We just recently completed observing the eight-day Yom Tov of Pesach, which celebrated our freedom – geulah – from Mitzrayim. After many generations of subjugation under a depraved nation, Hakadosh Boruch Hu heard the cries of pain and intense tefillos of our forefathers and mothers, and brought about our miraculous deliverance. From there, we were led though the Yam Suf and the midbar, reaching great heights, attaining prodigious achievements, and overcoming disasters of our making and enormous tragedy. Finally, with our shared destiny, we entered the Land of Israel as a nation, bound to one another.
But there is more to Pesach than that; the Yom Tov and the freedom that we celebrate are understood on several levels, each deeper than the other. The Ramchal, (Maamar Hachochmah, Derech Hashem) for example, understands the chag hageulah as a redemption from a life of chumriyus, literally servitude to the physical aspects of life, commonly referred to as materialism.
With the onset of Pesach, we search for and destroy any vestige of chometz, for it represents chumriyus, the materialism of life, as it is comprised of basic flour and water that have been enhanced. Since the geulah that we celebrate is freedom from servitude to materialism, we banish chometz from our lives for the period of the chag.
We celebrate the Yom Tov with matzah and recite the Haggadah over matzah, for it represents the happier and more fulfilling life, free from chumriyus. For the days of Pesach, we abstain from the food that is rooted in the yeitzer hora and only partake of that which is rooted in the yeitzer tov. We commemorate our freedom from Mitzrayim and the enhanced lives we were able to lead, unconstrained by servitude to chumriyus and evil, and free to live enhanced lives seeking spiritual fulfillment as guided by the yeitzer tov. The kedusha this adds to our lives remains with us the entire year, if we prove worthy.
That pursuit didn’t end with Havdolah on Thursday night for those of us in chutz la’aretz and Wednesday night for those in Eretz Yisroel. In fact, it continues until Shavuos with Kabbolas HaTorah. The Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachayei (Vayikra 23:36) write that the days of Sefirah between Pesach and Shavuos are sort of like the days of Chol Hamoed between the first and last days of a chag. And we wonder what that means.
A hint to this can be derived from the parshiyos of Tazria and Metzora, which serve as a bridge between Pesach and Sefirah. These two parshiyos, which we lain this Shabbos, discuss the affliction of tzora’as and the necessity to remove the afflicted person from among the community, placing him in isolation for weekly periods as he recovers from the Divine affliction.
The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:1) teaches that tzora’as is brought on by engagement in any one of seven anti-social acts: hubris eyes, a tongue that speaks falsehood, hands that spill innocent blood, a heart that plots bad thoughts, feet that run to do evil, a liar/one who testifies falsely, and, the worst of them all, someone who causes arguments to break out between people. This is accomplished through spreading defamation and lies, motzie sheim ra and lashon hora. Thus, the Torah refers to the person with tzora’as as a “metzora,” for the word is formulated from the words motzie sheim ra.
A person who speaks lashon hora and engages in other anti-social behaviors that cause people to quarrel is punished with tzora’as. Let us offer an explanation.
In this world, there are four elementary forms, each one on a higher level than the one below it. They are domeim, tzomei’ach, chai and medaber, the inert, such as stone and dirt; that which grows, such as grass and trees; that which is alive, such as animals; and, above them all, man, who is granted the gift of speech.
The ability to speak allows us to effectively communicate with each other. With speech, we can learn, grow, develop, study Torah, engage in mitzvos, and be part of a cohesive social fabric. We can teach other people, help others, and offer them words of support when they are down.
Targum Onkelos famously writes that the words used by the posuk in Parshas Bereishis to state that man was alive, “Vayehi adam lenefesh chaya,” indicate that “vehavas b’adam ruach memalela,” man was given the power of speech. The ability to speak gave man his spirit and life.
The essence of life is the ability to connect with others – the experience of joining others, interacting with them, and using words to convey emotion. The breath invested into each word is the stuff of life itself.
Man was bestowed with the gift of speech to enable him to live an exalted life, connected with Hashem and Klal Yisroel. One who follows his yeitzer tov uses speech to earn eternal life and blessings. Through the power of speech, the enslaved Jews in Mitzrayim were able to shout out to Hashem and earn their salvation. Through proclaiming “naaseh v’nishma” at Har Sinai, we were granted peoplehood and the Torah. Through studying the Torah, we rose to unprecedented levels of holiness and perfection in creation.
Our geulah from the chumriyus and evil of Mitzrayim brought us to those levels.
We were freed from Mitzrayim, led through the dried bed of the Yam Suf, and received the Torah when we were united, k’ish echod beleiv echod, and all of Klal Yisroel became areivim zeh bozeh, interconnected. Yisroel v’Oraisa v’Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu. We are connected to each other, to the Torah, and to Hashem, as one.
But people who are under the spell of the yeitzer hora and live lives of chumriyus betray the gift of speech and use it to cause machlokes and separation of people from each other. They use what could be the greatest gift to bring about evil and dissention, disconnecting people from each other.
Thus, as we enter this new period of Chol Hamoed and seek to grasp onto the levels of kedusha and simcha that we reached on Yom Tov, study the parshiyos of tzoraas, which admonish us to stay in the righteous lane we hewed through the exalted days of Pesach, as we eschewed chometz and partook of matzah, following its message daily.
Those who abstain from the chomer of man and chumriyus of life are saved from pettiness and jealousy. People who live lives of matzah are guided by their yeitzer tov, are freed from superficial distractions, and are able to love all.
Humans are comprised of chomer and tzurah. Chomer is the physical and mundane aspects of man, while tzurah is the spiritual. The authentic core of a person is his tzurah, his depth and spirituality, which are coated by the outer layer of chomer. A person who is caught up with his chomer is wrapped up with the superficial and is missing out on the greatness, essence and spirit of life.
A person of chomer, who lacks in tzurah, rejects unity, as he is shallow, with no appreciation for what lies at the root of everything. He becomes a baal lashon hora, a hate-monger, resenting other people’s success and popularity. He cannot live comfortably with others, because other people’s possessions arouse envy in him. He is unable to be with them. Rejecting unity and suffering his own punishment, he is forced to sit alone.
Tzora’as forces the person consumed with exterior impressions to confront physical imperfections that are brought on by his spiritual inadequacies, as he ponders the essence of his existence.
The posuk in Bereishes (2:18) states, “Lo tov heyos ha’adam levado.” As Hashem was creating the world, He said that it is not good for man to be alone and He fashioned a partner for him. Loneliness is not healthy. Man must be involved with other people and not be enveloped in himself without social contact.
Those who engage in lashon hora, hotza’as sheim ra and rechilus divide people, bringing on loneliness and ill feelings. The punishment fits the crime, as such a person is left in solitary confinement.
A person of tzurah, arvus and ruach memalela feels the soul of another.
Good people are generally happy when with other people. They value being part of a whole. When people make a simcha, they want many people to be there with them. No matter how many people are in attendance, each one of them brings added joy. We are all one, big, happy family, and the holier and more fulfilled we are, the more we feel that.
The more we are matzah Yidden, the easier it is for us to get along with others and the happier we are to help other people, offering words of support, chizuk and nichum when appropriate, and always finding nice and positive comments to share with people when engaging in conversation.
The more a person is a chometz Yid, beholden to his chomer and chumriyus, the more he is controlled by his yeitzer hora, which leads him to put people down and speak lashon hora to deprive his victims of their self-worth and the respect others have for them. Instead of using his words to strengthen people and cause them to smile, he demeans and saddens them.
The lessons of Pesach and matzah are meant to change and improve us so that we can maintain the elevated lives of Yom Tov throughout the year. I don’t know anybody who dislikes Yom Tov and waits for the hallowed period to end so they can return to work and the rat race. I’d venture to say that most people are like me, saddened when Yom Tov ends, the Pesach dishes are put back into storage, and mundane work beckons.
Through maintaining the refinement we reached by banishing chometz from our homes, hearts and neshamos, and becoming matzah Yidden connected to our tzurah, we can keep alive the spirit of Yom Tov through these days of Sefirah – Chol Hamoed. A valid test of where we are holding is by judging our social relationships. If we aren’t jealous or judgmental, and are able to celebrate the achievements of others, we can know that our chomer and chumriyus are in check.
Hopefully, while on the Yom Tov break we tuned out from the goings-on in the world, we have quickly been reminded that there is much darkness in our world today and much evil as well. Most people are afraid to confront the evil that has overcome the social fabric of this country since the election of Joe Biden and the administration he brought in to lead this country. People are even afraid to publicly express the moral foundations that Yiddishkeit and, lehavdil, this country are built on.
We see the forces of evil, pure evil, appearing to be on the ascendance. We see secret intelligence giving Russia much more credit than the official Western government spokesmen and media analysts. We see Iran, Saudi Arabia and China coming together for no good. We see the anti-religious forces in Artzeinu Hakedosha gaining as they gird for another round against the religious and right-wing forces. We see the United States leadership tottering and the economy teetering. Everything everywhere seems radically off kilter. Nothing seems to be going correctly and we become fearful.
The revelation of the Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachayei that these days of Sefirah serve as a Chol Hamoed bridge between Pesach and Shavuos would also indicate that the powers that were evident during the original redemption from Mitzrayim and again from the 15th through the 22nd of Nissan are still in effect now. If we can remain free from the shibud to our chomer and to chumriyus, and we use our kochos to engage in Torah, tefillah and kedusha, we can merit to be fully redeemed speedily in our day.
The world seems to be hurtling towards a great upheaval. But it doesn’t have to be catastrophic as many fear. Let us use the gifts of Pesach and sefirah to make it instead the coming of Moshiach and the longed-for geulah.