Pesach 5784


The bittersweet herb[1]

מרור זה שאנו אוכלים על שום מה? על שום שמררו המצרים את חיי אבותינו במצרים
This marror that we eat, it represents what? It represents the fact that the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt[2]

The Pesach Seder is a confusing night. There are these contradictory themes of freedom and slavery.  It’s a bit astounding that at the time that we’re demonstrating our freedom by eating matzah, reclining, and drinking the four cups, we’re also required to eat marror, the bitter herbs representing our enslavement. The reason for this, however, is that through this we can engrain in our hearts that even that which seems bad in our eyes, in truth, has good in it. All of Hashem’s attributes are merciful, and everything He does is good[3].

Continue reading “Pesach 5784”

Purim 5784


The constant prayer[1]

ומרדכי יצא מלפני המלך בלבוש מלכות תכלת וחור ועטרת זהב גדולה ותכריך בוץ ואגרמן והעיר שושן צהלה ושמחה
Mordechai went out from before the king adorned in royal clothing of techeiles and white[2], a large gold crown, and a linen cloak with purple wool[3], and the city of Shushan was jubilant and rejoiceful[4]

שושנת יעקב צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי
The rose of Yaakov was jubilant and rejoiceful when they all saw together the techeiles of Mordechai[5]

When Mordechai heard about the terrible decree against the Jews, his first reaction was to tear his clothing. He wore sackcloth and ashes, left the king’s gate, and prayed[6]. He screamed and yelled for salvation from Hashem. Now, what would have been the reaction of the average person? Let’s say someone had a sister who was married to the king, a king who had just issued a terrible decree. One’s first reaction normally would have been to immediately request one’s sister to intercede to annul the decree.

Continue reading “Purim 5784”

Chanukah 5784


Publicizing the victory[1]

ואחר-כן באו בניך לדביר ביתך ופנו את-היכלך וטהרו את-מקדשך והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך וקבעו שמונת ימי חנוכה אלו להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול
Afterwards Your children went to your Holy abode, cleaned out Your Heichal, purified Your Sanctuary, and lit candles in Your Holy courtyard. They established these eight days of Chanukah for praising and thanking Your great Name[2]

Seemingly the first day of Chanukah is no different than the other days of Chanukah. However, the Pri Chadash notes[3] that in the original Chanukah story, the first day seemingly didn’t contain any miracle. They found a jug of oil which was enough to last one day. The fact that it lit for one day isn’t a miracle. He concludes then that the reason why we celebrate eight days and not seven is that the first day commemorates the miraculous victory of the tiny Jewish forces against the vast Greek Empire. The Jews reclaimed the Temple and were able rebuild the destroyed Menorah and light it.

Continue reading “Chanukah 5784”

Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5784


The elevation retention celebration[1]

בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים וגו’ למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את-בני-ישראל בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים וגו’‏
You shall dwell in Sukkos for seven days…In order for your generations to know that I placed the Children of Israel in Sukkos when I took them out of Egypt…[2]

During the weeklong Festival of Sukkos, we leave our permanent homes and enter temporary huts. The Torah says the reason for this is so that we shall know that Hashem placed us in Sukkos when He took us out of Egypt. One opinion[3] is that this refers to the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, that Hashem surrounded us with. They were like a protective forcefield, keeping us safe from the elements[4]. It was climate controlled, and even cleaned the garments of the Jewish people[5]. It would seem then that the holiday of Sukkos is to commemorate this miraculous environment that Hashem placed us in. However, one could ask why this miracle in particular merited its own weeklong holiday. As well, the famous question[6] is if this is the purpose of Sukkos, why do we celebrate it in Tishrei, when the Jews left Egypt in Nissan?

Continue reading “Sukkos/Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah 5784”

Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva 5784


Written for life vs. the good life[1]

זכרנו לחיים מלך חפץ בחיים וכתבנו בספר החיים למענך אלקים חיים: מי כמוך אב הרחמים זוכר יצוריו לחיים ברחמים
Remember us for life, the King Who desires life, and write us in the book of life, for Your sake, the living G-d. Who is like You, Father of Mercy, who remembers His creations for life, with mercy

וכתוב לחיים טובים כל בני בריתך: בספר חיים ברכה ושלום ופרנסה טובה נזכר ונכתב לפניך אנחנו וכל עמך בית ישראל לחיים טובים ולשלום
Write all of those in Your covenant for a good life. Let us be remembered and written before You in the book of life, blessing, peace, and a good livelihood. Us, and all of Your nation of the house of Israel, for a good life and for peace[2]

The days of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur are known as Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva, the Ten days of Repentance. As the name sounds, it’s a time of introspection and prayer. Insertions are added to the daily prayer services, and they certainly match the theme of these days. We are constantly praying for life, as the famous prayer says: “Inscribe us in the book of life”. However, a careful analysis of some of these insertions will show a discrepancy. In the first half of the Shemoneh Esrei, also known as the Amidah prayers, we have a couple of insertions asking for life. However, in the second half of the Shemoneh Esrei, our request changes to a good life. Why is there this change? Are we asking for two different things?

Continue reading “Aseres Yemei HaTeshuva 5784”

Rosh Hashanah 5784


Turning justice into mercy[1]

זה היום תחלת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון. כי חק לישראל הוא משפט לאלקי יעקב
Today is the beginning of Your creation; a remembrance of the first day. For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov[2]

There are a few lines in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that are seemingly confusing. We say that today is the beginning of Your creation, and then we say it’s a commemoration of the first day. Isn’t that redundant? Furthermore, the next sentence, “For it is a decree of Israel, a judgement for the G-d of Yaakov”[3], is seemingly incongruous. Now, this happens to be a verse from Psalms. If we look at the previous verse, we do find some relevance to Rosh Hashanah: “Blow [תקעו] in the month of the shofar [שופר], on the covering of the day of our Festival”[4]. How can we make sense of all of this?

Continue reading “Rosh Hashanah 5784”

Tisha B’Av 5783


Temple fasts[1]

כה אמר יקוק צבקות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום ההשביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית-יהודה לששון ולשמחה ולמעדים טובים וגו’‏
Thus says Hashem, Master of Legions, that the fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, will be for the House of Yehudah for joy and celebration, for festivals…[2]

The fast of Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. The day that both Temples were destroyed is the ninth of Av. A question that many wonder is during the time of the Second Temple, did they fast on Tisha B’Av? On the one hand, the destruction of the First Temple was devastating, as described in Megillas Eichah[3]. On the other hand, they were in a state of redemption. The Jews were (somewhat) back in their homeland, and they had a Temple again[4]. While this question doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on our own practice, considering we lack a Temple, still, it potentially could shed light on the nature of the fast.

Continue reading “Tisha B’Av 5783”

Shevii shel Pesach 5783


Recalling the Exodus[1]

…למען תזכר את-יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך‏
…In order for you to remember the day you left Egypt, all the days of your life[2]

Besides the Festival of Pesach, where we recount the Exodus at the Seder, there is an obligation to recall the Exodus from Egypt every day[3]. We fulfill this by saying the third paragraph of Shema both day and night[4], which mentions the Exodus. Now, the Magen Avraham innovates[5] that reciting Shiras HaYam, the Song at Sea that the Jews sang when the Reed Sea split, fulfills this obligation. Now, at first glance, this seems a little surprising. The Song at Sea was recited after the Exodus from Egypt. Why would reciting it be considered recalling the Exodus? The Torah indeed says[6] to recall the day we left Egypt, and the Sea split a week later[7]. Furthermore, the Midrash says that part of the obligation of recalling the Exodus is to recall the final plague of the death of the first born. If one didn’t say it, they haven’t fulfilled their obligation[8].

Continue reading “Shevii shel Pesach 5783”

Purim 5783


Wrongful Rabbinic reservations[1]

ויוצא משה את-העם לקראת האלקים מן-המחנה ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר
Moshe took the people out from the camp to greet Hashem, and they stood at the foot of the mountain[2]

Before the great revelation of the Divine at Mount Sinai, when the Jews were given the Ten Commandments, the Torah says that the Jews stood בתחתית ההר, “at the foot” of the mountain. However, literally read, the verse says that they stood “under” the mountain. Chazal learn from here[3] that this teaches us that Hashem picked up the mountain and held it over their heads. He said to them: “If you accept the Torah, good. But if not, then this[4] will be your burial place”. Thankfully, the Jews accepted the Torah. In fact, they later accepted it anew in the days of Achashverosh, out of love. However, this shows us that initially it was only through coercion. This seems to contradict a different verse[5], where the Jews proudly announced that they will do whatever Hashem commands them. This sounds like they were initially happy to accept the Torah. If so, why then did Hashem force them to accept it? How do we resolve this contradiction?

Continue reading “Purim 5783”

Shemini Atzeres 5783


Immediate joy[1]

‏…והיית אך שמח
…and you shall be only joyous[2]

There’s an interesting Midrash[3] that compares the time between Pesach and Shavuos, and the time between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. The time between Pesach and Shavuos is fifty days, whereas there is no break between Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. Why is this so? The Midrash answers with a parable. This is similar to a king with many kids. Some are married[4] and live far away, and some are married and live close by. When those who live close by come to visit, when came time to depart the King would let them go without difficulty, since anyways they live close by. However, those who live far away, when they would visit and it came time to leave, the King would hold them back. He would plead with them to stay one more day, due to the distance between them.

Continue reading “Shemini Atzeres 5783”