Thursday, April 10, 2014


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR/ Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch


          Dear Rabbi,
            So it's Pesach again. Another Seder night where we meet up with distant relatives we almost forgot about, to tell a story that we aren't allowed to forget about. Is it really necessary more than 3000 years on to still commemorate our ancestors' freedom from slavery in Egypt? Can't we move on to more pressing and contemporary issues?

My friend, you are reading the wrong Haggada. The Seder is not just a memorial to events of the distant past - it is a dynamic process of freedom from the challenges of the present.
We are slaves. Slaves to our own inhibitions, fears, habits, cynicism and prejudices. These self-appointed pharaohs are layers of ego that prevent us from expressing our true inner self, from reaching our spiritual potential. Our souls are incarcerated in selfishness, laziness and indifference.
Pesach means "Passover." It is the season of liberation, when we pass over all these obstacles to inner freedom. On Pesach, we give our souls a chance to be expressed.
Reread the Haggada. Every time it says "Egypt" read "limitations." Replace the word "Pharaoh" with "Ego." And read it in the present tense:
"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt" =
"We are slaves to our egos, stuck in our limitations."
How do we free ourselves? By eating Matza. After eating Matza, the Israelites were able to run out of Egypt and follow G-d into the desert. Because Matza represents the suspension of ego. Unlike bread, which has body and taste, Matza is flat and tasteless - the bread of surrender.
Usually, we are scared to suspend our egos, because we think that we will lose ourselves. On Pesach we eat the Matza, we suspend our egos and find ourselves - our true selves.
This night is different from all other nights, because on this night we let ourselves go, we liberate our souls to follow G-d unashamed. We say, "I may not understand what this means, but I have a Jewish soul, and somehow that is the deepest layer of my identity."
That soul is the innocent child within us is waiting to be free. This Pesach, let's allow that child to sing:
Ma Nishtana Halayla Hazeh...

Rabbi Aron Moss (Sydney, Australia)

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita, the Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn NY, explains that whenever a portion from the Torah that discusses any of the holidays is read, a certain level of the unique spiritual of blessing endemic to the holiday mentioned becomes available.
During the prayers of each holiday we pray,”והשיאנו ה' אלקינו את ברכת מועדיך – Load us up, Hashem, our G-d, with the blessings of Your holiday.” Each holiday brings with it unique spiritual blessing and specific components of Divine Service that one can achieve. When a weekly Shabbos Torah reading includes a discussion about a holiday, a “taste” of that holiday’s blessing is spiritually palpable.[1]
This year parshas Achrei Mos is read on Shabbas Hagadol. The first section of the parsha includes a detailed discussion about the special service performed by the High Priest on Yom Kippur. Therefore, incorporated into this Shabbos is a ‘taste’ of the holiness of Yom Kippur. In a sense, this year the great holiday of Pesach is preceded by the spiritual sanctity of Yom Kippur.

 An important component of the service performed by the High Priest on Yom Kippur included the offering of the goat that was sent as the Azazel. The verse states[2], “ומאת עדת בני ישראל יקח שני שעירי עזים לחטאת  - And from the congregation of the B’nai Yisroel you shall take two male goats as a sin offering.” The Mishna[3] states that the two goats had to be identical in color, height and value, and had to be purchased simultaneously.
On Yom Kippur the two goats were brought before the High Priest. As the identical goats stood side by side, the High Priest drew lots. From that moment onward, their paths diverged drastically. One was designated laHashem, as a sin-offering on the Altar, while the other was sent laAzazel, to be cast off a steep cliff in the wilderness of the desert.
While the goat being sent to the wilderness stood in the sanctuary, the other goat was slaughtered and its blood collected in a vessel. The vessel was transported into the inner sanctuary (the Holy of Holies) where the blood was sprinkled between the poles of the Holy Ark, on the paroches[4], and on the Golden Altar. The remainder of the goat was burnt outside of the camp.
Soon after, a designated individual led the other goat out of the Temple and into the desert. They walked for a distance, stopping at pre-arranged rest stops along the way. When they finally arrived at the top of the Azazel cliff, the goat was turned around to face the other direction. Then, with a swift and heavy push, the goat was thrust off the cliff. The Mishna notes that by the time the goat was half way down the mountain it was nothing more than a mess of rolling limbs, blood, and guts.
Although the meaning and depth behind the Azazel offering are beyond the scope of this essay, suffice it to say that the Rambam (Maimonides) explains the Azazel as a bribery given to the Evil Inclination in exchange for forgiveness and atonement.[5]

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l makes a poignant observation: If we could probe into the mind of the goat designated as the Azazel we would notice his joy at thinking that he had gotten the better end of the deal. As he stands in the sanctuary waiting to be taken for a stroll in the desert, he observes the ritual slaughter of his peer followed by the catching and sprinkling of his blood. With a haughty smugness he thinks to himself, “Look at the difference between us! He may have been offered on the Holy Altar as a sacrifice before G-d, but he is dead. I, on the other hand, am alive and well.”
As they began their trek through the desert, the goat’s joy mounted as he departed from among the masses of people in the noisy Temple. At each juncture of their trek they stopped and rested before continuing.
When they finally reached the summit of the cliff, the goat truly felt majestic. He could see Jerusalem in the distance and the vast desert surrounding him. As he was turned to face the other direction he continued to rejoice. But a moment later, the goat was tumbling down the mountain in a hundred pieces, dying in a most vile manner.
If somehow we could ask the Azazel-goat afterwards who had gotten the better end of the deal, he would unquestionably point to his friend. All along it seemed that his friend suffered a horrible fate, but at the end of the day his friend had died for the most worthy cause, serving as atonement for the entire Jewish Nation. The Azazel however, had died a hideous death for the sake of pacification of the evil forces of the world.   
On Yom Kippur the lesson of the goats is particularly important. Every individual begins life with certain similarities. But then we each have decisions to make and paths to choose. Often one path seems wrought with sacrifice and pain - the other blissful and serene.
We're often plagued with questions: Why give up pleasures? Why restrain ourselves? Why not get all that we can out of life?
But any intellectually thinking person understands that it's the struggles and sacrifices of life which reveal and build inner strength. The easy path is never the fulfilling one. That which seems so tempting and easy is often catastrophic. The path of least resistance does not lead to the inner sanctum of internal fulfillment and holiness.
On Yom Kippur one looks beyond, through the illusions which characterize this world. It is a day when we pay heed to the underlying truths and reflect upon the path we have chosen to follow.
The Azazel-goat was the greatest victim of his own illusions. But there are many people who live their lives in the same manner, with false illusions and mistaken ideologies. They look at those “poor souls” who live a life of Torah and mitzvos with the rigid demands and the yoke that it places on its adherents.
King David stated[6]: “Taste and see that G-d is good.” To those who counter that living a life of Torah seems to be a miserable and deprived experience we have one answer, “Try it! Live a Torah lifestyle for some time and you will see that it is indeed a sublime and meaningful experience. Witness the true joy that those who sincerely and properly live a Torah lifestyle feel. Then see if it’s bitter and painful or internally rewarding and fulfilling.

The holiday of Pesach is dubbed the holiday of our freedom, “זמן חרותינו. To an outsider this may seem to be a ridiculous title for this particular holiday. The weeks prior to Pesach are an extremely busy time for Torah Jews. Countless hours are spent cleaning one’s home. The kitchen must be koshered and all chometz food must be consumed or prepared to be sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday.
When we finally sit down to the regal and majestic Seder there are myriad laws and a rigid order that must be punctiliously followed. One must be scrupulous to consume the proper amounts of matzoh, marror, and wine. There is a mitzvah to recount the haggadah in as much detail as possible, yet one must be conscientious of the time in order to consume the afikomen before midnight.[7]
With all of these vast responsibilities, deadlines, and laws that must be meticulously followed one can surely wonder why this holiday is called the holiday of our freedom?
The answer to this question is dependent on how one defines freedom.
Irving Bunim, in his commentary on Pirkei Avos, quotes the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore’s analogy for human freedom: “I have on my table a violin string. It is free… But it is not free to do what a violin string is supposed to do – to produce music. So I take it, fix it in my violin, and tighten it until it is taut. Only then is it free to be a violin string.” Commenting on that passage, Irving Bunim writes: “An uncommitted life, free of any higher goals and responsibilities, brings a bondage worse than slavery.”
If one conceptualizes freedom as anarchy, lawlessness, and the ability to do whatever one chooses, then indeed the holiday of Pesach is not a holiday of freedom at all. But if freedom refers to the ability to connect with one’s essence and true self, the ability to transcend one’s ego and its limitations, then Pesach is truly the holiday of freedom. That notion of freedom can only be achieved through discipline and obedience. It requires certain measure of forfeiture of the pleasures and indulgences of the physical world. It takes a tremendous amount of work and effort to overcome one’s physical drives which steer him away from his true essence and from becoming who he has the potential to become.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski relates[8] that a recovered drug attic once quipped to his father during the Seder: “How can you say that you were a slave? You don’t know what it means to be a slave, but I do. When I was addicted to drugs, I lost every remnant of freedom. Drugs were my master, and I did everything I had to do for them.”
Dr. Twersky continues, “Narcotics are not the only master to which a person may fall subject. Anyone who cannot control his actions has become enslaved. Many people who smoke cigarettes know that they are lethal and would like to stop smoking but are unable to do so, and they have become slaves to cigarettes. A person who cannot stop drinking has become a slave to alcohol. A person who cannot control his anger has become a slave to his rage. Someone who cannot control his eating is likewise enslaved, as is someone whose indolence makes it impossible to act swiftly and properly…When a person pursues tranquility and pleasure as a primary goal, he may become enslaved by these, and may not be able to free himself to do the things he knows he should do.
“A human being should pride himself on being free. Slavery is abhorrent even when it is not cruel, because it deprives a person of being free and making his choices in life.”  

An outsider may view the Pesach holiday and the weeks before it as a time of slavery. In fact, this is the complaint of the wicked son when he asks, “מה העבודה הזאת לכם - What is the work for you?” The wicked son cannot fathom that one would celebrate a holiday of freedom by expending so much effort and adhering to so many laws.
Our response to the wicked son is that he would never have been redeemed. Perhaps he may have somehow merited physical redemption and would have been able to leave the confines of Egypt and escape physical servitude. However, with his attitude, he would never have achieved the level of internal freedom that the Jewish People achieved at the time of the exodus. The wicked son is doomed to forever remaining a slave to his whims, desires, premonitions, and nature.
This is similar to the statement that is mentioned prior in the haggadah, “Had G-d not taken us out of Egypt, then we, and our children, and our children’s children, would still be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Although perhaps at some point in the future the Jews would have been able to escape physical servitude, they would have been lost in the oblivion of psychological and mental exile. They could never have developed into the Chosen People who possess the ability to become internally free. 
Perhaps, when we state that we blunt the teeth of the wicked son it is to symbolize that we seek to remove his teeth which help him consume food. In order to achieve true freedom a certain measure of sacrifice and withdrawal is necessary. We blunt his teeth to restrain his involvement with food and overindulgence in the pleasures of this world. Only then do we have a hope of guiding the wicked son toward repentance and the attainment of true freedom.   

The Shabbos prior to Pesach is called “Shabbos Hagadol- the great Shabbos”.[9] The Shabbos prior to Pesach is the anniversary of the Jewish People’s first real demonstration of their unyielding will to be the Servants and People of G-d. Overcoming one’s nature transforms a person into a person of “גדולה - greatness.” When the Jews bravely demonstrated their sole obedience to G-d, the real process of liberation began.

Two goats stand side-by-side on Yom Kippur. The Azazel scoffs at his peer and mockingly laughs at the sacrifice he made.
Two sons sit together at the seder. The wicked son scoffs at his wise brother and derides his efforts at attaining freedom.
But he who laughs last, laughs best!

“You shall take two goats as a sin offering.”
“An uncommitted life… a bondage worse than slavery.”

There are two other correlations between Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder. Firstly, they are the only two times during the year when the custom is for married men to don a kittel. Secondly, it is the only two times that the mantra of the Jewish people in exile- “לשנה הבאה בירושלים - Next year in Jerusalem” – is officially stated as part of the liturgy of prayers. [On Yom Kippur we recite the refrain after concluding the entire service of the day; on Pesach we recite it at the conclusion of the seder.]
It seems that it is particularly at these two junctures that the pain of the exile becomes overbearing. At the conclusion of the inspiring Yom Kippur service when we have spent the day immersed in prayer and imploring G-d for forgiveness, we leave with an invigorated feeling. Yet, it is then that we recognize the void of not having a Temple where the glorious and unique Yom Kippur service could be performed by the High priest. As we say in the Mussaf service of Yom Kippur in which we when we recount the service of the High Priest, “Ashrei Ayin Ra’asah Kol Eileh, HaLo L’Mishma Ozen Da’avah Nafsheinu- ‘happy is the eye that saw all these things; to hear of them pains our soul.”
At the conclusion of the Pesach seder too, when we have joyfully fulfilled all the special mitzvos and obligations of the night, we realize that our seder was remiss because we were not able to offer and partake of the Korbon Pesach. Despite all that we have accomplished during this exalted evening, we were unable to fulfill one of the central mitzvos of the night.[10]
May we merit - this year - the fulfillment of our prayer that the Temple be rebuilt so that next year we will indeed partake in the special Pesach sacrifices at our sedarim.

לשנה הבאה בירושלים" - Next year in Jerusalem”

[1] Heard from Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, the Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim, Queens, NY.
[2] 16:5
[3] Yoma 6:1
[4] the curtain separating between the ‘Holy’ (outer sanctuary) and the ‘Holy of Holies’ (inner sanctuary)
[5] See Ramban who vociferously challenges the Rambam’s explanation.
[6] Tehillim 34:9
[7] Vilna Gaon is purported to have said that he counted 64 mitzvos that are fulfilled during the Seder.
[8] In his book, “Lights Along the Way”
[9] See Tur at the beginning of his discussion of the laws of Pesach (Siman 430)

[10] Truthfully, at the conclusion of the Succos holiday we recite a special prayer requesting that ‘next year we merit sitting in the great Succah of the leviathan’. At that point we also recite the nostalgic refrain. However, that prayer is clearly one of hope for the advent of Moshiach.


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