Sunday, Aug 1, 2021

Cherished People

Can you imagine, said the mashgiach, how much blessing and reward awaits us in the future? The Torah and the nevi’im speak at length about the great joy we will experience le’asid lavo. How blissful it will be to have the holy Shechinah amongst us. Chazal tell us that the measurements of good that Hashem bestows upon us are five hundred times greater than the punishments (Sotah 11a). If so, how happy we should be to anticipate such a promising future.

There is a kabbolah from the Vilna Gaon, said Rav Elchonon Wasserman, that on the night of Pesach we fulfill a total of sixty-four mitzvos (de’Oraysa, derabonon, and all of the brachos). We cannot begin to fathom the light emitted by every single one of these mitzvos and the remuneration that we can earn for ourselves by performing these mitzvos as we should.

But, you might ask, who says that we are mekayeim the mitzvos as we should? Are we as meticulous in doing them as we should be? Do we have the proper kavanah while performing each mitzvah and do we perform them with simchah? Or are our minds more preoccupied with the Shulchan Oreich than with the Maggid? These questions sort of put a damper on our enthusiasm.

The Baal Shem Tov once had a revelation that a Jew who lived in his vicinity led a Seder on Pesach night that was very much welcomed in Shomayim. The tzaddik went to the home of this Yid and listened in to his Seder from the outside. It didn’t seem like there was anything special about the Seder. No deep thoughts on the Haggadah were articulated and no special emotion was discernible in its recitation.

There was, however, one strange thing. When the man recited the part about the Four Sons and he said the words “Tam mah hu omer? What does the simple son say?” he started crying. He repeated these words over and over again, each time crying more and more.

At the conclusion of the Seder, the Baal Shem Tov approached the man and asked him why he became so emotional at the seemingly innocuous words of “Tam mah hu omer.” The man answered in all sincerity, “Tam in Ukrainian, the language of my country, means ‘over there.’ When I said these words, I reminded myself, ‘Over there, up in Shomayim, mah hu omer, what does Hakadosh Boruch Hu say about our avodah? Are we properly fulfilling our mission on this world? Are we performing tonight’s avodah properly? I started crying out of fear.”

The Baal Shem Tov understood that this man wasn’t as simple as he appeared and that his relationship with Hashem was a truly meaningful one.

We, too, should constantly be asking ourselves this question: What does Hashem think of us up in Shomayim? Are our deeds acceptable? Are we worthy of redemption? Such thoughts can be very depressing, because we know the answer. We could be doing a lot better. These questions could be downright discouraging and cause us to despair of ever being redeemed. While it is incumbent upon us to constantly strive for perfection, the Chofetz Chaim had a surprising take on Hashem’s acceptance of our mitzvos.

“And I passed over you and saw you downtrodden in your blood, and I said, ‘Through your blood you shall live,’ and I said to you, ‘Through your blood you shall live’” (Yechezkel 16:6). This refers to the fact that in Mitzrayim, we were naked and bare of any mitzvos, so He gave us the mitzvos of Korban Pesach and bris milah, and in their merit we were redeemed.

How can it be that with only two mitzvos to our credit, we merited redemption? The Chofetz Chaim explains that it is because the Yidden were on such a low level, at the forty-ninth gate of tumah, that it was very difficult for them to have an all-encompassing relationship with Hashem. It was precisely because of their low level and the difficulty involved that Hashem was happy to accept even a minimal number of mitzvos from them. “Lefum tzaara agra” (Avos 5:26). “One mitzvah with exertion is more precious than many mitzvos without exertion” (Avos D’Rebbi Nosson).

During the Roman siege of Yerushalayim, when there was starvation in the city, the richest woman, Marta bas Baysus, sent her servant out to the market to buy her fine flour. Times being desperate, he returned empty-handed, saying that it was all sold out, but white flour was still available. Anxiously, she told him to acquire the cheaper flour, but by the time he returned, that, too, was gone. He came back with the news that bran was still available. Now she was even willing to settle for that, but, unfortunately, even bran and the lesser flour were all sold out.

We see from here, said the Chofetz Chaim, that in desperate times, even the wealthiest cannot afford to be choosy and are willing to eat whatever they can acquire. In days of old, when there was so much kedushah, when the world was on a much higher spiritual plane, it was much harder to be considered a tzaddik in the eyes of Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Today, when the world has gone haywire, when there is so much lawlessness, and when there is such a disconnect from the Borei Olam, it is much easier to be considered righteous and Hashem cherishes our avodah.

If this was true in the Chofetz Chaim’s days, how much more so is it true today? These are such troubling times. The tiny Jewish nation is surrounded by its enemies, who are chomping at the bit to swallow it up. There is tumah all around us. We witness so much pain and personal hardship. Yet, we still work hard to prepare a beautiful Pesach and to participate in an inspiring Seder to instill emunah in Hashem for ourselves and future generations. How precious this is to our Father in Shomayim! How infinite are the blessings bestowed upon us. Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu.

The night of Pesach is a time of clarity to recognize all of Hashem’s goodness to us with the geulah and to see how even the slavery was to our benefit. It is a time to appreciate our freedom and to reflect on our responsibilities as Hashem’s chosen nation. In the Haggadah, we recite a posuk which states, “And Yehoshua said to the whole people: ‘Thus has Hashem, G-d of Yisroel spoken: ‘Your fathers dwelt in olden times beyond the river, Terach, the father of Avrohom and the father of Nachor, and they served other gods. And I took your father, Avrohom, from beyond the river and led him throughout all the land of Canaan…and I gave to Eisav Har Se’ir to possess it, and Yaakov and his sons went down to Mitzrayim” (Yehoshua 24:2-4).

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky explained this in a very insightful way. Hashem said, “I had no interest in transferring Terach over the river. For what? So that he can spread his avodah zarah to others? So I left him where he was.” With Avrohom, on the other hand, there was much to be gained by making him travel. This way, he could spread the truth that there is one Borei Olam and teach the proper way of living wherever he went.

It was the same with Eisav. What purpose would there be for him to travel? To spread his ideology that physical gratification is of prime importance? “So I gave him Har Se’ir to settle in.” Being in one localized place, the damage he could cause would be minimal. Conversely, Yaakov and his sons had a lot to offer the world – to testify about the greatness of Hashem and to spread light where previously there was darkness. For this purpose, Hashem compelled Yaakov to go down to Mitzrayim.

Maasei avos siman labonim. Rav Elazar said: “Hashem sent us into golus so that geirim will join our nation” (Pesochim 87b). While it is not our way to proselytize, we must spread our light wherever we go. However, spending so much time in foreign lands has its pitfalls. Instead of spreading the light, we can lose our direction in the darkness around us. This is the way it was in Mitzrayim, when the Yidden believed in the power of avodah zarah and witchcraft, and this is the way it was when, throughout the generations, Jews picked up foreign ideologies.

“And you were naked and bare” (Yechezkel 16:7) is understood by Chazal as a weakness. We had no mitzvos to our credit. The Telshe rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Meir Bloch zt”l, explained it in a different light. We invested much time and effort in alien ideologies, only to be disappointed when we came to the realization of how bankrupt these movements are. Many Jews were so devoted to communism, truly believing that it would save the world. How disillusioned they were to see the tragedy brought upon millions. Others believed in modern culture and how it would raise the quality of life. Zionism, materialism and other isms have all been proven to be empty endeavors.

After tasting from fruit that wasn’t ours, and after trying to clothe ourselves in the cloaks of foreign nations, we were left with nothing, naked and bare. This, said Rav Elya Meir, is a good thing, for only when we recognize how futile these alien endeavors are will we merit to see the light of G-d’s redemption.

The night of Pesach, when we celebrate our freedom and our newly-found identity, carries the segulos for us to appreciate this to the fullest. It guides us back on to the straight path so that we are ready for the ultimate geula.

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