How are you enjoying your Pesach shopping? As we get closer to Yom Tov, it can get really pressurized. There is so much to buy and so little time to do it. Sometimes it feels like there is no end to the trips we make to the various stores. And the traffic. Oy that traffic! In the heavily populated Jewish neighborhoods, the main streets can be a virtual parking lot. And once you reach the stores, it’s hard to find a parking space, so you’re forced to circle the entire lot numerous times until you finally find one. Then you must look for a shopping cart. And once you’re in the crowded store, it can take a while to get from one aisle to the next. Finally, when you think you’ve covered the entire shopping list, your phone rings with numerous additions to be bought. And after you’re finally done, you must wait on a long line before checking out. Your nerves are now really frazzled, and by the time you get home, you’re a total wreck.
Some people are a bundle of nerves before they even start shopping. It reminds me of the following scene. One morning, right after davening, I’m doing some Pesach shopping in one of the local stores when I spot an old friend of mine up ahead of me.
“Mendel,” I call out, but he doesn’t hear me and moves on. Eager to chap a shmooze, I hurry after him and call out to him again. But again, it seems that he doesn’t hear me. Now he turns the corner and into another aisle. Is he ignoring me? I finally catch up to him and say cheerfully, “Mendel, good morning. How’s it going?”
“Shhh! I can’t talk now. I’m in a rush,” he whispers.
“Why are you whispering?” I ask.
“Because I’m in a rush and I can’t stop to shmooze with anyone,” he says nervously.
“Hey, there’s your brother, Shia,” I say.
“No! Please don’t call him here. I don’t want to talk to him!”
“You’re not talking to your brother?”
“Of course I talk to him…but not now!”
“Mendel, what’s gotten into you?”
“I’m just nervous. That’s all. Plain and simple Pesach shopping jitters. I have a whole bunch of stops to make. If I take too long here, then by the time I reach the next shopping center, it will be hard to find a parking space, and then a shopping cart, and then the stores will be crowded, and I just can’t take it!”
“Whoa,” I say. “Stop right there. Boruch Hashem for such problems.”
“Yes, boruch Hashem. Let us count our blessings. Boruch Hashem we are Yidden. And boruch Hashem that we have such a Yom Tov. And boruch Hashem for the constant trips to the store. Each and every one of them is a great mitzvah, for we are preparing for days to serve Hashem and to glorify His name. And when you are also preparing for guests to enhance their Yom Tov, the mitzvos are multiplied tenfold.”
“But what about the traffic? It is so irritating.”
“Yes, it can be. No one despises traffic more than me. But how about reframing the picture and looking at it differently. How do you think the Ribono Shel Olam looks at all of this? He is smiling down upon His children. There is no question about it. He is so satisfied with the heilige hustle and bustle of people hurrying in all directions, preoccupied with creating a beautiful atmosphere for the upcoming heilige days.”
“And the crowds? Instead of finding them annoying, why not pause a bit and try enjoying them? Pay attention to what is really going on. Each and every individual is a holy Jew, busily fulfilling the ratzon Hashem. Think about it. There was a time not so long ago when there weren’t such large crowds rushing to celebrate Yom Tov. In fact, that there was anyone left to celebrate was noteworthy. So many of our people were murdered by the Nazis, ym”sh, and the survivors were broken and poor, satisfied to observe Yom Tov with the simplest basic foods. And the lion’s share of our nation is so alienated from Yiddishkeit that they have no idea what Pesach is all about.
“A number of years ago, I ran into an elderly Jewish gentleman who wanted to show that he was Jewish. ‘Isn’t Passover coming up pretty soon?’ he asked me. Actually, it wasn’t. We were two weeks past it. We must thank the Borei Olam that many more people are vigorously preparing for Yom Tov. Bechasdei Hashem, our nation is on the rise and Torah chinuch has created these masses following faithfully in the ways of their ancestors. Like with the Yidden of Mitzrayim, there is a sense of chipazon, a feeling of haste, as the day of geulah arrives. Take it all in and shep nachas.
“Imagine what things must have been like when many millions of Yidden ascended to Yerushalayim to be oleh regel and bring the Korban Pesach. They weren’t celebrating Pesach in the comfort of their own homes, but were travelers to a place not their own. Once, towards the end of the era of Bayis Sheini, Agripas Hamelech wanted some idea of the size of the Jewish populace, so he instructed the kohein gadol to count the Pesach sacrifices. He counted 1,200,000 korbanos, and each one had more than ten people partaking of it (Pesochim 64b). Imagine how crowded Yerushalayim must have been at the time.
“As a matter of fact, in the siddur of Rav Yaakov Emden, we find a firsthand account of what went on in Yerushalayim right before Pesach as written by a Roman commissioner who was stationed there during the Bayis Sheini era. He writes: ‘When the first of the month that they call Nissan arrives, messengers are sent out by the edict of the king and the judges to all the surrounding areas of Yerushalayim with the following announcement: Anyone possessing sheep and cattle should hurry to bring it so that those who make the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim will have enough for their korbanos and their regular meals, for the number of people is great. All of the cattle dealers would come and pass their cattle through a stream next to Yerushalayim to cleanse them of any dirt. They said that this is what Shlomo Hamelech meant when he said, ‘Like a well numbered flock that comes up from the washing’ (Shir Hashirim 4:2).
“‘When the flocks reached the mountains surrounding Yerushalayim, there was such an abundance of sheep that the usually green mountains turned completely white because of the color of their wool. On the tenth of Nissan, everyone went out to buy their sheep, as they had to be sacrificed on the fourteenth. There is a custom amongst the Jews that when they go out to perform the service of acquiring the animal, no one would say to his friend, ‘Come here,’ or, ‘Let me go ahead of you.’ Even if one was as dignified as Dovid Hamelech or Shlomo Hamelech, he would not ask for preferential treatment. I asked the kohanim, ‘Is this the proper way of conduct? Isn’t it respectful to show preference for those who deserve it?’ They answered that this is to show that when we stand before Hashem in preparation for His service, everyone is equal.’ There is no higher or lower status in front of the Shechinah. All are humbled before him. This was the scene in days of old, but the scenes of the rushing crowds of Yidden today are incredible in their own right. We should not look at each other as a nuisance or annoyance, but rather as a blessing and something to be proud of.”
Talking about Pesach shopping, I do a significant part of it away from the crowds and away from traffic. It is when I pick up the most important part of the items for Yom Tov, and to do it, I do not even have to leave my house. I’m not talking about the entire shopping. This is done between the walls of my private study: acquiring spiritual merchandise for the Yom Tov, and delving into the halachos and hashkafos of the upcoming days.
This is really what the Torah means when it says, “You shall perform this service in this month” (Shemos 13:5). The actual sacrifice of the Pesach and the Seder took place within one twenty-four-hour period. What, then, is meant by the service of an entire month? It is the preparation for imbibing the ruchniyus of the Yom Tov. The new clothing acquired and the new tasty recipes tried are all wonderful to enhance the festival, but without the spiritual arrangements beforehand, these are all mere outer trappings, a body without a soul. More important than tasty dishes are the ideas and hashkafos that we must internalize for ourselves so that we may convey them to our children and grandchildren. Of course, different people do it differently, each according to one’s level, but all it takes is a couple of Haggados with commentaries or a few seforim on the moadim and you’re in business. There are new Haggados coming out every year, each with its own derech. The last I heard a couple of years ago, there were over two thousand Haggados out there, so there are a lot of shopping aisles to choose from. Here is a sampler of a flavorful item we picked up this year.
Rabbon Gamliel would say: “Whoever does not explain the following three things at the Pesach festival does not fulfill his duty: Pesach, matzoh and maror.” Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that we usually do not put an emphasis on the reasons for a mitzvah, because, after all of the rationale, we can’t explain all of the particulars of the commandment. For example, the reason for tefillin is to subjugate our hearts and minds to Hashem (Tur, Shulchan Aruch), but that doesn’t explain why they must be black or perfectly squared. Yet, here, with the mitzvos of Pesach, we are required to give reasons, because even though we won’t fully understand all of the intricacies of the mitzvos, the reasons will help deepen our emunah in Hashem.
The Korban Pesach reminds us that while Hashem punished the Mitzriyim with makkas bechoros, He skipped over the houses of the Yidden. Even if there was a Jewish home between two Egyptian homes, it was spared the agony. There is much tragedy in the world on a daily basis. We take it for granted that if we leave our homes in the morning for work, we will make it back safely in the evening. That is the way it should be. But it is only that way because Hashem watches over us and makes sure that the difficulties skip over us. When we say Modim in our tefillah, it is something we should thank Hashem for.
Matzoh teaches us that when we are facing difficulties and challenges, we should maintain our faith in Hashem. Hakadosh Boruch Hu can bring a yeshuah with the blink of an eye. That is the way it was in Mitzrayim. When the time of redemption finally came, the Yidden didn’t even have time to finish baking their bread.
Never give up hope. Throw upon Hashem your burden and He will sustain you.
Maror teaches us that as long as we are in golus, we can never be confident of our standing here. Even if we are living in a malchus of chesed, our eyes must be turned only to Hashem. When the Yidden first arrived in Mitzrayim, they were welcomed by Paroh and treated very respectfully. The Mitzriyim owed Yosef everything for what he did for them. Yet, when the Yidden became too comfortable in Egypt, all of this changed. “A new king arose over Mitzrayim who did not know of Yosef” (Shemos 1:8). “They embittered their lives with hard work” (ibid. 14). While we are grateful for the liberties we enjoy in this great land of America, we shouldn’t lose sight of Hashem, who provides us with all of this (Haggadah Arzei Halevanon).
There are many more of these gems in the shopping aisles of the various seforim stores. So, enjoy your Pesach shopping…both in gashmiyus and in ruchniyus.