Pesach 5778

The Four Children[1]

1) והיה כי-תבואו אל-הארץ וגו’ ושמרתם את העבודה-הזאת, והיה כי-יאמרו אליכם בניכם מה העבודה הזאת לכם 2) והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים 3) והיה כי-ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה-זאת וגו’ 4) כי ישאלך בנך וגו’ מה העדות והחוקים וגו’‏
1) When you will come to the land…you shall observe this [Passover] service, and your sons will say to you: “What is this service to you?” 2) You shall tell your son on that day saying: “Hashem acted for me when I left Egypt because of this” 3) It shall be when your son will ask you tomorrow saying: “What’s this?” … 4) When your son will ask you… “What are the testimonies and statutes” …[2]

כנגד ארבעה בנים דברה תורה: אחד חכם, ואחד רשע, ואחד תם, ואחד שאינו יודע לשאול…רשע מה הוא אומר? מה העבודה הזאת לכם. לכם ולא לו. ולפי שהוציא את עצמו מן הכלל כפר בעיקר, ואף אתה הקהה את שניו ואמור לו, בעבור זה עשה יקוק לי בצאתי ממצרים. לי ולא לו. אלו היה שם לא היה נגאל

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Purim 5778

Undeserved merit[1]

חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point that they don’t know the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”[2]

The mitzvah to get drunk on Purim is quite surprising. It is well-known that getting drunk can easily lead to inappropriate behavior. Why was this instituted on Purim? As well, what relevance is the idea of “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”? Why is our getting drunk dependent on it? To begin to answer these questions, another halacha needs to be examined. There is an obligation on Purim to say the words “ארור המן ברוך מרדכי”, “Cursed is Haman; Blessed is Mordechai”[3]. Why is this formulation unique to Purim? There are other festivals where we were saved by our leaders from our enemies. Why don’t we say on Pesach: “Cursed is Pharaoh; Blessed is Moshe”? Or on Chanukah: “Cursed are the invaders; Blessed are the Hasmoneans”?

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Chanukah 5778

How the Greeks unintentionally increased Torah[1]

כשעמדה מלכות יון הרשעה על עמך ישראל להשכיחם תורתך
When the wicked kingdom of Greece stood against Your nation of Israel, to make them forget Your Torah[2]

What makes something unique reveals part of its inner dimension[3]. One of the things that is unique about Chanukah is it is chronologically the last holiday to have been established in Judaism. What this tells us is Chanukah filled a void that was missing in the Jewish calendar. It filled it with something that will take us until the end of days. What this is will be explained with some background into the history behind the holiday itself.

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Sukkos 5778

Finding joy in exile[1]

בסוכות תשבו שבעת ימים כל-האזרח בישראל ישבו בסוכות: למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את- בני ישראל בהוצאתי אותם מארץ מצרים וגו’
You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every citizen in Israel shall dwell in sukkos. [This is] in order for your generations to know that I placed the Children of Israel in sukkos when I took them out of the land of Egypt…[2]

During the festival of Sukkos, Jews are obligated to leave their permanent dwelling place and to live for seven days in sukkos[3]. The Torah tells us[4] that this is so we will remember that Hashem placed our ancestors in sukkos when He took us out of Egypt. There’s a tannaic dispute[5] as to the meaning behind the word sukkos in this verse. In general, the word sukkos refers to a temporary booth, usually made of wood[6], with a roof made from the waste from the harvest[7]. Rabbi Akiva holds that Hashem placed the Jews in literal booths when he took them out of Egypt[8]. However, Rabbi Eliezer holds that the verse refers to the Clouds of Glory which Hashem provided them in the wilderness, as a sort of protection from the elements. We are then commanded to make literal sukkos to represent the metaphorical sukkos of the past. The halacha, Jewish law, follows Rabbi Eliezer[9].

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Yom Kippur 5778

The power of tzedakah[1]

ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה מעבירין את רע הגזרה
Repentance, prayer, and tzedakah can remove the evil of the decree[2]

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur share the famous Unesaneh Tokef prayer. It is one of the most moving and powerful prayers in the High Holiday liturgy. What makes it so memorable is not only the chilling tune, but the intense words themselves. It reminds us that during these days we are like sheep being assessed by their shepherd[3]. On Rosh Hashanah, it is written who will live and who will perish, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. What gives the Unesaneh Tokef prayer the power it has undoubtedly comes from its origins. It was written by Rabbi Amnon of Mainz about 1,000 years ago. The Church insisted that he convert to Christianity, and after refusing, they brutally amputated his body. Before he died, he requested to be carried to the Ark during the Rosh Hashanah prayers. He recited the words of Unesaneh Tokef, and died[4].

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Aseres Yemei Teshuvah 5778

Breaking free from inertia[1]

אף מי שאינו נזהר מפת של עכו”ם, בעשרת ימי תשובה צריך לזהר
Even someone who normally eats [kosher] bread baked by a non-Jewish [baker][2], during the ten days of repentance one must be stringent [to only eat bread baked by a Jew][3]

The seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including the holidays themselves, are known as the aseres yemei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance. They are days reserved for introspection and correcting past faults[4], with the hopes to better one’s behavior for the upcoming year. There is a halacha, Jewish law, that one should try to take on extra chumros, stringencies, during this time. It’s not meant to be a lifetime commitment; just for these ten days. The paradigm example that is given is that for these ten days one should be careful to only eat bread baked by a Jew.

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Shavuos 5777

When was the Torah actually given?[1]

ותתן לנו יקוק אלקנו באהבה מועדים לשמחה חגים וזמנים לששון, את יום חג השבעות הזה זמן מתן תורתנו
Hashem our G-d, with love give us festivals of happiness, holidays and times of joy, this holiday of Shavuos, the time of the giving of our Torah[2]

In our calendar[3] Shavuos always falls out on the sixth day of Sivan. Something not mentioned explicitly in the Torah is the event that Shavuos commemorates. As noted in our prayers, Shavuos commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This is why we read the Ten Commandments Shavuos morning[4]. There’s actually a disagreement in the gemarra[5] what day the Torah was given. The Rabbis say that the Torah was given on the sixth of Sivan, whereas Rabbi Yossi says that it was given on the seventh of Sivan. What is the basis for their argument?

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Pesach 5777

To change one’s nature[1]

הים ראה וינס הירדן יסב לאחור
The Reed Sea[2] saw and ran away, the Jordan River turned backwards[3]

During the holiday of Pesach (as well as every other holiday), we recite Hallel during the morning prayers. It consists of chapters 113 to 118 from Psalms. Chapter 114 describes how when the Jews left Egypt, nature was entirely subservient to them. Nothing stood in their way. Most pronounced was the miracle of the splitting of the sea. On the seventh day of Pesach, we commemorate this event with the Torah Reading being the Song at Sea that the Jews recited[4] after this miracle.  In Psalms the sea is described as “running away” from the Jews, meaning that it split in two, after seeing something. What did it see that made it split? Chazal teach us that it was the coffin[5] of Yosef[6]. When Yosef was dying, he commanded his brothers and their descendants to ensure when the Jews are redeemed from Egypt that his remains be taken to the land of Israel to be buried there[7]. The Torah describes that it was Moshe who brought the coffin of Yosef with him to the sea[8].

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Pesach-Tzav 5777

The message of the four cups on Passover[1]

מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות
Why[2] is this night different than every other night?[3]

In the four questions we list four differences that are prominent on the night of the Seder as opposed to other nights: eating only matzah and no leavened bread, eating marror (bitter herbs), dipping two times[4], and eating and drinking while reclining. A difference that’s neglected is the obligation to drink four cups of wine, which doesn’t exist on other nights. Why is this difference not mentioned in the Haggadah?

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Purim 5777

The Spice of Purim[1]

מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated on Purim to get inebriated to the point where they don’t know the difference between “Cursed Haman” and “Blessed Mordechai”[2]

Chazal inform us[3] that משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה, when Adar arrives, we increase in joy. For sure on Purim itself we should be joyous, as it’s referred to[4] as a day of משתה ושמחה, partying and joy. One could wonder, how exactly are we supposed to increase in joy? Are we supposed to put a big smile on our faces? Seemingly, it can’t simply be an external joy. It must be something felt internally. How can a person reach a state of true joy during Adar and Purim?

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