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Rabbis' Blog

Simple As That

 

Imagine a perfect world. No war, famine, disease or jealousy. Is it possible?

We have a hard time imagining how this is possible, especially on a global scale but the story told in the Haftorah connected to this week’s parsha teaches us that the unfathomable can happen without much complicated drama.

Approximately 2,500 years ago the Kingdom of Israel was attacked by the neighboring nation Aram. Samaria, the capital city was surrounded and a terrible famine ravaged the population. One day King Yehoram was overcome with grief and blamed Elisha the Prophet for not praying to G-d to alleviate the pain and suffering of his fellow Jews.

Arriving at Elisha’s home with evil intentions the prophet greeted him with the following words. “Tomorrow at this time, one se’ah of flour will sell for one shekel in the streets of Samaria.” The king’s officer scoffed at his words, saying: “Even if G‑d made windows in the sky, could such a thing happen?”

To the rational mind it seemed that a reversal of their sorry fortunes was only possible if flour would rain from heaven - and even that would not suffice to cause such a transformation.

That night, four quarantined Jews barred from entering the city due to their affliction of tzara’at decided to surrender to the enemy instead of dying from hunger. Approaching the enemy camp they discovered it was deserted! G-d had caused the Aramean soldiers to hear a thunderous noise which they thought to be a huge army attacking their camp and they fled for their lives leaving everything behind.

The king was notified of the fantastic discovery and the next day when the population streamed out of the city to plunder the enemy camp, there was so much excess food that indeed one se’ah of flour was sold for one shekel in the streets of Samaria. The Jews did not need to experience any drama to be redeemed from their terrifying crisis. The abundance of food already situated right outside the city walls just needed to become available to them. Simple as that.

The same is true about Moshiach and the onset of an era when there will be no war, famine, disease or jealousy. All the components for such a reality are already here in our world and Moshiach will just maneuver everything into their proper place to make it all happen perfectly.

While Moshiach is tasked with achieving global redemption, we are tasked with achieving personal redemption. To cleanse ourselves of negative character traits and behaviors and to nurture a lifestyle that is in sync with G-d’s wishes. All the components to achieve such a lifestyle are within our reach, we just need to tap into them and set everything up properly.

Devoting more time to Torah study, applying its lessons, observing more Mitzvot properly and spreading goodness and kindness to everyone around us is how we achieve personal redemption thereby paving the way for global redemption through Moshiach. Simple as that.

 

It's not Sci-Fi or Fantasy

 

The great chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, known as the great defender of Jews once complained to G-d. “It’s not fair. Torah and Mitzvot and the motivation to live a moral and ethical life are packaged neatly in a book while life’s pleasures and everything rotten about human behavior are all out there in front of us. If You would only stuff evil into a book and put goodness out in the streets everyone would live a proper life.”

I’m pretty sure he was not seeking to justify bad behavior. We are responsible for our actions under all circumstances and pinning the blame on G-d is not helpful. But this short anecdote reveals a deep truth about life that we all should know and take to heart.

Yesterday we concluded the festival of Pesach. For eight days we were tucked away in a festive cocoon celebrating our liberty and the birth of our nation. The strict Matzah and zero Chametz (leaven) diet represents the departure from the norms of ego and self centeredness and the focus on our relationship with G-d and our responsibility for each other.

After a week it abruptly ends and we start eating Chametz, re-entering a world that hasn’t changed much from before Pesach. What was the purpose of the week-long spiritual high if we find ourselves back to square one?

The final day of Pesach we read a portion from Isaiah describing the ultimate redemption. The prophet assures us that in that blessed era there will be no famine, war or disease and everyone will be preoccupied with understanding our Creator. All this will happen through a mortal human being “Moshiach,” similar to Moshe from the story of Exodus and this new reality will encompass every detail of creation; every human, every specimen down to the inanimate minerals.

But reading these amazing ideas from a holy book presents the challenge of it remaining abstract. One can possibly feel that Moshiach is science fiction or the type of fantasies novels are made from.

Therefore the Baal Shem Tov introduced the custom of eating a special meal celebrating Moshiach in the final hours of Pesach, to appreciate that Moshiach is as practical as the food we digest and continues to be relevant even after Pesach ends when we re-enter regular life. To bridge the chasm between our week-long Matzah diet to our routine year-long Chametz diet.

Moshiach is not about disrupting life. It is about revealing what life is really all about. Moshiach will take the beautiful and inspiring ideas currently packaged in the holy books and make them as accessible and relatable as the facts of life we encounter all the time.

Since the redemption from Egypt was all about smashing natural norms we commemorate it through eating different foods and disconnecting from certain realities. But the ultimate redemption is all about elevating and inspiring our current routines. To bridge the chasm between transcendent miracles and regular nature.

We can live this way even before the flesh and blood Moshiach arrives, by introducing more Torah in Mitzvot into our routines and allowing our belief and trust in G-d to dictate how we perceive life today. Doing so will hasten his arrival and the onset of that wonderful era we hope and pray begins immediately.

 

Individually Social

 

Life is a balance between fending for ourselves and contributing to society. On the surface these two ideas are contradictions, but Pesach teaches us how these two extremes complement and enhance each other.

One of the recurring themes of the Seder is the fact that the centerpiece of the Seder is missing. In preparation for redemption G-d commanded the Israelites to prepare a Pesach sacrifice. Each family was to purchase a sheep, tie it to their bedpost for four days, slaughter it on the 14th of Nissan and roast and eat it on the eve of the 15th of Nissan in their homes together with Matzah and Marror. The next morning the long anticipated exodus arrived and the Jewish nation was born.

For generations to come the miracle of Pesach would be commemorated by families and groups offering a Pesach sacrifice on the day before Pesach, roasted and eaten on the first night of Pesach together with Matzah and Marror. Unlike the first Pesach in Egypt, the Pesach sacrifice can only be done in the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem, hence this centerpiece has been missing from our Seders for close to 2,000 years. But we continue to learn about it and discover important life lessons for here and now.

There were two categories of sacrifices offered in the Beit Hamikdash: Communal and personal. Communal sacrifices were purchased from the account every Jew contributed a half shekel annually and personal sacrifices were purchased privately.

The Pesach sacrifice is unique in that it had both private and communal characteristics. It was purchased with private funds but was offered in the Beit Hamikdash in large groups and every Jew was obligated to do the same thing at the same time in the same way.

The message is clear. Every individual is capable of and expected to sacrifice their personal interests for the enfit of the community, and the community is obligated to put everything on the line for the benefit of every individual.

Sounds like a contradiction? Perhaps. But the name of the sacrifice is “Pesach” which means to “leap over.” Upon confronting obstacles one needs to jump, and there is no greater obstacle than our personal interests that separate us from each other and from the community at large. We have the power to rise above it all by tapping into our essence, rooted in divine truth, causing all other issues to become irrelevant and disappear as we unite as one.

Let’s focus on tuning into our “Pinteleh Yid” - our Jewish essence - by adding in Torah learning and Mitzvah observance just because, thereby allowing us to unite with world Jewry and prepare the universe for the final and complete redemption.

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