On Erev Shabbos Hagodol, a friend of mine, Aharon (name changed), called his elderly aunt to wish her gut Shabbos. His aunt, who is over ninety years old, is a survivor of Auschwitz and other labor and death camps. She told her nephew, “I am boruch Hashem making Pesach again this year. I am working so hard to clean the house and get the house ready for Pesach. It is so hard…” My friend smilingly told her, “But Tante, remember, all of the hard work is to give nachas to Hashem.” His Tante replied, “But Aharon, of course! I always talk directly to Hashem and tell Him that all that I am doing is only for Him!!”
When my friend told this story to me, it strengthened a feeling that was percolating inside of me during these hectic pre-Pesach days. As I look around, driving around town, I watch the feverish preparations in full swing. Garbage cans are overflowing, as people meticulously clean their houses before Pesach. Car cleaning businesses are thriving, as Yidden spend money so that they have a chometz-free car. Grocery aisles are packed, as Yidden spend their hard-earned money buying items lekavod Yom Tov. The matzah bakeries are working at full capacity, as Yidden take such care to bake their matzos quickly, with an alacrity and hislahavus born of kedusha.
Why are we doing all of this? When we break it down and stop our frenzied running to dwell on it momentarily, we will all come to the same conclusion. The answer is to create a nachas ruach for Hashem. Because Hashem commanded us. That’s it.
Would anyone else in the world, or any other nation in the world, go to such great lengths to bake a cracker – harvesting wheat many months earlier, watching and protecting it with trepidation to make sure that it does not come into contact with the most minimal moisture, and then pouring a small amount of water onto it and working with the dough quickly, with an eye on the clock to ensure that the process from start to finish doesn’t exceed eighteen minutes? Bake it quickly in a wood burning oven and then take out the half-burnt product that is so hard to digest, eat it for eight days straight, and pay some $30 a pound for it?
It is only because we want to create a nachas ruach for Hashem that we so painstakingly do all of this.
BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL
Stop for a second and think about it. In this generation, a generation of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Fake News and plain cynicism all around, temimusdige Yidden are spending so much time, effort and money on Pesach just to create a nachas ruach for Hashem.
Look at the tzedokah giving in advance of Pesach, the Kimcha DePischa to ensure that every Yid feels like a king at his Seder table.
I am not sure if we properly appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the Jewish nation on Pesach or, for that matter, at any other time of the year.
This past Shabbos, at seudah shlishis, I had the privilege to hear a wonderful shmuess given by a friend, Rabbi Nosson Nussbaum. He told a story that made a deep impression on me. He said that a friend of his from Boro Park was once talking to a non-Jewish business acquaintance. The non-Jew asked him, “Is it true that Orthodox Jews spend the entire day of Yom Kippur in the synagogue, praying and fasting?” His friend, who happens to daven in a shul that has a break for 2-3 hours on Yom Kippur, said, “Yes, most Orthodox Jews spend the entire day at the synagogue, but my synagogue has a break, during which one can go home and rest or study during that time.
“C’mon,” the gentile said, “I am sure that everyone who goes home at least sneaks a coffee?”
Go explain to a non-Jew what Yom Kippur is! Go explain how even the frum Jew who is not so connected to Hashem would never eat on Yom Kippur. Eating on Yom Kippur?!
Sometimes, we don’t recognize our beauty. The posuk in Shir Hashirim that we will lain on Pesach says, “Shechora ani v’naava – I am black but I am beautiful.” Even Yidden who may appear to some of us as black, sullied by sin, are so beautiful. Just look at how they conduct themselves on Pesach and Yom Kippur.
RECOGNIZING THE “SIMPLE” GREATNESS IN OUR MIDST
When we will say Hallel this Pesach, the first posuk we will recite is, “Hallelukah halelu avdei Hashem – Praise Hashem, give praise you servants of Hashem.” Is being a slave a good thing? Is being a servant something that we should be proud of? We know how bad slavery is.
The answer, of course, is that it depends to whom you are subservient. What we celebrate on Pesach is the fact that we are slaves to Hashem and not to Paroh.
I happen to live on a main avenue where I see people getting off the bus from New York. I see men who have awoken early get on the bus, go to Manhattan, spend the entire day working there, and commute home for a couple of hours, and then, a mere hour after their bus drops them off, I notice some of them learning with chavrusos in one of the local thriving botei medrash.
Stop and think about it for a second. These people are hitting the pavement, working extremely hard, have a bone jolting commute, and, after eating supper, greeting their wives and kids and perhaps doing a bit of homework with the children, are off to the bais medrash to learn Hashem’s Torah.
What are they working for? To pay s’char limud, to support a family whom they are being mechanech to be ovdei Hashem. They could allow themselves some time to relax and wind down, or engage in a bit of entertainment, but no, so many of them run off to the bais medrash to learn and immerse themselves in difficult sugyos.
And what about their wives? One could excuse a Jewish mother and wife who hasn’t seen her husband since he left the house to daven at 6 a.m. so that he could get on the bus to go to Manhattan while she is running the home front for wanting her husband to stay home once he finally returns at 7 p.m. But no. They are also avdei Hashem, and with love, they relinquish – and often encourage – their husbands so they can go learn Torah.
These heroic signs of “avdus,” of nachas ruach to Hashem, are in front of our noses, all the time, and sometimes we only focus on what we still have to improve.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t point out when improvement is necessary. This column often does that, but it is also important to overcome our natural tendency for cynicism to look at the broad picture. That picture of amcha is beautiful. It is an artful masterpiece. We just have to become better connoisseurs at appreciating beautiful art.
TELL HASHEM WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND THINKING
We should stop for a second and think or talk to Hashem like my friend’s 90-year-old aunt and tell Him, “Hashem, I am doing all of this to make a nachas ruach for You. Just like every child deep down wants nothing more than to make his Totty proud of him, so too, we, Yidden, in our essence, want nothing more than to make You proud of us.”
I am reminded of a beautiful thought that the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz once said on an Erev Pesach that fell out on Shabbos. While at the Shabbos seudah, he said, “There is a very intriguing line in the Hoshanos that we say on Sukkos: ‘Hoshanah yosheves umamtenes ad kelos Shabbos – Sitting and waiting until the end of Shabbos.’ How do we propose to invoke divine mercy by asking Hashem to save us in the zechus that we are waiting for Shabbos to end? It is not a good thing to wait for Shabbos to end. We should want to prolong Shabbos, not impatiently await its end.”
He answered that this line was perhaps referring to a year when the Seder night is on Motzoei Shabbos. As much as we love Shabbos, we still can’t wait to sit at the Seder, eat matzah and drink the four kosos in honor of Hashem. We are only longing for Shabbos to be over so that we can create that nachas ruach for Hashem by performing the mitzvos of the Seder.
Especially today, in 2019, a time of such nisyonos, we must truly look at ourselves and at our community with a positive eye. We should look at the beauty of the avodah that we do on Pesach.
THE POWER OF PARENTS
There is, however, one more lesson that I learned from my friend’s ninety-year-old aunt. Look at how much she has been through in life. She was just a teenager when the Nazis came and killed her parents and most of her extended family. She was tortured and abused and suffered unspeakable horror.
After all that, she still remained with her emunah, and rebuilt, married and established a family. Now she is over ninety, widowed, but still clearing for Pesach with joy, despite the physical difficulty. Aside from the beauty of her actions, let us think for a second: How could a woman who has been through so much, who has suffered so much, continue to talk to Hashem, to love Hashem and serve Him with such devotion?
One of the reasons is because when she was a young girl in pre-war Europe, she experienced Pesach at her parents’ home. She imbibed the kedusha of the Seder, and the temimus and love with which her own parents prepared for Pesach and conducted the Seder. She absorbed the trepidation of Yom Kippur as a girl, the beauty of Shabbos as a girl. Even Hitler’s diabolical inferno could never extinguish that.
As parents and grandparents, we must be cognizant of how our Seder will be remembered by our children,and how our Shabbos will be remembered and absorbed by our children.
As we prepare for the Seder, let us on the one hand be so exceedingly proud and fortunate to be part of Am Yisroel, a nation like no other, which despite everything wants nothing more than to give Hashem nachas.
At the same time, let us also prepare properly for the Seder and, with simcha and in an atmosphere of joyous elevation, try to transmit that unique legacy to our children in a way that will be so deeply branded into their essence that even ninety years later, they will still be cleaning for Pesach and talking to Hashem as a child talks to one’s father.
Gut Yom Tov.