) and through this connection the days of Bein Hametzarim are drawn up and sweetened. (Parshas Pinchas – 24 & 25).

REFLECTIONS AND CONNECTIONS – SPACE FOR EACH LETTER

            As we approach the time of the giving of our Torah, let us reflect that each and every Jew is said to be connected to an os – a letter – in the Sefer Torah, with both our inner perception and the outer reality in which we live being spun from its spiritual fabric. Since this week we are reading about the giving of the Torah let us try to broaden our understanding what possible additional insight can be culled from the halacas that there must be an adequate space between each os; and yet, on the other hand, all the letters of each word must be close enough so that they are not perceived as separated and apart?

         These halachos can perhaps be seen as having the following profound implications: ]

     We should always strive to allow the next person the proper distance for maintaining respect and independence, yet without sacrificing the closeness and connectedness that makes us areivim – responsible for one another. This is perhaps alluded to in these halachos between the Torah’s letters and spaces. Just as the letters must be close enough so that meaningful ideas can be communicated, we also need to be close enough to help and interact with one another; yet, just as the letters must be separate enough so that the distinction between them is not blurred or obliterated, so should we always respect our neighbors and acquaintances so as not to diminish anyone’s unique personality and identity.

The Need for Attitudinal Distance

Perhaps the parchment between each letter is analogous to the “attitudinal distance” that exists between each person. Just as the white parchment has no perceivable value, yet is crucial, so also is the need to respect the cultural and individual “space”/differences between people. This “territory” between us and others is the space/ place of opportunity for learning mutual respect, thus allowing each person to maintain his independent integrity. Through this, we will avoid our personal feelings and agendas spilling over into someone else’s borders, thereby allowing us to emulate the halacha of mukafos gevul. (Every letter of a sefer Torah must be surrounded by an area of white parchment – (Menachos 29a) and certainly a Torah scroll that is not in conformity with this requirement cannot be used until it is rectified.)

    Moreover, through accomplishing this, we will also be blessed with a greater appreciation of our own unique role and place in this world.

Indeed, so essential is this “space” that the Gemara teaches that Hashem gave Moshe the Torah as white fire and black fire, with the black fire representing the written letters while the white fire represented the spaces in between (Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1). We can further see this aspect of the importance of the surrounding area in the teaching that if one, chas veshalom, sees a sefer Torah burning, one must tear one’s garments twice – one time in mourning for the written words and a second time because of the parchment (Moeid Kattan 26a).

[[[In a different context, one commentator offered this profound thought: “Consciousness is always surrounded by a border of unconscious experience that itself gives shape to consciousness.” Perhaps this can be recast as follows: Thought as expressed through the black letters of the Torah is always surrounded by white borders of unconscious experience that helps to give shape to our consciousness.]]]

             May this year’s Kabbalas Ha-Torah merit us once again of the miracle of having enough “space” for everyone one of us to prostrate ourselves in the holy Bais HaMigdash – may it be built soon in our days.

LAG BI OMER SECRETS OF BONFIRES, BOWS AND ARROWS

As we are approaching the awesome day of Lag Bi-Omer, in which myriads of Jews from all around the world will sing and dance ecstatically, [[especially when feeling connected to the mystical supernal pulsation the specially of prepared bonfires]], there is to ask: What is the possible underlying unifying power of this 33rd day of the counting of the Omer which draws together such an all encompassing diversity of Jews from all different “walks of life”?

Besides some of the better known explanations, such as that on this day the great Tanna – Rebbi Shimon bar Yoci revealed the core esoteric teaching of the Torah know as the holy Zohar, that this 33rd day of the Omer is known as the attribute (seferiot) of hod within hod – which is best exemplified through Aahron HaCohen who loved and pursued making peace, and that the custom of having bows and arrows alludes to the rainbow which is a reminder of the Eternal covenant made after the Mabul, we will attempt to add an additional layer of the uniqueness of this special day by trying to “pull back any bow strings of indifference” and instead focus our “trajectory” on harmonizing and unifying our relationships with others.

Another possible deep symbolism of the bow and arrow could be understood by the following: Picture a loving father with his four year old son, whose has never seen or learned about how bows and arrow work. The father tells the son to look towards the east and in the distance there is a bulls eye target which he will hopefully hit with the arrow in his hand. Then the father places the arrow against the string on the bow and pulls it back very tightly. Before letting go of the arrow and string his puzzled son ask him: But father you said the arrow was going to go east toward the target, and it is instead west further away from the target. The father then explains that in order to reach the distant target it is first necessary to give the arrow the flying power which comes through tightening the string first and only then letting go.

This cute story is one of the profound facts of life that before we can reach our goals – ie the bulls eye target – we often are – what looks to us – sent in the wrong direction. For example some  people who want first have to become poor first even though this is not what they want. However the trials of poverty prepare such a person to be more generous when they finally attain wealth. And so it is in every area of life, often our loving Father in heaven, who knows what is truly best for us, if we are worthy, only gives us what we want after we become prepared to use these blessings in the right way.

Perhaps an additional allusion to the bonfires on this awesome day is to remind us that just as the powerful downward pull of gravity cannot diminish a rising flame, how much more so does the downward pull of “spiritual atrophy” remains powerless against us, as long as long as we stay ignited with the “transcendent fuel” of our holy Torah.

Last but not least, let us ask ourselves: Why Lag Bi Omer, the 33 day is seen as such a pivotal position in the counting of the Seferia? One possible reason is because each day of these 49 days can be seen as an opportunity to enhance and refine our medios thereby engendering a “good” heart (in Hebrew – Lev Tov is also exactly the numerical value of 49 (32 = Lev and 17 = tov).

May we all merit through this awesome transitional period of time spanning Pesach until Shavous to  focus on seeing and appreciating the good virtues (necuda tova) that can be found within every person, thereby hopefully bringing closer the final geula soon in our days.

CONNECTING SEFIRAS HA-OMER AND YOVEL

 

The holy Torah, our guide book through life, gives us not only direction but the fuel/energy to strive towards our goals and aspirations, yet we find almost a complete parsha ( Behar 25: 1 – 55) dedicated to commanding us on each seventh (Shemita) and the fiftieth (Yovel) years to cease from many halachic forms of “effort”. These lengthy periods of cessation from certain halachically defined activities, for the uniformed would naturally appear to be the antithesis of productive effort. However, as contradictory as it may appear on the surface, these macrocosmic periods of “applied restraint” are the most valuable times for growth and development. This is because there is no higher goal and purpose in life than achieving a level of “pro-active submission” in following the will of   G-d. “Cessation of self-determination” during these times reveals the Divine radiance on earth, thereby crowning Hashem as King of the universe.

Even though we are not presently privy to the full revelation of the Torah as revealed through the Shemita and Yovel, we have been given the privilege weekly through the Shabbos and during the yearly period referred to as Sefiriot HaOmer to make the pro-active proclamation that we are willing to defer and or redirect our self interests.

What application today in our own lives can we derive from the awesome transformational power of  Shemita and especially Yovel? All Jews have holy souls that have been sent down into this world garmented in physical bodies and surrounded by an environment that is ideal for each one of us in order to help rectify and elevate the creation. During our lifetimes we are given various experiences of which some are pleasant and some are very challenging, however all of life’s events are perfectly crafted to serve a purpose for our benefit. If we could but for a moment have a glimpse at our lives from the Heavenly realm, from that prospective the allotment that has been given to us as our portion in life would be seen as tailored made and artfully fitted to help us reach and fulfill our potential. From that panoramic view, there would be no more questions or doubts. Each stage of life and each unique situation whether “traveling” through the “wilderness of experience” or “submitting” to each period of “encampment” would be seen as what it really is: a golden opportunity to achieve rectification and purification.

This ‘ladder’ of development and transition both in the microcosm as well as the macrocosm is a fifty level cycle that we experience yearly through the counting of the Sefiras HaOmer leading up to Matan Torah. Just as each day represents a different combination of attributes, whose interplay allows for refinement of our midos, so also on a macrocosmic level, when the majority of  the Jewish nation are living in Eretz Israel, there is a fifty year cycle culminating in the Yovel year, which is a special gift from G-d, that allows us to transcend the bonds of nature. Perhaps this then can be a deeper connection between the Yovel and Shavous. They can be seen as a (reflective) mirror image of each other, in that Yovel releases indentured bodies from physical bondage thereby allowing for a renewed bonding with the soul, whereas the time of Seferia releases us from our mental and emotional attitudinal bondage allowing for a renewed bonding with the Creator through His Torah.

Just as we draw closer with baited breath to this Yom Tov of Matan Torah so also may we merit soon to hear the long awaited shofar of the final geula.

PESACH – PASSOVER – RECAPTURING THE DEPTHS OF JOY

 

              It’s the night (lay’l) of Pesach with all the family and guests joined together around the Seder table. After Kiddush on wine the head of the household (Bal HaBais)divides the middle matzah, wraps up the larger piece for the end of the meal (Afikomin) and puts it snugly  behind his pillow.  Later in the evening (seder) someone points to the place of the afikoman and whispers to the child, “Take it now, quickly, while he’s not looking.” The child hesitates, feeling quite shy having been brought up with proper values of respect and honesty. This night everything at the house looks so different. The table is much longer than usual filled with relatives and guests — it’s white and beautiful with lots of shiny glasses, sparkling silver. But then with a little more prodding and a burst of courage he moves closer to the treasured hidden away afikomen, hesitating, until some one prompts him, “Quick, grab it and run.”

  For a second, he feels afraid, but as soon as it is in his hand, he feels an exhilarating surge of excitement and exuberance. Even after hiding it he continues to feel energized and successful. Much later, when the child is asked to return the afikoman, he doesn’t give it right back, being prodded by others to first ask for a nice prize.

    Doesn’t this conduct seem a quite odd?  Here we are seemingly allowing our small untainted children to take something that doesn’t belong to them and on top of that extort a reward for their efforts on one of the holiest nights of the year. How can we possibly understand this conduct?

  Perhaps we can explain this unusual behavior as follows. Usually the selfish inclination (yetzer hara) tries to lure a person into improper behavior through offering feelings of ephemeral thrills and excitement. Even though we want to avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply cannot discard the yetzer hara.  As in the well known book of Medrashim, when the Sages davened to remove the yetzer hara and Hashem answered their tefillos, even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The yetzer hara is necessary but needs to be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur mei ra, avoid evil, yet preserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our ma’asim tovim.  But how do we do this? 

   Perhaps, this is precisely what we are achieving when we encourage our children to take the afikomen.  We are allowing our young pure children to experience the excitement that is usually motivated by the yetzer hara when engaged in risky, dangerous and thrill seeking conduct.  We do this by giving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.” As the child grows up, that spiritual inoculation that was administered l’shem Shamayim with love will then continue to act as an antidote against the infectious negative powers of the yetzer hara.  Indeed, that dose of controlled enthusiasm, experienced by the child on lay’l Pesach, will enable him to rekindle those exuberant feelings throughout the year directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing mitzvos and ma’asim tovim.

But how can experiencing this “controlled taste of desire” both act as a vaccine shielding the child from learning mis-conduct, while at the same time inspiring the him with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the setting in which this “taste” is given. Let us remember, the seder night is referred to as – lay’l shemurim, the night of Divine protection – the perfect night for this process to take place as it is a time when negative forces are subdued. 

    You may be wondering, how can this spiritual “inoculation” continue to protect us into our adult years?   Possibly the answer is we use “booster shots”!  Oh, we are not suggesting that this Pesach we grab the afikoman, however we should watch the one who is taking it and allow that “small child” inside each of us to relive and rekindle our own feelings of inner joy and exuberance, thereby rekindling our youthful enthusiasm in the service of Hashem.

May we all merit soon to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of afikoman in Jerusalem at the final geula soon in our days.

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   The attribute of exuberance and excitement was “stolen” (so to speak) by the negative powers (yetzer hora) through the errors of mankind. On the night of Pesach we are able to “re-capture” these sparks of holiness and use them to bring back Divine spirituality into this world Since the yetzer took it through “theft” we re-capture it, through an act that looks like theft, at this time of Pesach when the forces of darkness are vanquished. 

BITTUL CHUMETZ – THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL

 

The rain  washed down the windshield in torrents undeterred by the wipers. The driver wiped his bleary eyes and the world swam. Only a few more miles, he thought and I will be able to deliver the medicine from the pharmacy and go home.  He glanced at the directions scribbled on a wrinkled paper.  Here’s the turn.  There’s the house.  He wearily unlatched the car door, hitched his jacket over his head and moved quickly through the spring storm to the front door.  As the door bell rang, he heard   the sound of small feet running in his direction.

The door opened and he blinked to adjust his eyes to the dim light inside.  He looked and nearly giggled, “It’s nighttime, he thought, “do you know where your children are?”  If you don’t , they are probably here tiptoeing one behind the other in a long uneven line, following a man carrying a candle near to the ground, squinting as he stoops down and peers into the back of a sofa cushion.   No one paid attention to the stranger at the door, except for one small boy who seemed to be motioning him to join in. The young delivery man stood there awkwardly staring at this odd sight, early memories stirring deep within him.

What could he be thinking – this stranger? What could he understand of this Jewish law and time honored custom of (bedikas chumetz) – the searching for any grain product, such as bread and cake that has leavened. Now, we know what it is all about, we are used to it, we understand it – or do we?

It is  (Erev Pesach) the evening before Passover.   We have just spent weeks cleaning our homes from top to bottom, making certain that not one crumb of (chumetz) leavened food remains anywhere in our realm.  We have scoured  every crevice, turned each pocket inside out and emptied our children’s secret treasure troves of cookies and pretzels.  And just  as we have begun to feel that unique once- a -year feeling, that sense that we really have managed to rid ourselves of every crumb — at that  moment – we assign someone to secretly hide (the custom being ten) pieces of chumetz throughout our homes and possessions. Then specifically in the darkness of  the night we make a candle light “search”– and as we find each piece, we carefully sweep it triumphantly away with the help of a feather and a wooden spoon into a guarded place.

Why are we doing this?  Is it merely symbolic?  What is going on?

 

What would this soggy stranger think, if we told him that we were regaining our freedom with those ten pieces of bread?

Yet, it is actually true.  The night of bedikas chumetz,  like every other meaningful event in life has three components, the person, that is ourselves,  place and time.  The Creator is referred to as (HaMakom) the Place, because there is no place devoid of His Presence.  However (Hashem) G-d has made room for us and allows us and our possessions to exist in His world. When we do bedikas chumetz, we are proclaiming that  it is His world and we are his invited guests.  When we accept this upon ourselves and fulfill the commandment that requires us to relinquish even a kosher, ordinarily permissible possession , that is when we begin to taste freedom.  This is because it is difficult to pull away from the lures of this world which can enslave us, and addict us and remove our freedom of choice. But when Hashem directs us to do so, and we comply, He provides us with the ability to let go.

 

The third component of this event is time which  plays the major role in our Pesach preparations.  It is only time that separates chumetz from matzah, for they both start with the same ingredients, flour and water.  Chumetz, leaven, is created through a process of fermentation that causes pockets of air to form in the flour and water mixture, expanding the dough and making it grow large.  Like dough, egos can also be inflated.  The leavening agents can be power, vanity or fame, together with the flattery that catalyzes them into a bubbling brew that pumps up our sense of self importance. One extra moment can mark the difference between leavened and unleavened –one moment can be enough to transform  the mixture of flour and water from permissible matzah into forbidden chumetz. And it only takes but a moment of time for us to feel achieved and

congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments, thus improperly taking personal credit for that which Hashem has given to us.

 

So as we make our bedikas chumetz or any other mitzvah, we should try to do so with the un-self conscious innocence, inspiration and joy of a child.

Now with a better understanding of the need for the bedika let us ask but why search in the darkness of night? We might think that it is not such a good idea as evening symbolizes the powers of the (sitra achra) powers of darkness, however, on this special night, we are given the assignment and ability to enter its realm on a “search and destroy mission”.  In those moments, that (ner) candle is a supernal spiritual beam that is able to penetrate deeply to expose any sign of ego inflation. In the esoteric tradition the Ner represents a vessel for the (shefa) the holy influence that channels the Divine Radiance thereby illuminating any dark or hidden places, allowing us find, identify and remove any impurities thereby preparing us to receive  the special (kiddusha) holiness that permeates  the night of Passover.

One final thought on the multifaceted value of the bedikas chumetz. The ideal way to perform this minhag is to allow some member of the house or close friend to hide some small portions of bread or mezzonos. Many have the custom of  placing ten pieces for esoteric reasons and also to insure the finding of some chumetz in an already thoroughly clean home.  But this practical reason is not necessarily the only explanation.

This hunt for chumetz is a joint mitzvah that gets everyone involved in an effort to accomplish this task. So in the years when my children were young, we would use this night to send a not-so-subtle message to them.  Chumetz  would be put in places where old battles were fought.  So, for the child who would leave his shoes in the middle of the room for others to trip over, chumetz would be put in those shoes.  For another

child, a messy closet was the battle ground and she would find a piece of chumetz there.  We would all end our bedikas chumetz laughing over things that frustrated us during the year. Pesach is a time of unity and what better way to nurture this idealistic state than making a bedika  from within and without.

This captivating ritual of bedikas chumetz,  one of the many heart warming mitzvoth of Pesach, transforms a mundane cleaning process  into a sacred and mystical rite. This creates the atmosphere in which Pesach is renewed each year – And as Pesach is renewed – so are we. As for the young delivery man who was standing at the entranceway, may that glimpse into the Pesach experience be just the right “prescription” for his transformation.

(La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem) – May this coming year we all be reunited in Jerusalem.