Maggid: A Blueprint For Self

11 04 2011

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Maggid: A Blueprint For SelfMagid begins with the words “Ha lachma anya, This is the bread of poverty.” In what sense is matza the bread of poverty?  The Maharal explains that matzah is a simple food. It contains only two ingredients: flour and water. We should approach Pesach with simplicity.  Simplicity implies bitul hayesh, self-nullification. Self-discovery entails going back to being ourselves, which is what liberation is about.  Animals have no ambition and no yearnings. This kind of passivity is our enemy. In our hearts we have a whole menagerie which keeps us from discovering ourselves. The more we focus on our failures and disappointments, the more paralyzed we become.

We have to believe in ourselves. A person can make a decision to improve himself and Hashem will help him. This is contingent on telling Hashem, “I am who I am. I want to approach You with simplicity. Help me.” Receiving this level of siyata d’shmaya at the seder is encapsulated in “Ha lachma anya,” our statement of simplicity. At the end of this hymn, we invite all those in need to join our seder.  Although it is only a ceremonial statement, it teaches us an important lesson. Our goal should be to imitate the ways of Hashem. The animal self is passive. The spiritual self is active and wants to give. That is why we begin Magid with a declaration of kindness.

We proceed to Mah Nishtana. One of the mystic names of Hashem is Mah, the one who brings forth questions. Mah Nishtana questions a series of contrasting pairs: chametz and matzah, dipping out of pain and dipping as a sign of freedom, reclining as kings and eating the bitter marror. Although we live lives that are in some ways paradoxical, we must search with open hearts and admit that sometimes we do not know.

We then recite Avadim Hayinu, which tells how we were enslaved to Pharoh. Pharoh comes from the root word paruah, wild. The same letters spell oref, the back of the neck, the source of involuntary motion. Pharoh took us to the world of subconscious, where rational thinking was irrelevant and where there were no moral choices to make.  In Kabala, galut mitzrayim is called the exile of daat because we did not know who we were and what we were meant to accomplish.

If Hashem had not redeemed us we would still be enslaved to everything Pharoh stood for. Mitzrayim comes from the root word metzar, narrow straits. Egypt was a wide open place with no moral strictures to hold a person down. In truth, there is nothing more constricting than a wide open place. The endless possibilities paralyze a person from pursuing a life of growth. When we left Egypt and received the Torah, the strictures of the Torah opened us up to a life of purpose.

The Maharal notes that the enslavement was a step towards redemption. We often do not discover who we are until we figure out who we are not and who we do not want to be. In Egypt, the Jews learned that they did not want to be Egyptians. They did not desire broadness that was really narrow, or freedom of thought that was really enslavement to the subconscious. This rejection made the Jews free, together with the inspiration that came from above.

We continue the Hagadah with a discussion of the four sons. The four sons live within each of us at different times in our life. There are four different levels of awareness. The wise sonasks, What are all these mitzvos? What do the paths look like? He wants to know how to get from where he is to where he wants to be. Chochma comes from the words koach mah, the potential that lies in essence, rather than how it can be used or how it feels. Ultimately we have to come to a level of not speaking. We have to look for a higher awareness and channel it. That is what makes someone a chacham.

The rasha asks, “What is this service to you?” He calls Judaism avodah (service) and not halacha (Jewish law) because he does not see himself as going from one place to another. He has no destination, but lives in the present. It seems senseless to him to burden himself with seeking. The difference between a tzaddik and a rasha is that while the rasha sees only the top of the mountain, the tzaddik sees the path. He is willing to live in the world of process. The rasha lives only in the world of product. People become reshaim by being reactive and losing themselves. They allow their emotions to control them.

The Hagadah says that you should “grind the teeth” of the rasha. Teeth break large pieces into smaller pieces. Similarly, reshaim take ideas that are grand and trivialize them into nothing. We answer him with “Ba’avur zeh.” These halachot are important because they redeemed us from Egypt. They transformed us from living a life of constraint to one of walking with Hashem. Judaism is not avodah. Halacha, from the root word ‘halach‘, to go, takes us where we want to be. We have to learn to silence the rasha within us.

The Tam says, “Mah zot? What is this?” According to the Zohar, zot is the Shechina. The Tam asks, “Where is Hashem?” He wants a religious experience without having to keep halacha. We answer, “B’yad chazakah…” Hashem displayed miracles and took us out of Egypt. However, he did all this because he wanted us to take it further. Tam also means straightforward. Yaakov was an “ish tam,” he was the same inside and outside. Our simple self tells Hashem, “All I really want is to know you.”

The fourth son does not know how to ask. In today’s society, most people are incapable or unwilling to ask about Hashem. The biggest enemy in kiruv is apathy. Telling about our personal experiences and what has given us meaning can kindle a spark within the hearts of our lost brethren.

Dosh/Sechita Demonstration Part II

6 04 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

Shabbat Scenarios: Dosh/Sechita DemonstrationsThe Torah prohibition of Dosh traces back to the times of the Mishkan when wheat kernels were separated from their external shells by threshing. The most common toldah (derivative) of Dosh is Sechita or Mefarek – extracting a liquid from a solid.

·         Can you milk a cow on Shabbat? This appears to be a classic case of sechita, squeezing the cow’s udder, a solid, so that milk can flow out. The Gemara limits sechita to gedulei karka (vegetation, which grew from the ground). However, the accepted view is that milking is prohibited on Shabbat, since a cow is sustained by vegetation. The son of the Rambam adds that the condition of gedulei karka only applies to the av melacha as it was done in the Mishkan, and not to the toldah of sechita.

·         Similarly, the view of the Magid Mishna is that extracting blood from humans who are also sustained by vegetation is prohibited. Therefore, blood transfusions should not be done on Shabbat, except when a person’s life is in danger.

·         Squeezing a liquid directly on to a solid so that the juice is completely absorbed into the food is permitted. Therefore, you can squeeze a lemon onto a slice of fish on Shabbat. Dousing the fish with copious amounts of juice so that the excess liquid pools around the plate is prohibited. The Gemara gives an example of milking a cow directly into a pail of oats which will be fed to animals. If the cow gives such an abundance of milk that the oats can no longer absorb it, it is prohibited.

·         Extracting liquid from grapes and olives, which were offered as libations in the Temple, is prohibited mi’doraita.

·         The Rabbis prohibited squeezing fruits that are commonly juiced such as strawberries and pomegranates.

·         Sucking the juice out of a fruit directly into your mouth is generally permitted. The exceptions are grapes and olives, which

are   prohibited mi’doraita. Although the Rama writes that there is room for leniency, it is best to avoid doing this.

Pesach Inspiration

5 04 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Pesach: 4 minutes of Inspiration

Our Rabbis teach us that Yaakov received the brachot from Yitzchak on the night of Pesach. Yitzchak specifically chose this time because on this night the heavenly vaults of blessing are open. On the outside we may appear like Esav, we may feel very far from Hashem, yet the night of Pesach gives us the strength to transform ourselves into Yaakov. We can tap into the profound, inherent, power of the Seder night and reach unimaginable levels.

Yitzchak gave Yaakov the blessing of hakol kol Yaakov, the power of expression. On this night, we can use our ability of speech to connect with Hashem.  In the Hagadah, we recite, “V’chol hamarbe l’saper.” The more we recount at the Seder night, the more uplifted we become. It is not only an opportunity to tell over the story of the Exodus, but a unique time to pray. In particular, since the Seder focuses primarily on the children, it is a night to daven for them and for future generations.

When Yaakov entered the chamber of Yitzchak, the fragrance of Gan Eden accompanied him. A vestige of this otherworldly scent returns to us on the evening of Pesach. Hashem descends to each of our seders. There is a custom to wear a kittel on this holy night. Like the Kohen Gadol who entered the Holies of Holies, we too can enter into an experience of Kodesh Kodoshim. This night, when Yaakov received the brachot, when the heavens are open, is an opportunity for each of us to soar to greater heights, no matter what our external trappings may be. It is a night when we can rededicate our voices to Torah and tefilah. We have the ability to ask Hashem for whatever our hearts truly desire. May we merit abundant blessings from above.

Parshat Tazria: Fresh Beginnings

1 04 2011

Based on Rabbi Hershel Reichman’s shiur  on Chassidut on

Parshat Tazriah: Fresh Beginnings

In his essay on Parshat Tazriah, the Shem MiShmuel cites a verse from Tehilim, “Achor v’kedem tzartani. You have created me back and front.” Rav Yochanan explains that this refers to two worlds, olam hazeh and olam habah. This world is kedem, the first world. The next world is achor, the final world. If a person lives his life in a way that gains him entrance from this world to the next, he has fulfilled his purpose. If he does not, he will need to answer for why he failed in his mission.

Olam hazeh is about overcoming challenges. It is the preparation for olam habah, the ultimate goal. Unfortunately many of us are under the influence of the non-Jewish world, which espouses the view that this world is the only world and that you should “enjoy life while you have it.” In reality, olam hazeh is finite. Its pleasures are nothing but a fleeting shadow. Our focus in this world should really be on acquiring eternity, the next world.

Life is comprised of struggles. It takes effort to make progress. The Shem Mishmuel notes  that beginnings are usually filled with excitement and enthusiasm. There is a special burst of energy at the start of a new school year, the early months of marriage, and the commencement of a new job. This is built into the human psyche. Our challenge is to maintain this spirit, not only at the outset, but throughout the process.

Hashem gave us two special days, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. The days of the week are olam hazeh, kedem, a preparation. Shabbat is olam habah, achor, the ultimate purpose.

Rosh Chodesh is chiddush, a new beginning. We do not concern ourselves with past failures and disappointments. We start afresh with renewed vigor and excitement. King David is the soul of Rosh Chodesh. The central point of his personality was teshuva, for with the power of repentance we can change and achieve greatness. On Rosh Chodesh, when the new moon appears, we re-experience the joy of renewal and teshuva.

Shabbat is the achor, the goal.  Shabbat envelops (makif) the entire week. It contains the energy of all the holidays. Rosh Chodesh is the kedem, the power of renewal and inspiration.

Zachor and shamor represent two aspects of Shabbat. Shamor is the kedem, the preparation for a higher level. Zachor is the achor, the energy of Shabbat. Shabbat contains the spark to begin anew, but it is also the ultimate goal and the resting place of the Jewish soul. The start of Shabbat is shamor, we depart from olam hazeh and ascend to a level of olam habah. Kiddush is zachor, when we soar to heights beyond where angels can reach. Shabbat is an intense otherworldly light.

Rosh Chodesh is this world. It tells us we can begin again. In Nissan, when the Jewish nation was reborn, Hashem commanded them, “Hachodesh hazeh lachem.” It was the first mitzva given to a comatose nation sunk in the forty nine levels of impurity. It was the impetus that transformed them into a fiery ball of spiritual energy willing to take the paschal lamb at the risk of death and following Hashem into a barren desert.

When we commemorate Rosh Chodesh Nissan we re-experience tremendous renewal. Adam was created on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. On the verse, “Vayehi adam l’nefesh chaya, He breathed into man a living spirit,” the Targum translates a living spirit as ruach m’malela, a talking soul. The essence of man is the ability to express himself. The Ari Hakadosh writes that the Exodus of Egypt redeemed our power of speech.

The seder night is an evening of song, praise, and thanks to Hashem. As free men we recount the story of our redemption and use our ability of expression to connect with Hashem.

In Tehilim, King David asks Hashem, “Create for me a pure heart and renew within me a proper spirit.” The first step is to purify our hearts from all the accumulated blockages and impurities. Only then can we merit a proper spirit. Parshat Parah purifies our unresponsive hearts. Parshat Hachodesh, which follows directly after, is the excitement of renewal.

On the Seder night we re-experience the exhilaration of yetziat Mitzrayim, the beginning of the journey of marriage between Klal Yisrael and Hashem. That was the time when we set out on the road to Sinai to accept the Torah.

May we hold on to the joy and energy of Pesach and may it carry us onward through the year as we work to accomplish the achor, the goal of creation.