Dedicated in memory of Yisroel Ben Yehia Harun, z"l May the learning
of this parshah sheet be an aliyah for his Neshamah
"God spoke to him from the Appointed Tent, saying ." (Vayikra 1:1)
Pesach is next week, b"H, making this Shabbos, Shabbos HaGadol, and this
week, the final preparations for the most difficult holiday of the year to
get right. For, during the week of Pesach, even a crumb of chometz is too
much, and unlike with respect to other forbidden foods, it cannot be
nullified in any amount. That's a lot of cleaning, especially if your family
is like mine, not so careful about where we take chometz during the rest of
The first thing they tell you when it comes to cleaning for Pesach is, it is
not Spring Cleaning, meaning that you don't have to go over the top when
ridding your spread of bread. Which sounds great, until you recall that
chometz during Pesach is forbidden even as kol dehu-in a teensy amount. Time
to break out in a whole new cold sweat.
I remember one year when, just as I was about to go to shul Erev Pesach, I
found a single soup nut tucked away in the corner of our living room. That
was after a VERY thorough cleaning, which makes you wonder, "What else did
we miss?" Fortunately, I bleach the floor for that purpose, so that crumbs
of chometz can be rendered inedible in any case.
The same kind of hysteria occurs at the other end as well, during the baking
of matzos. The baking of kosher matzos requires a well-trained, well-oiled
team of people who know how to get that flour and water from the dough stage
to the completely baked stage without any suspicion of it becoming chometz
along the way. Watching them, they make it seem as if they are having fun,
but it is frantic fun.
There is a certain relief once the holiday begins, assuming that you have
done a good job getting ready for it. But, if you plan to go out during
Pesach, you have to be super careful about where you go, where you sit, and
where you eat, even if bringing your own food. It could be that you set upon
your kosher l'Pesach barbeque picnic exactly where another family set up
their chometz one just days before.
That's why it is always a good idea to have some kosher l'Pesach Ritalin.
Just kidding. But sometimes, it feels like it might be necessary just to
calm down during the holiday and to overcome chometz paranoia.
Then there is the problem of the cooking. How many women complain about
being trapped in their kitchens during the week of Pesach, either cooking or
washing dishes? Between not being able to order in (some people won't even
buy fresh food products during the week of Pesach), and catching up on
friends and entertaining extra guests, it is possible for the kitchen to
become a home-away-from-home for seven days for many housewives, making
Pesach feel more like a holiday of slavery than of freedom.
Is this just another example of one of those Torah oxymorons, when what
seems to be is the complete opposite of what is supposed to be?
Maybe we do it to ourselves somewhat. For example, if we led more austere
lives the rest of the year, and were more careful about chometz in the
house, Pesach cleaning would be a cinch. And, for that matter, if we split
up Spring cleaning amongst the rest of the months, perhaps that would also
be easier at this time of year.
As for the cooking, forget about the guests. Eat simpler. Personally, I can
eat matzah and butter the entire week, though I'll pay for it after Pesach
when I get the bill in calories and gained fat. And, when you go on trips,
try and go to places that chometz is not going to be an issue, and when you
rent a car, make sure it was cleaned for Pesach, as they do here in Eretz
In other words, learn a message from the matzah: when it comes to Pesach,
simplify. As the Maharal explains, poor man's bread is free man's bread,
because it represents a tenuous connection to the physical world. It is our
desire for a physically comfortable life that truly enslaves us, as we
pursue must-haves, always at the cost of some kind of spirituality. It is a
sacrifice we all have to make at some point or another, but it only becomes
a meaningful sacrifice if the end result will be enhanced spirituality.
As the Haggadah points out, the Jewish people came down to Egypt only to
sojourn, and survived quite nicely as long as that was all they did. But,
the moment they stayed longer, that is when their Jewish world fell apart,
and the gentile world imposed itself on them, eventually resulting in
It was the same in Spain much later on. We had to be there, and the fruits
that grew out of the Jewish people while there, spiritually and physically,
were proof of that. However, once again, we stayed longer than we should
have, and the result was the undoing of a lot of the good that had been
accomplished. Many of the holy works that emerged from that period have
survived, but there were many deaths, many conversions, and imposed exile,
It was no different later in Europe as well. Anyone who lived according to
Torah ideals should have also lived with reality that life in Europe had to
come to an end at some time. And, given Europe's long history of terrible
anti-Semitism, it could have been safely assumed that when the time to go
would come, it would not be, as one of the greatest anti-Semites of all time
Why did you flee secretly and leave without telling me? I would have
gladly sent you away, with songs and drums and lyre. (Bereishis 31:27)
Anyhow, it is the sad and tragic story of the Jewish people, a pattern that
has repeated itself countless times over and over again. We simply stay too
long, something that you can only appreciate when you really have to be
somewhere else, and you really want to be there, as soon as you can. No
child comes to sojourn at his friend's birthday party. He hopes to move in,
And, when his mother comes to get him, it is often with an outstretched arm,
just like God had to do to the Jewish people. And, considering that
four-fifths didn't want to leave Egypt and died in the Plague of Darkness
instead, and the one-fifth that did leave died in the desert because they
rejected Israel, we can assume, as the Emek Davar says, that the strong arm
God used was not against the Egyptians to force them to let the Jewish go,
but rather, against the Jewish people to get them to want to leave!
God said to Moshe, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Through
a strong hand he will send them away, and through a strong hand he will
drive them out of his land!" (Shemos 6:1)
And, you know why he'll have to? Because, in spite of his hatred for them,
and the way he abused them, and took advantage of their loyalty, and
oppressed them, and even bathed in the blood of their babies, still, after
all is said and done, and God finally came to free them, the vast majority
of the Jewish people said no. And, had it not been for the promise that God
made to free Avraham's descendants, He would have just said, "Fine! Suit
yourselves! All of you will stay in Egypt but good, being buried there after
dying in the Plague of Darkness."
But, the Seder Table is made up of far more than just matzah. There is
plenty of fine tableware and fine foods, for those who can afford it. The
message of the matzah has to compete with the message of the materialism
that adorns most Seder tables, which says: You can enjoy the physical
pleasures of this world, if you can justify it with some mitzvah. And people
do, which is why they minimize the importance of longing for redemption and
life in Eretz Yisroel.
Indeed, so much of the Seder Table resembles an Egyptian lifestyle, or in
modern day terms, a Western lifestyle than it does a people that believes
this world is only a corridor, not the main event. In fact, verily as I
write, I do so on my MacBook Pro, while drinking vanilla coffee and eating a
cookie or two. As a people, we like our physical pleasures.
Enter the matzah. The matzah is to the Seder Table what a harness is to a
wild stallion. It is there to bridle the materialistic part of our lives, to
channel it properly, to push back make-believe rationalizations justify to
soothe consciences that should not be soothed. It says, "We're only here to
sojourn. Don't settle down too much that when the call comes to leave, you
can't, or won't." It says, "Don't forget your destiny. Don't forget your
history, or those who did."
We have to recall that exile and redemption begin in the mind, and end with
the body. We defeat enemies with sword, not ideas, or so it seems. However,
if you trace back every victory or defeat, you will find that it began with
an idea, either the right one or the wrong one, but an idea nonetheless.
True, in actuality, metal swords piece skin better than ideas do. However,
they do little to change society as much, or to save men from the sword, as
ideas. Whatever happens in the physical is just the end result of ingenuity,
or the lack of it, and that includes exile and redemption as well.
That is why the very difference between a golah, someone who is in exile,
and geulah, redemption, is a mere Aleph. However, it is an Aleph that stands
for God, and by extension, man's Godly soul as well. It is the same Aleph
that the very existence of Amalek causes to be missing from Kisei, God's throne:
He has said, "Because the hand is upon the Throne of God; it is a war
for God with Amalek in each generation." (Shemos 17:16)
Why is "throne" written Chof-Samech and not Chof-Samech-Aleph? And why is
God's Name divided in half? The Holy One, Blessed is He, swears that neither
His Name nor His throne will be whole until the name of Amalek is completely
And, the same Aleph that transforms vayikar into vayikra in last week's
parshah, distinguishing the Jewish people from the nations of the world:
And He called-vayikra-to Moshe, and God spoke to him from the Appointed
Tent. (Vayikra 1:1)
A "calling" preceded all statements and commandments. It is an expression of
love, an expression that the Ministering Angels use, as it says, "One called
to the other" (Yeshayahu 6:3). However, to the gentile prophets He revealed
Himself with an expression of happenstance and uncleanness, as it says, "God
chanced (vayikar) upon Bilaam" (Bamidbar
23:4, 16). (Rashi)
In other words, if you look into a Sefer Torah at the very first word of
last week's parshah you will see the word "And He called" spelled: Vav-Yud-
Kuf-Raish-Aleph, as it ought to be, except that the Aleph is written
smaller. Thus, the first four letters-Vav-Yud-Kuf-Raish-stand out on their
own almost as an independent word-vayikar-which means: He chanced upon.
This, tradition tells us, is to make a distinction between the way God
relates to the Jewish People and the rest of the world. The relationship
between God and the Jewish people is meant to be continuous, ongoing, and if
not through direct prophecy, then at least through Divine Providence. God
never tires of being in touch with His children, the Children of Israel.
In a very real sense, the simple matzah is the simple Aleph. As the Maharal
explains, the simplicity of the matzah is similar to that of the World-to-
Come, the world of the soul, of the Aleph. Added to the rest of the Seder
Table, it transforms the temporal aspect of the materialism from the level
of vayikar into the level of vayikra, from the level of golah to the level
of geulah, from the level Dalet-Mem-blood-to the level of Aleph-Dalet-
Mem-Adam. That is the essence of true freedom, which is why the gematria of
adam is equal to geulah.
Hence, in the end, the Seder Table is an analogy for all of life. It is a
message about true freedom, no matter how big or small your house is, and
how much cleaning you have to do, or how many guests you choose to entertain
the week of Pesach. For, the Aleph is independent of all that, and when
mastered, it gives a Jew the wherewithal to make the best spiritual
situation out of any physical situation, and no one can be freer than that.