Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

Command and Control

Should I do it? Should I actually mention those two words that are taboo to so many people, especially to the ezras noshim? You know that the second the Purim frenzy ends, a new frenzy takes its place…with a vengeance.

The frenzy can be encapsulated into two words: Pesach cleaning.

The Gerer Rebbe, the Pnei Menachem, once gave a shmuess, speaking about how so many G-d-fearing Jewish women would start cleaning for Pesach months in advance. They begin with the bedrooms, and by the time Purim is over, they think about the dining room and even the kitchen. Finally, somehow, after cleaning and cleaning and moving the chometz out of the kitchen into boxes and then into a tiny part of a room with a table, chairs, and toaster, she approaches the day of bedikas chometz. It is all gone! The house is sparkling and the kitchen is Pesachdig. She has no idea how she made it. It was a difficult job that took work and planning, but somehow, she finally made to the night of bedikas chometz. There is not a crumb of chometz in the house. In the morning, the husband takes the little bag with the ten pieces of chometz to burn and the Yiddishe mamme breathes a deep sigh of relief.

She made it!

All the chometz is gone!

She is satisfied and b’simcha, even though she still has endless cooking to do for Yom Tov and a Seder to prepare…

Are We Nuts?

With a smile, the Pnei Menachem continued and said, “Now, what happens next? The husband comes home from burning the chometz, puts on his Shabbos clothes, and where does he go? He goes to bake Erev Pesach matzos. What happens there? Well, they take flour and add it to water (yes, for those who don’t realize, flour and water are the ingredients that make – gasp – chometz!) and try their utmost to be careful to prepare it and bake it quickly so that it will not become chometz.

“Why,” the Pnei Menachem asked, “would we do such a dangerous thing? After months of work, we have finally gotten rid of every last crumb of chometz and now we want to be daredevils? Now, we want to start dealing with flour and water in a way that if we are not super careful, it will become chometz? Are we meshuga?

“You know what the answer is?” the Pnei Menachem continued. “The answer is that this is what the Torah wants. This is what Hashem commanded, and whether it makes sense to us or not, if Hashem commanded [to make matzah out of flour and water and to make sure that it does not become chometz], then that is what we do and we do it b’simcha, singing Hallel as we bake those matzos!”

Yes, we do everything in our power to keep the Torah in accordance with our seichel, and cleaning the house well is one of those things. At the same time, we are completely mevatel ourselves to the tzivui Hashem and the ratzon Hashem even when we don’t understand.

Because Hashem Commanded Us…

This comes to mind when thinking about Parshas Parah, which we will lain this week. Everyone knows that the parah adumah has nothing to do with seichel. It is a chok. It doesn’t make sense and it is not supposed to make sense to our puny minds. We do it for one reason: because Hashem commanded us. Period. No other reason.

Similarly, in next week’s parsha, we will learn that the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu took the ketores and “brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them.”

The Torah continues that the fire consumed them, and they were niftar as a result. The Chiddushei Harim explains that Nadav and Avihu had wonderful intentions. With their exalted kavanos, they wanted to accomplish all kinds of important tikkunim in the celestial worlds. Their intentions were lesheim Shomayim. Nevertheless, what they did was not acceptable and they were punished because of one thing: “they were not commanded.”

There is an important lesson to be learned here. In our times, many often seek new things to give them a spiritual high. There are all kinds of new “minhagim” created to make us feel spiritual, to make Yiddishkeit feel good, and just to make us feel connected. Yes, it is important that everyone feels connected to Hashem and to the Torah. For some, the old way of doing things just doesn’t do it for them, which is fine, as long as the “new” things are rooted in the Torah and aren’t new ideas from elsewhere that have been somehow grafted into Yiddishkeit.

We often have wonderful intentions, but we must always make sure that even our best kavanos are in accordance with the tzivui of Hashem. That is why, even when we would like to do good things, we should still consult with those who understand Torah and mesorah to ensure that our well-intentioned hislahavus comes under the umbrella of the tzivui of Hashem rather than just a “feeling” that has not been properly thought out and vetted.

How Beloved Our Mitzvos Are!

The Sefas Emes offers remarkable chizuk regarding the opposite end of this concept in the name of his zaide, the Chiddushei Harim. He focuses on how wonderful it is when we do a mitzvah, whether it is a mitzvah that makes logical sense or not, only because Hashem commanded us to do it.

The Sefas Emes says, “The chet of Nadav and Avihu was that they did an avodah that they were not commanded to do. We can learn a kal vachomer from them. Look at Nadav and Avihu. They were extremely great and holy people. They performed a great and holy task, and their intentions were certainly only lesheim Shomayim, yet they were punished because they did something that Hashem had not commanded them to do. When we fulfill mitzvos, even when we don’t understand and we have no idea why we are doing those mitzvos, or what the reason for those mitzvos is, how much more so are our mitzvos dear and beloved by Hashem! Why? Because the tzivui Hashem, the fact that Hashem commanded it, that Hashem said so, is more powerful than all the reasons. Doing a mitzvah just because Hashem commanded is a kavanah that is above and beyond any other kavanah.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Parshas Parah is so important and brings taharah upon us, purifying us in advance of Pesach. The mitzvah of parah adumah is a chok. We have no idea why we are doing it. When we do a mitzvah for the sole reason that Hashem commanded us to do it, we are bringing tremendous taharah and kedusha upon ourselves. That is what the tzivui of Hashem does.

Wow! What an amazing thought! Simply by doing a mitzvah because Hashem commanded, we can access kedusha and taharah!

Outside the Mikdosh

I would like to add another insight about the parah adumah and the taharah that it brings related to the fact that the Torah refers to the parah adumah as a korban chatos. I recently saw an incredible insight on this concept. Yes, in one way, the parah adumah is a korban chatos. In another way, it is different than the other korbanos chatos. The regular korban chatos can only be brought inside the Ohel Moed, while the parah adumah is brought outside the Ohel Moed. Why? The vort that I saw said that inasmuch as the korban is done outside the Mikdosh, we recognize that the taharah of the parah adumah is not dependent on whether or not we have a Bais Hamikdosh. Even when we no longer have a Bais Hamikdosh, even when the Yidden are “outside,” by reading the parsha and learning about the parsha, they can still access the unique taharah afforded by the parah adumah.

When contemplating this vort, an incident flashed into my head, a story that others who learned in Bais Medrash Govoah back in the mid-1990s may remember. It is a story I can never forget.

Ess Iz Nisht Gevein a Shabbos Tzi Hitten!

He was clearly an elderly Yid from Russia. This Yid entered the bais medrash, sat down in the back, and just listened to the kol Torah…and then the floodgates opened. He began crying.

Later, I spoke to him. His story was fascinating. As a young bochur, he had learned in a Novardok Yeshiva somewhere in Russia. Then World War II ripped him away from his Gemara and Mesilas Yeshorim. He even remembered the distinctive mussar niggun that they sang in Novardok when learning mussar.

Afterward, he got stuck in Communist Russia, where, for decades, he lived in a Siberian city called Novosibirsk. When Russia opened in the early 1990s, he was finally able to come to America to visit his sister, who lived somewhere in Southern New Jersey. He was told that in that very same state of New Jersey, there was a town called Lakewood where there was a large yeshiva. He had not seen a yeshiva in over fifty years! What did he do? He came to visit.

When I saw him crying, it had been the first time he had seen a bais medrash in action in over fifty years! To make a long story short, he began coming every day. He got chavrusos and began to learn Torah and mussar again, just as he had done as a bochur.

I once asked him, “Were you able to keep Shabbos in Novosibirsk?”

His answer sent a shudder up my spine. He told us the tragic truth of a terrible mistake that he had made. “Es iz nisht givein a Shabbos tzi hitten – There was no Shabbos to keep over there….”

The man, who had now become a baal teshuvah, admitted his mistake. He had thought that there was no more Shabbos and that Communist Russia had eradicated Yiddishkeit!

He failed to realize that Shabbos and Hashem are always here, no matter how deep and dark the golus.

Yes, we can access the taharah of the parah adumah no matter how deep and dark the golus is. The parah adumah was brought outside the Mikdosh, and when are “outside,” we can access it. We can access it by doing mitzvos just because Hashem commanded…

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