Freilichen Peysekh!

Tonight, we begin the festival of Peysekh, in which we commemorate the exodus from Mitzrayim and our subsequent freedom by holding two Seyderim- special meals at which we read the Haggadah- and by ridding our homes of chometz (leaven). From tonight until Wednesday night we celebrate two days yontiff (in which the laws of Shabbes apply with some small exceptions regarding cooking- consult Chabad.org for full details!), and next Monday night through Wednesday night is also a yontiff. I won’t be updating the website on these days, but it is likely that I will be writing on chol hamoed- the intermediary days.

In London, Yontiff candles should be lit tonight at 7:31 PM, and tomorrow (from a pre-existent flame!) at 8:43 PM. The yontiff ends at 8:45 PM on Wednesday. Remember to recite Shehecheyanu, and if you can, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor Ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, aand Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah!

I would like to wish all my readers, friends and family a freilichen and Kosher Peysekh. I hope that you find the festival both enjoyable and liberating. Gut Yontiff!

Bittersweet

The contents of the Seder plate are rich with symbolism and tradition, and reading about the laws and background of the various foods found at the Seder never fails to interest me. Today, I had the good fortune of being sent this extraordinary chiddush by Gershon Hepner, who kindly allowed me to dislay it on my website. I hope that you find it as fascinating as I did.

The prooftext provided by bPesahim 20b for the use of lettuce as maror, even though it is sweet, is that it echoes the experience of the Israelites in Egypt, which started out sweet and end up bitter. The prooftext for the fact that their lives started out sweet is Gen. 47:6:

ו אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לְפָנֶיךָ הִואבְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ, הוֹשֵׁב אֶתאָבִיךָ וְאֶתאַחֶיךָ:- the land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and thy brethren to dwell.

Lettuce is therefore a herb to which the opposite of הטוב והמטיב applies, and we should remember, when eating it, that we must bless God even when He seems to be allowing the exact opposite to occur, as He did when He allowed the Israelites to endure slavery after the they had lived בְּמֵיטַב הָאָרֶץ, in the best of the land.”

Gershon Hepner is the author of a book named Legal Friction, which is available on Amazon.com, and is also a prolific poet.

Vayakhel-Pekudei: Shabbes Observance and the Mishkan

This week’s Sedra, Vayakhel-Pekudei, continues with the theme of the Mishkan. It tells us more about the beautiful design of the Tabernacle, and the details of its construction. It also talks about the generosity of the Israelites. We read that alongside their skilled work on building the Mishkan, they donated a number of items to construct it with. These included, but were not limited to, gold, silver and copper, along with dyed wool and precious stones. They gave so much, in fact, that Moshe Rabbenu had to tell them to stop bringing materials.

This episode occurs near the beginning of the (extremely long) Parsha, and is followed by a number of other incidents, spaced out by descriptions of the Mishkan.We read about how it was built, and how the priestly garments were made, and then, near the end of the Parsha, we read of it’s completion, when it is brought to Moshe Rabbenu, who erects it and anoints it, before initiating Aharon and his sons into the priesthood. We then learn that a cloud appeared over the Mishkan, which signifies that the Divine presence dwelled within it.

But before all of this, there’s a section in the Parsha which seems entirely out of place. It seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mishkan, and yet it is followed directly by Moshe’s repetition of G-d’s commands regarding its construction. Moshe gathers the people of Israel and reiterates the commandment to keep shabbes, telling them that for six days they may work, but on the seventh, they are required to rest and not perform any of the activities involved in the building of the Tabernacle. Perhaps Moshe Rabbenu is simply reminding them not to work on the Mishkan on shabbes- perhaps the explanation is that simple. But is there a deeper meaning to this seemingly out of place repetition of G-d’s command?

The Mishkan may have been a physical creation, made of gold and silver and goat hair, but it has an inherently spiritual importance. The external beauty is supposed to reflect the Israelites’ love and devotion to G-d, which elevates the mundane materials into something rather more special. Just as shabbes is a day of fine food and fine clothing- things we don’t partake in just for ourselves, but rather to show our love for the Holy day which G-d told us to set aside. The resemblance is now apparent.

What of the Divine presence? We learn that it resided in the Mishkan, symbolised by the cloud hovering above it- in exactly the same way as it clothes itself in the garments of the ‘Shabbes malkah’, the Shabbes queen. The Holiness of the day is the same Holiness which rested within the Tabernacle. And just as the Tabernacle travelled with the Israelites wherever they went, so does the day of rest. No matter what we are doing or where we are going, G-d’s gift remains with us, as an eternal covenant for the children of Israel.

Maybe, then, it’s no coincidence that these two topics shared a space in this week’s Parsha. Maybe there’s a message in there for us. Even though the Mishkan does not travel with us today, it’s non-physical counterpart does; Shabbes. And just as we dedicated ourselves to the construction and the upkeep of the Mishkan, so, too, should we glorify Shabbes with fineries and rejoice in its Holiness.

Tikkun Olam and Loshon Hora

Yesterday, I wrote about less-than-positive experiences in the Jewish community, and about the nature of ostracism. It’s not a pleasant topic. As wonderful as  it would be if Jewish communities were entirely warm and inclusive, they aren’t. Communities, families and rabbis do bad things. They can cut people off, spread rumours, and destroy relationships. It’s ugly. Immensely ugly. And what’s ugliest of all is that it is so often swept under the rug.

There’s a phrase I use a lot- central to Judaism, and beautiful in every sense- called Tikkun Olam. It means mending the world. Making the world a better place. When we’re surrounded by so much poverty, illness, hatred and sorrow, it’s a very tempting goal. I think we can all agree that there’s a lot wrong with the world right now, and that we all have a duty to do something about it. We need to spread light and kindness, we need to perform good deeds, we need to help others. These are all nice, pretty notions- who doesn’t want to ment the world?

But if we’re going to fix it, we first need to recognise what’s wrong with it, and what’s more, we’re going to have to actually talk about it.

No more sweeping under the rug. No more branding any sort of criticism as ‘loshon hora’. No more hiding our problems within the gates of the safe, ‘warm’ community and not facing up to them. If we’re going to mend this world, and bring Moshiach (may he come speedily and in our days!), we need to mend ourselves first. We need to get talking. And that’s the not-so-pretty side of Tikkun Olam. Do you think you can face up to it?

 

Practical Halacha

When I began reading Sefer HaMitzvos a few days ago, I was at first taken aback by the fact that the mitzvos I were reading about were seemingly impractical. I read about plowing fields; the Sabbatical year and the jubilee year- hardly things which I would use in day to day life. I wanted mitzvos I could use and learn from. And it was only this morning that I realised that I could in fact learn from them- and that I must.

G-d can foresee the future as easily as He can remember the past. Surely, he knew that we would be reading Sefer HaMitzvos in the 21st century when these laws seemed irrelevant. He knew when He gave us these laws that we would one day see them as obsolete. And that’s a part of the reason, I believe, why we must study them. By studying laws which we see no immediate purpose in, we’re reiterating our devotion to G-d’s Word. It’s so important to us that we need to read it even when we can’t make practical use of it- and this lesson in itself proves to be practical in the truest sense.

 

 

Gut Shabbes! (Ki Sisa)

Purim is, for better or worse, behind us, and everyone is preparing for Peysekh. It’s a busy time, and most of us are thinking of cleaning and preparing and cooking and shopping and all of the other things which come with a week long holiday in which we can’t consume or own any chometz (leaven). If there’s sufficent demand, I may post some guides to the halachos of Peysekh in the coming week, but in the meantime, let’s forget about all the preperations, and instead keep in mind G-d’s miracles and the gifts he’s granted us- one of them being the Holy Shabbes!

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 5:51 PM tonight, and Shabbes ends at 7:00 PM tomorrow evening. While lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Yisroel ben Esther HaCohen, Shai bas Odeya, and particularly Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut shabbes!

Sefer HaMitzvos

Every day- other than shabbes, of course- I go to the Chabad daily study portal to read the Chumash, Tanya and Hayom Yom. If I’m in a hurry, I sometimes read my Tehillim there, too, rather than using the beautiful Artscroll book which takes considerably longer to find and read. But there’s something I’ve always ignored- perhaps not intentionally, but ignored nonetheless.

Rambam. The Mishneh Torah.

I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because my reading schedule is already somewhat hurried, as I try to fit in various texts amidst the hustle and bustle of an average morning. Maybe, subconsciously, I was put off by the words ‘three chapters’. I’m not sure why. But today, I clicked on the description and actually read it. And it was then that I saw, for the first time, what Chabad.org actually wrote about it;

Participating in the one of the annual study cycles of these laws (3 chapters/day, 1 chapter/day, or Sefer Hamitzvot) is a way we can play a small but essential part in rebuilding the final Temple

I opened Sefer HaMitzvos. Clearly, it would take no more than a minute or two to read, and another few minutes to research and dwell upon. If I added just another five minutes a day to my routine, I could play a part in the rebuilding of the Temple and the arrival of Moshiach?! It sounds too good to be true. But it is.And so that is why I decided to begin reading Rambam today, one day after Shushan Purim, and not when the cycle began. I may be behind, but it’s better to be late than never. We need Moshiach NOW!