Wednesday, April 20, 2016

At the Seder: Know Who You Are

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

A young boy sat with his father in Auschwitz reciting what they could remember of the Haggadah on the Seder night. As they sat in the world’s most dismal corner, during the darkest of times, their minds were elsewhere.

Imagine them holding a Seder in Auschwitz, a father and son hiding, shuddering from hunger, fright and exhaustion. As they attempted to recall the memories of Sedorim in years past, at home, with the atmosphere festive, beautiful faces of gathered family around the decorated table, the emaciated boy with his scarecrow of a father commemorated the redemption.

The boy asked the four questions of Mah Nishtanah and, when he was done, asked a fifth.

Tatte leben ich vil dir fregin… I have one more question. Will we be alive next year, me and you, so that I can ask you the questions again?”

The father turned to the boy and said, “Look all around us. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. There is no way to know what our fate is. But one thing I do know, my dear son: Whether or not we will live until next Pesach, you can be sure that next year there will be boys all around the world asking their fathers the Mah Nishtanah.”

The front page image signifies that message. A three-year-old boy points with excitement at a page in a Haggadah printed 387 years ago.

As you look at the image, imagine all the Sedorim that Haggadah was present at. Think of all the years of joy and happiness and also those of deprivation, pogroms, sadness and the Holocaust.

And think that all those 387 years, no matter what was going on, boys were asking their fathers the Mah Nishtanah. And 387 years later, Jewish boys the world over are still asking the Mah Nishtanah and their fathers are providing answers to their questions.

Everyone, on their own level, eagerly awaits this Yom Tov of geulah, Pesach. We await Eliyohu Hanovi’s appearance on this night and his announcement of Moshiachs arrival. We feel blessed to welcome him as the children gauge how much wine he really drank from his regal cup.

We sit resplendent at the Seder, rejoicing in our exit from servitude, and every year we celebrate again with feelings of joy and gratitude.

And just as we do in our homes of plenty, without fear of blood libels or pogroms, the father in Auschwitz was explaining to his son that they were links in a glorious chain stretching back to the time our nation was formed - Arami oveid avi and Avodim hoyinu - when the Jews were slaves in Mitzrayim.

That same nation of downtrodden Jews was lifted and charged with a mandate at Har Sinai. We were all there as Hashem proclaimed, “Anochi,” and, “Lo yihiyeh lecha.” We rose from pitiful and exhausted castaways to embraced members of Hashem’s nation, and no matter what happens, that chain will continue extending, link by link, forever. Parents charge their children and pass on to them the torch of the eternal flame that will illuminate the world until the final day of golus, when the world will burst forth with the light of the Ohr Chodosh.

We recite in the Haggadah, “Bechol dor vador,” reminding us that it is a generational thing. We say, “Bechol dor vador chayov adam liros es atzmo ke’ilu hu yotzah miMitzrayim - In every generation, everyone must see themselves as if they were redeemed from Mitzrayim.” We then say, “Bechol dor vador omdim oleinu lechaloseinu - In every generation, the nations of the world attempt to annihilate us, but Hashem saves us from their plots.”

We are stating that the plot of the Mitzriyim was not a one-time thing. What transpired then has been repeated many times. In fact, in each generation, nations seek our demise and therefore, in each generation we must view ourselves as if we were redeemed, because, in fact, we were.

So when we sing Vehi She’omdah, we celebrate those generational victories that took place in every generation, going back to Avrohom Avinu and his travails, and until the modern day, when the Arabs, Iran and others who seek our annihilation are neutralized.

We don’t just sing for our own good days or for the victories that took place in our generation. We sing for them all, going back to the beginning, because we are not just individuals. We are not just families. We are not just the people around our table. We are all part of something much bigger than us and our times. We are part of a large movement that stretches back thousands of years.

During the Seder, our essence shines as we perceive how big we really are. On this night, we leap past our homes, past our barriers, past Auschwitz and the endless stream of ghettos, prisons, cellars and dungeons in which we have found ourselves. On this night, we leap past everything that was erected to hold us back and keep us down, and as we rise, we tap into our essence. We eat bread that hasn’t risen, because we have.

The posuk (Bereishis 26) relates that Yaakov Avinu brought two goats to his father, Yitzchok, as he asked him for his eternal blessing. Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (Chapter 32), cited by Rashi (Bereishis ibid.), asks why Yitzchok required two whole goats for his meal, explaining that the story transpired on the eve of the Seder, and one goat was for the Korban Pesach while the second was for matamim. The Baal Haturim and others explain that matamim refers to the korban chagigah. Thus, the two goats were for the two korbanos that are brought on Erev Pesach.

The Vilna Gaon adds that the bread Yaakov brought for Yitzchok was matzoh and the wine was for the Arba kosos.

The Gaon ties the song of Chad Gadya to this early Seder. He explains that Chad Gadya is a story of two goats, which is why we recite the words Chad Gadya twice. They refer to the two goats that Yaakov brought to his father,.

Our Sedorim hearken back to the Seder of Yitzchok and Yaakov, and we sing this song to remind us that we are part of something larger than us. We are links in a chain stretching through the ages back to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. If we listen to that message, we will be blessed, as Yaakov was, with all the good this world has to offer.

The Rambam writes that it is a mitzvas asei to tell the story of our departure from Mitzrayim on the first night of Pesach. He states (Hilchos Chometz Umatzah 7:1) that this mitzvah is derived from the posuk (Shemos 13:3) which says, “Zachor es hayom hazeh asher yotzasa miMtzrayim - Remember this day that you left Mitzrayim.” How do we know that this posuk is referring to the night of the 15th of Nissan? Because the posuk states (Shemos 13:8), “Vehigadeta levincha bayom hahu leimor baavor zeh - And you shall tell your son, ‘On that night…’” Which night is it? The night when you have pesach, matzah and maror placed in front of you.

The Rambam adds that even if you do not have a child, and even if you are in the company of great Torah scholars, you are still obligated to discuss the redemption from Mitzrayim.

We can explain that although the Torah delivers this mitzvah in verses pertaining to a father-son discussion, the talk must take place no matter who is there, even if it is people who are well-versed in what transpired and do not need to be taught the story or the halachos of Pesach. This is part of the obligation to realize that the Seder we are sitting at is not merely for us and our families, but to remind us of who we are, where we come from, and what our mission is.

The famed Yerushalmi maggid, Rav Shalom Schwadron zt”l, would speak every Friday evening at the Zichron Moshe shul in Yerushalayim. As in times of old, hundreds would come from all over to sit in the shul and bask in the glow of the famed darshan. His performance was the talk of town. One minute the audience would be rolling from laughter and the next they would be overcome with emotion, puddles of tears forming on the well-worn stone floors of the historic shul.

One day, the Brisker Rov passed Rav Schwadron on the street. He said hello and inquired about his welfare. Then he asked him what he spoke about the past Shabbos in Zichron Moshe. Rav Shalom told him the topic.

“Was there a big crowd?” the rov asked.

“Oh, yes,” said Rav Shwadron. “Huge. There were like 5 to 6 hundred people there.”

“And tell me,” asked the rov, “was Rav Shalom also there?”

Rav Schwadron would repeat the story and marvel at how brilliantly the Brisker Rov had rebuked him.

We talk to others and we become animated. We set people on the path, but we forget to pay attention to our message. At the Seder, we don’t only speak to our children, spouse and guests. We must also remember to speak to ourselves and pay heed to what we are saying.

It was this night that emboldened our forefathers wherever they were, injecting the kedoshim of the Inquisition, and the concentration camps, and the churban habayis, and all other catastrophes, small and colossal, with an awareness that they would persevere, because the am hanetzach has a past and a future.

A wise woman gave my son advice this past Shabbos. She said, “Always know who you are.”

So many of us are lost and thrashed about because we don’t know who we are. We don’t understand our greatness, giving up on ourselves before we even have a chance to get anywhere in life.

Sadly, you see such children everywhere in our world, empty and vacuous as they chase thrills and seek enjoyment while their goal escapes them. There is no joy in idle pursuits. There is no happiness in running from who you are. Life has many challenges. Those who remember who they are, where they come from, and what they are all about are able to persist and realize their missions.

So how do we reach those children and how do we bring them back? What do we say to them? How do we express to them the hopes and dreams we brought them up with? How do we let them know that even though they may not believe in themselves, we believe in them?

The answer is through Torah. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s not. Love them and show them that you love them. Speak to them on their level, in a voice they can understand and with words they can accept. Communicate.

That is what the Seder is all about. We have a question-and-answer discussion about supremacy and grandeur, but also about being in the dumps and climbing out. The children question and the parents respond.

At the Seder, we recite the Mishnah that states, “Kineged arba bonim dibra Torah.” The Torah speaks to all types of kids: the smart ones, the wicked ones, the dimwitted ones, and even the ones who are clueless. And for each one, there is a proper answer, which speaks to that child in a way that he can grasp and understand. For each, there is a response that leads him to be able to answer the question of who he is.

We, adults, though fortunate to live in safety and comfort, sometimes forget who we are. At the Seder, we announce to our children and ourselves what we represent, who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.

If we feel it, they will feel it, too, carrying that torch for generations to come, until the great day. Leshanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim habenuyah.

When the town of Chust was overtaken by the Nazis, the rov, Rav Yehoshua Grunwald was given one last opportunity to speak. It was on the first day of Pesach that he faced his people for one final time.

He stood in front of them and quoted the words in the Haggadah, “Hoshata hacha leshanah habaa barah d’Yisroel.” We proclaim, “This year we are here. Next year we will be in Eretz Yisroel.”

Why do we say Hoshata hacha; is it not obvious that we are here? We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t here.

The Chuster Rov cried out to his people, “Hashata hacha! Hashata hacha!” yes, we are saying something, we are proclaiming that we are still here. The Haggadah reminds us that we are still here. Despite all that has come over us, we are still here. Despite all that has come over us, we are still Hashem’s nation, still holding on.

If we focus on that message, then soon we will be “b’arah d’Yisroel.”

If enough of us know who we are, how we got here and where we are going, by next year we will be in Eretz Yisroel, geulim.

May Eliyohu arrive speedily and bring with him the neshamos of our departed loved ones, the boys and girls, the men and women, who faithfully sang Vehi She’omdah as they awaited the arrival of the final redemption.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Spring to Geulah

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
After a winter when seemingly dormant trees stood bare, the song of birds was quieted, and flowers shriveled up and died, we begin to see life again. Branches bloom, grass turns green again, and robins scramble, seeking tasty worms. The sun shines brightly, warming our hearts and souls with a promise of hope and brightness.
Elderly and sick people who were unable to venture outdoors because of the cold or the snow, are now free to go about and enjoy the world Hashem created for us. Young and old soak in the pleasures of recreation, walking, throwing balls or biking as they use the lovely climate to strengthen their muscles and enhance their well-being.
Pesach is the yom tov of the season of spring.
It was during this period that Hashem announced that the time had come. He told our beleaguered ancestors that this month of Nissan was to be for them the first of the year. Hebrew months count from Nissan, even though Rosh Hashanah is in Tishrei. That month precedes the doom of winter, while Nissan heralds spring. It is fitting for our nation to begin counting months at the time that the world starts to get back to itself after lying in semi-hibernation.
As they were mired in seemingly endless backbreaking slavery, the Jews heard these words and they were musical. For 210 years, they had known subjugation and torture. Now, finally, that would change. The nation had appeared withered as a tree in the depths of winter, broken by pain, hunger and demoralizing servitude. Now, it would come to an end.
Hachodesh hazeh lochem. A new month, a new season, a new reality. Lochem, given to you, a personal gift that you would recognize and appreciate. From this month forward, you will never be the same. Every day will be part of a greater whole, each weekday leading up to Shabbos, and each Shabbos to Rosh Chodesh, which itself ushers in the tekufas hashanah. Every season will have meaning to you. No longer slaves, you will be an am kadosh.
At the Seder, we begin the tale of our redemption from Mitzrayim by recounting shameful episodes in our lineage and conclude with those worthy of praise. In the Haggadah, we begin the story of our redemption by going back to the beginning, speaking about the misfortune that befell our forefathers as our nation was forming. We speak of what they endured and then progress to their liberation and formation as a new people, for there is no spring that is not preceded by winter, no freedom that comes without agony, and no birth without pain.
Therefore, it is crucial that we include the obstacles and challenges strewn in our path from the very beginning.
Thus, the posuk states (Devorim 16:1), “Shamor es chodesh ha’aviv, v’osiso pesach laHashem Elokecha ki bechodesh ha’aviv hotziacha Hashem Elokecha miMitzrayim laylah - Watch the month of spring, and make in it the Korban Pesach to Hashem, because in spring Hashem removed you from Mitzrayim in the night.” Pesach is intrinsically tied to spring. We were taken out in this season and we must celebrate our delivery in this season. In fact, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 11a) understands from this posuk that the month of Nissan must be watched - “shamor” - to ensure that it is in the spring, and when it appears as if it will be in the winter, we must make a leap year, like this year, when we had two months of Adar.
Perhaps we can also explain that the reason the posuk interjects that we were taken out of Mitzrayim in spring and at night, “laylah,” is to reinforce the concept that we were enshrouded in slavery, darkness and tumah. We were removed from that dark situation and placed in “aviv,” spring, with our newly-gained freedom and soon-to-be rebirth as a nation.
Even after our formation as a people and even after receiving the Torah, there were ups and downs, as there are in our daily lives. The lesson of “Hachodesh hazeh lochem” reminds us that there is always opportunity for hischadshus, renewal, in our world. We should never despair. Cold will give way to heat, and sadness to joy. If things aren’t going right for us, we have to believe that there can be improvement and set ourselves to realize that goal. It may be difficult and it may take effort and hard work, but there is no goal that is unattainable for a person of faith.
Leading up to Pesach, we scramble, utilizing all our energy to clean our possessions. The drive to wash and vacuum every part of the house and clean every closet is widespread, even in instances where it is not halachically mandated. It hints to the fact that we remember our history and that before the geulah there was much hard work. The mekubolim reveal that the sweat that results from toiling to clean for Pesach purifies as a mikvah.
Rav Shloime Halberstam zt”l, first rebbe of Bobov, visited the home of a wealthy follower before Pesach, soliciting funds for the poor. The rebbe detected an aura of calm in the home. Although there were servants and maids everywhere, it was lacking that special feeling experienced in every Jewish home before yom tov.
The man proudly explained to the rebbe that he owned a Pesach house, where he and his family spend the eight days of Pesach. “That way, we don’t have to labor over cleaning the mansion. We sell the chometz in this house and move into a separate place, where we celebrate yom tov with minimum aggravation.”
The rebbe told the man that his grandfather, the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, would say that the mitzvah is not to have a clean, chometz-free home. The mitzvah is to get rid of the chometz in your home, as the posuk states, “Tashbisu se’or miboteichem.”
People seek to simplify mitzvos and make them easy to perform. They look for ways to sit back and enjoy the holy days with a minimum of exertion. They forget that to succeed in anything requires much effort. If we wish to benefit from the kedushah and brachos of the yom tov, we have to invest time and effort in the preparations. Otherwise, we risk losing the hashpa’os that Pesach offers.
The connection between the labor and exertion of bedikas chometz and the enduring struggle against evil is referenced in Chazal, who compare the yeitzer hora to se’or shebe’isah, the layer of chometz in the dough. Chometz represents immorality, and by eradicating it, we undergo a profound spiritual cleansing.
The toil and sweat of preparing for Pesach add much to our Jewish lives. Working hard to prepare for yom tov and make sure everything is in order turns us into more elevated and spiritually sensitive individuals.
One year before Pesach, a young man asked Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l if it was permissible to perform bedikas chometz using a flashlight. Responding, Rav Shach asked him how his father conducts the search for chometz. The man answered that his father uses the light of a candle.
The aged rosh yeshiva said to him, “If your father does bedikas chometz with a candle, why would you think to do it with a flashlight?”
The young man replied that people say that with a flashlight, one is able to better examine cracks and crevices, as it provides a clearer light.
With a wave of his hand, Rav Shach looked at the man quizzically and said, “Do you really think you can see better than your father?”
Grasp the candle tightly. It represents the search for impurity and illuminates the path to spiritual fulfillment, the fusion of Torah and mitzvos. The light of Torah endures. It has remained lit through so many generations, so many lands, and so many travails.
Our fathers and grandfathers searched for chometz with a candle for thousands of years. It may be harder to search with a candle. It may require getting closer to the crevices, being more careful, and cleaning up drips, but since when is Pesach about being easy? Since when do we look for shortcuts in performing mitzvos? The harder we work, the more effort we put into the baking of matzos, grating the maror, search for chometz, preparing the home, and making sure everything is in order, the more regal we will be as we sit at the Seder, celebrating our geulah and all the good we have been blessed with.
Rav Elimelech Biderman tells how Napoleon prepared for battle. Before attacking, the general would disguise himself and travel to the enemy’s land, where he would listen to the conversations and get a feel of the ebb and flow of life in the country. After learning about the people he would face, he would return home empowered to properly plot his assault.
Once, a camouflaged Napoleon and an aide sat in a tavern in hostile territory, listening to the people around them. Military tactics and information flowed like the cheap whiskey, and the leader was making mental notes when, suddenly, he detected a look on the face of one of the locals.
“Isn’t that Napoleon?” the expression seemed to say, and the fellow began to whisper to his comrades. Napoleon panicked, realizing that if he was recognized, he would be killed. Suddenly, his aide leaned over and slapped him across the face. “You fool,” he shouted, kicking Napoleon’s chair out from under him. The subordinate stood up and poured his drink on to his leader, continuing to insult him.
Napoleon was stunned, but within moments, he realized the wisdom of his aide. At the next table, someone immediately concluded that the unfamiliar face was clearly not the powerful general. After all, look how his friend was treating him.
When he safely returned home, Napoleon summoned his troops and told them the story of his aide’s quick thinking. “Sometimes,” he said, “what appears to be a blow is the kiss of new life.”
So too, says Rav Biderman, the g’nus, the shame and oppression of Mitzrayim, and the blows we endured, formed us into a people and prepared us for Kabbolas HaTorah.
It was the winter that allowed spring to burst forth.
Seventy-five years ago, when murder and destruction spread across Europe, a small group of yeshivos were carried on eagle’s wings to faraway Shanghai, where they spent those awful years in relative peace. In hot Shanghai, they flourished in learning and middos, their suffering bringing forth new kochos, gifting our people with a generation of gedolim and roshei yeshiva.
When the war ended, the full brunt of their situation finally hit them. Free to travel, they realized that few among them had parents or families waiting to reunite with them. There was nowhere to go back to. Everyone had been killed. Everything had been destroyed.
As a steady stream of talmidim headed to Eretz Yisroel and America, several remained behind, waiting for visas. For the first time, they were overtaken by despair. A group of Polish talmidim, students in the exiled Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, received a personal letter from the Imrei Emes of Ger.
Understanding the challenge of finding strength when they felt like mourning, he sent them a missive filled with chizuk and encouragement.
The main thing is to know that everything comes from Hashem and no bad emanates from Him. Everything is for the good... As the seforim teach, “Vayehi erev vayehi voker yom echod” - both the darkness and kindness are from one source and for one goal: to illuminate the world for us later on.
We believe that just as the Tochechah, the prophecies foretelling difficult times, were fulfilled, so will the hopeful and comforting prophecies come to be. The hester ponim is a test, an illusion, and ultimately it will be very good.
The Imrei Emes quoted the Rambam’s Igeres Teiman, where he encouraged the beleaguered Jews of Yemen during a difficult time.
Rabbeinu Maimon writes that a cord of Torah and mitzvos connects heaven and earth; to the degree that a person grasps it will he himself be strengthened...
The rebbe signed it, “Ohavchem, the one who loves you, who shares in your pain, who looks forward to salvation and consolation.”
The eternal message, that g’nus leads to shevach, winter leads to spring, and darkness leads to light, is as old as creation. Vayehi erev vayehi voker yom echod.
Now, with winter’s end, with so many of us smarting from blows - challenges, hardships, sickness and discouraging news – some that only we know about, we grab on to the rope of hope afforded to us by this glorious month and the glorious yom tov.
We work hard during these coming days preparing for Pesach, and as we do so, we study and internalize the lessons the yom tov beholds. Although it may appear to be laylah, armed with emunah and bitachon we fortify ourselves with additional strength even when we think we have none left. We sense that we are in chodesh ha’aviv and that our travails will give birth to recuperation and success. Sickness will give way to health, failures will lead to achievements, losses will lead to triumphs, and golus will lead to geulah. Amein.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Redemption of Speech and Geulah

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The unique spiritual energy of this special season comes to a fore this Shabbos as the power of Rosh Chodesh merges with that of Parshas Hachodesh and Parshas Tazria. The fusion of the three creates a unique opportunity for us.

This Shabbos, we usher in the month of Nissan, commonly referred to as the chodesh hageulah, the month of redemption. The Vilna Gaon writes (Even Sheleimah 11:1) that the redemption will transpire in four stages. It will begin on Pesach, one of the four periods in which the world is judged. Rosh Chodesh embodies the strengths of that month.

We are currently in the last stages of the final golus. The three earlier exiles were caused by the sins of avodah zorah, giluy arayos and shefichas domim. The current golus is caused by lashon hora and sinas chinom. In order to merit redemption, we have to uproot those sins and remove them from our midst. How do we get rid of them? It’s not as simple as scratching out crumbs from cracks in the kitchen table.

What causes these sins? Why are they so rampant in our world? Despite all the emphasis placed on rectifying them, they linger, seemingly ever present.

The taavah for lashon hora and sinas chinom comes from klipos that remain from the Eirev Rav, who caused great damage to our people when they left Mitzrayim.

To remove these impure forces from our midst, we must remove the klipas Eirev Rav that empowers them and enables them to subvert the heart of man and cause so much derision, machlokes and hatred, even though there is no real physical enjoyment from engaging in these sins.

Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover writes (Ohr Torah 27) that the sins of lashon hora and sinas chinom are caused by bittul Torah. The remedy for this is, as the posuk says (Mishlei 15:4), “marpeh lashon eitz chaim.” The cure for speech is Torah, the tree of life. Torah purifies a person’s soul and gets rid of his evil inclinations, which are caused by a lack of proper middos due to the influence of the Eirev Rav.

Individuals speak ill of others, hate good people, and spite their existence seemingly for no reason. Today, hate is so prevalent; you don’t need a reason to hate someone. If someone davens differently than you do, you hate him. If his kids go to a school you don’t like , you hate him. If he drives the wrong car, you hate him. If he has different customs than you do, you hate him. If his beard is too long or too short, or he doesn’t have one at all, you hate him.

Hate. Hate. Hate. It’s all over. It’s rampant.

Why? Where does it come from?

It comes from the Eirev Rav. It comes from bittul Torah. As helpful as the programs and lessons about lashon hora and sinas chinom are, if we don’t get to the root of the problem, it will persist.

When we speak of geulah and the chodesh hageulah, it would seem to indicate that the month of Nissan contains something that leads to limud haTorah, which leads to a reduction in the Eirev Rav’s klipah to influence us. What is it?

Rav Tzadok Hakohein says (Pri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Nissan) that Moshe Rabbeinu explained to Hashem that appealing to Paroh would be of no use. “Aich yishmo’eini Paroh,” Paroh would not listen, he said, because “va’ani aral sefosoyim.”

Although Hashem, who is “som peh l’adam,” assured Moshe Rabbeinu that He would repair his speech defect and Paroh would accept what he says, Moshe explained his reticence of approaching Paroh, “va’ani aral sefosoyim,” referring to the klipah of tumah in the hearts of the Jewish people, which caused their disconnect from Torah, and inability to heed to Moshe.

This is what he meant when he said, “Hein Bnei Yisroel lo shamu eilay veaich yishmo’eini Paroh va’ani aral sefosoyim.” Arlah refers to the yeitzer hora. Moshe complained that the yeitzer hora was blocking his voice from being heard.

When Hashem told Moshe, “Hachodesh hazeh lochem,” he gave the Jewish people the strength to inject kedushah into this month. Once this month became one of added kedushah, the Jews were able to overcome the areilus. They returned to the study of Torah and Moshe’s impediment, which was caused by their weakness, was removed and he was able to speak to Paroh. The areilus of his speech was no longer present. Geulah was now on the horizon.

The antidote to that arlah was the added potency injected into the month.

Even though everything Moshe spoke was Torah, as commanded to him by Hashem, without the added kedushah brought on by the month of Nissan, his words were not able to be accepted.

It would seem, then, that what transformed Nissan into a month of redemption was the fact that it contains added kedushah, which neutralizes the areilus which had caused people to slacken off in Torah study.

We read in this week’s parshah,Uvayom hashemini yimol besar arlaso (Vayikra 12:3). The arlah of the bosor is removed by others on the eighth day of a boy’s life. But the arlah of the heart and soul is much more difficult to remove, and we have to do that by ourselves. No one can do that for us.

The month of Nissan, the month of redemption, contains the mitzvah of biur chometz, ridding our homes of chometz. We search for it “bechorim ubesdokin,” in the cracks and crevices of our homes, to ensure that there is no chometz anywhere in any of our possessions.

We are aware of the teaching that chometz is allegorically compared to the yeitzer hora, which prevents us from repenting and acting properly.

Chometz is dough that has risen. Matzah is dough that has not risen. Chometz represents gaava, while matzah represents humility. One who is humble does not engage in lashon hora and sinas chinom. He doesn’t hate others or seek to destroy them.

During this month of geulah, the removal of chometz from our homes is tied to the removal of chometz from our souls. In order for us to merit geulah, we must engage in a search of our inner souls and make sure that we are cleared of the se’or shebe’isah, the yeitzer hora, which prevents us from rectifying our ways and disrupts us from studying and observing the Torah. Since the geulah is dependent on Torah, in this month of geulah there is extra kedushah, enabling us to defeat the yeitzer hora and kochos of tumah. Therefore, in this month we are newly confident to search for  any vestiges of tumah that lie within us, knowing that we will be able to destroy them and return to lives devoid of chet, lashon hora and bittul Torah.

When we rid our homes and hearts of chometz, we are not only ready for the higher kedushah the month contains, but also prepared to accept the geulah this month brings.

The Arizal taught that the name of the chag, Pesach, hints at the gift of speech, as it can be pronounced as peh soch, which literally translates as the mouth speaks.

Now that we have the added kedushah and the preparations for geulah, our mouths are cleansed of their sins of lashon hora and sinas chinom, and are able to speak lovingly of our fellow man and Hashem. We are able to use the gift of speech positively and sing the praises of Hashem for granting us the ability.

Thus, when we sit at the Seder, we say, “Vechol hamarbeh lesaper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshuboch - The more one speaks about Yetzias Mitzrayim, the more praiseworthy one is,” for one has demonstrated his ability to use the gift of peh soch, speech, the way it was intended, to increase kedushah through proper language and Torah study.

Imagine a young musician blessed with a rare ability to make the keys of the piano dance. He plays beautifully, but since he is incredibly poor, he learns a trade and becomes a plumber. Even should he succeed and become the most successful plumber in town, part of him is dead. There is unexpressed song inside him, and as he works on pipes and drains, he dreams of music. All day long, as he goes about his business, he thinks about music. He plays piano in his head while he repairs pipes with his blessed fingers. It may be that nobody notices this about him, but that is because they don’t really know him.

As Klal Yisroel toiled in Mitzrayim, they were a nation with a song trapped inside of them. They were unable to express themselves. The avdus and tumah locked their ideas and attitudes inside of them.

When they were redeemed and removed from avdus and tumah, their gifts of speech burst forth, along with wellsprings of kedushah and depth.

Thus, vechol hamarbeh lesaper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshuboch. We celebrate our geulah with the gift of speech. The Seder is filled with expression, as we open the reservoirs inside us with Torah, Hallel and mitzvos, all performed with our mouths newly redeemed and consecrated.

The night of peh soch.

On Pesach, we became who we are. Our music finally bursts forth.

Parshas Tazria teaches us the majesty of man.

Man, unique among all creations, is blessed with speech. But he must keep it pure, for impure speech results in the immediate and obvious punishment of tzoraas.

The punishment for this aveirah is unique in that it causes deformities on the sinner’s body, home and clothing, for the person who speaks improperly betrays his soul and demonstrates a lack of belief that everything that transpires in this world is directed by the Creator.

A person who has proper emunah and bitachon is unfazed when another seems to be more successful than him, for he knows that everyone receives what Hashem determines he should get. Thus, there is no room for jealousy and hatred or speaking ill of others.

Therefore, someone who engages in such behavior is struck by a punishment that directly demonstrates that Hashem watches over and monitors every person. When a person sins in these matters, he is separated from others and given time to ponder what caused the nega of tzoraas. He realizes that it came from Hashem, who provides for all of mankind, and recognizes that his sin was caused by a lack of faith in that regard. When he repents and accepts that Hashem cares for all, his nega is healed and he can return to properly serving Hashem and utilizing the gift of speech.

The majesty and supremacy of man are arrived at by responsibly using each word; understanding its potential to build worlds.

Rav Meir Soloveitchik zt”l, son of the Brisker Rov, who passed away on Motzoei Shabbos, was a scion of that majesty and greatness. Every word was precious to him. Everything he said was measured and clearly thought through before being spoken. Like his father and the other members of that illustrious family, his dikduk b’mitzvos was matched by his meticulousness in the words used to express an idea and to explain deep Torah thoughts and concepts.

A huge gaon, he was a sefer torah written by the Brisker Rov. He worked to understand every word of a gemara, medrash and chazal, with utmost care and concern. That same seriousness and care was apparent when he would speak with others.

He embraced the simplicity and majesty of Brisk, through personal conduct, devotion to halachah and mesorah, and living the life of a real ben chorin, dedicated to learned and teaching Torah.

With unfailing emunah and bitachon, he demonstrated the way a Jew should live, what should be important to us, and that the material is immaterial when it comes to living a Torah life. He lived on a different plane, concerning himself with Hashem’s wishes, cognizant of the fact that we are in golus, and never succumbing to the areilus that overtakes those who lose sight of the fact that we have to be working towards the geulah.

During this month of geulah, his passing should serve as a reminder not to become overwhelmed by the tumah of our surroundings, and not to let the areilus overtake us, but to always remember to live Yiddishe lives of kedushah and taharah, dedicated to dikduk b’lashon, kiyum hamitzvos and limud haTorah.

Reb Yonasan Schwartz, the renowned badchan, came to this country as an impoverished Israeli orphan. He went from shul to shul with his hand outstretched, begging for help. But while he was doing that, deep down he believed that he had a talent. He thought that he had enough musical ability, creativity and wit to be a successful badchan. He didn’t know anyone and no one knew him. He was but a collector, going from place to place gathering enough money to provide some food and shelter for himself.

One morning, while he was going from row to row in a Flatbush shul, a Yerushalmi collector gave him a tip. “Do you see the tall fellow in the corner? He is a real baal chesed. Tell him your problems. He will help you.”

After davening, Yonasan sat down across from the strange man. He immediately had the sense that rather than simply asking for a few dollars, this was the guy he could tell about his dreams.

“I don’t want to be a shnorrer. I want to be a badchan,” Reb Yonasan said.

“Tell me a badchan joke,” suggested the stranger.

Shyly, the young man complied, but he knew that he hadn’t done a great job. Still, the American’s eyes reflected the badchan’s pain, showing that he understood what he was going through.

“Okay, listen,” said the man. “Tomorrow night I am hosting a sheva brachos for a close friend. I want you to perform. You come and I’ll take care of the rest.”

Yonasan spent the next day practicing for his first real performance, reviewing his jokes, stories and insights. At the sheva brachos, the host welcomed him warmly, exuding a contagious sense of confidence.

It came time for the performance and the host stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen, now we will hear from the performer of the century,” he called out enthusiastically. “Please welcome Yonasan Schwartz!”

The warm introduction sent the badchan up in a cloud of self-assurance. And he delivered, offering a superb performance. The host complimented him and paid him generously. He then began telling friends making simchos to hire this top performer.

Soon, Yonasan Schwartz rose to the top of his profession. Over the years, he performed at many simchos with his original booster in attendance.

That man’s name was Shloimy Gross.

Shloimy’s yahrtzeit was this past Friday.

We are a nation of badchanim, capable of accomplishing great things with our mouths, and we’ve been encouraged by the Master of the World Himself, who said, “Harchev picha! Open your mouths wide!”

In desperate need of redemption, we must utilize the added kedushah that chodesh Nissan embodies to increase our devotion to Torah, so that the areilus that hardens our souls and causes us to engage in lashon hora and sinas chinom will be depleted and we will be able to hear Eliyohu Hanovi telling us, “Higi’a zeman geulaschem. It’s time to pack up and move.”

Remembering Rav Chaim Goldberg zt”l

Over ten years ago, I went to Eretz Yisroel for three days. I arrived on a Thursday morning and left Motzoei Shabbos. Friday morning, after barely sleeping, I woke before dawn and went to daven kevosikin at the Kosel. On a practical level, it made no sense, but there was a little voice inside of me saying, “Go. It’ll be worth it.”

Before I had a chance to put on my tefillin, Dovid Leib Cohen spotted me and asked me to go along with him as he did his rounds later in the day. A legend for his chesed and maasim tovim with the poor of Israel, I had heard about him for years, but I never gave his activities much thought.

His partner was Rav Chaim Yosef Goldberg zt”l, who passed away last week.

I was about to find out what type of tzaddik he was. Tagging along with him on a Friday in Yerushalayim showed me that he was not a regular person. He was a malach b’demus adam, an angel disguised as a man. He was a storybook figure come to life.

My wife and I squeezed into Dovid Leib’s tiny car, and as we rode with him and Rav Goldberg, we were transported to a different world. We saw acts and people we never thought possible. We saw things so beautiful and so holy that we were left speechless.

Our first stop was on Rechov Bar Ilan, at the corner of Eli Hakohein. I lived in Ezras Torah when I was learning in Yeshivas Brisk and had walked by that corner hundreds of times, never giving a second thought to what type of people lived there.

Rav Goldberg wrote out a check and said, “Go upstairs to So-and-so. Say that Rav Goldberg sent you. Ask the lady to show you the beds we made for her. Look around the house. Ask her if she needs anything and give her this check.”

I had never done anything like this before. We felt strange enough intruding on this poor lady and delivering her a tzedakah check.

We knocked and the lady answered. We said, “Rav Goldberg sent us.” Her face lit up. “Tzaddik, tzaddik,” he said. “What a tzaddik he is.”

Had we not known differently, we would never have realized what dire straits this woman was in. Her home looked neat and put together. She had the biggest smile you could ever see. There were kids all over the place looking at us and scurrying about. Her husband was at work.

Following orders, we asked to see the beds. Her face brightened even more. With much pride, she showed us the eight rollaway beds that were designed for her. She told us that she has ten children sleeping in that one room. They used to sleep on the floor, but Rav Goldberg changed that. Now each child has their own bed, except for the two youngest, who share a crib.

She was so proud of those beds. “Look, look,” she said. “See how well they are made. Look at what he did for us. Plus, he had closets built for us. And look at what else he did. He had gates put on the window so that we can open it and get some air and light in here without having to worry about someone falling out.”

We gave her the check and she blessed us. I wanted to linger there to soak up the scene. Look at this poor woman. She has nothing, I thought. Her husband works and they do not make ends meet. But not like people we know who can’t “make ends meet.” They have nothing. They don’t have an extra shekel. They need the help of Rav Chaim Goldberg to keep their heads above water. And yet they are so happy.

We asked her if she needs anything. “Boruch Hashem, we have what we need,” she answered. “Tell Rav Goldberg that we are all just fine.”

We got back to the car with a new respect for our two hosts. What I saw that day still inspires me.

Rav Goldberg told us how he heard about this family’s problems. He said that he searched for poor people, relying on a grapevine of informants who notified him of people who had fallen on hard times. If a teacher noticed that a child was wearing ill-fitting clothes and has no lunch or snack and rotting teeth, they would call Rav Goldberg and he would solve the problem.

He liked giving to people who didn’t ask. He would find out about the people who couldn’t manage. He looked for people too proud to beg.

If you would have seen the smiles on people’s faces when Rav Goldberg walked in, you would agree that he was a malach.

He did it with a smile that never faded.

He walked on those same streets we have walked on dozens of times in Yerushalayim without being aware of the abject poverty that exists there. When we think of poor people, we never fathom the level of poverty that people like those we met that day have to struggle with.

Those people really have nothing, or as close to nothing as you could have and still live normal lives. They live in tiny apartments. Their children go to regular schools. They are nice, gracious, hard-working people. They just have no money. None. Not a dime.

And they all smile.

How do they do it? We met family after family, each one with its own story. Each one sweeter and more endearing than the other. There were poorer than we can imagine. Destitute would be a better word. Rav Goldberg asked them what they need and they said, “Nothing,” yet all we had to do was peek around the tiny apartment and we could tell that they needed everything.

In one home, the table was set for Shabbos and the children were sitting at the table eating their meal, which consisted of challah and a red dip. The husband was a kollel fellow and the wife babysat. She told us about her neighbor who has no money to feed her children. It was obvious that these people were also impoverished, but they were so content with their lot, and the only needs she could tell Rav Goldberg about were those of her neighbor.

We didn’t want to leave the presence of this special family, but the hour was growing late and there were more people who needed help.

So we went to the neighbor. Rav Goldberg knew them from before. He stood there like an angel of mercy and spoke to the woman. The husband was sleeping and her two children were hanging around, waiting for Shabbos.

“How are things?” Rav Goldberg asked.

Boruch Hashem,” the woman answered.

“Do you need anything?” he asked.

Boruch Hashem,” she answered with a straight face, “I don’t need anything.”

We knew that she needed everything or we wouldn’t have been there, but her face was aglow. She was smiling and she really meant it. She didn’t have a penny in her pocket, she couldn’t afford to feed her children, and her husband got laid off from his job and had just found another one, yet she smiled and said with a straight face that she needed nothing. She was not lying. She really didn’t need anything. She was so happy with her lot.

Rav Goldberg wasn’t deceived and started ticking off things that she might need. “Does your heat work?” he asked. She didn’t know. You know what that means. He asked her how her refrigerator is doing. Sheepishly, she answered that it’s not really working 100%, as it leaks. “How bad?” he asked. “All over the kitchen.” She added that “it also doesn’t exactly keep the food cold.”

Rav Goldberg told her, “On Sunday, you’re getting a new refrigerator. Write down the name and address of the store we deal with. Take the measurements of the space you have for a refrigerator and on Sunday go to that store. Tell them I sent you. They’ll deliver you a brand new fridge and will take away your old one.”

We saw tears form in her eyes as she looked at Rav Goldberg in stunned gratitude, the way someone would look at a larger-than-life savior.

We made some more small talk with her and the children, wished them a good Shabbos, and it was back to the car to dispense more kindness and goodness.

One family got $300, another $500. A woman whose husband just passed away got a check for $2,000. She didn’t want to take it and they agreed that she will ask her rebbe if she should cash the check.

It was Friday and Shabbos was drawing closer. We rushed back to our place to get ready for Shabbos with a new appreciation of our people and giants of Torah and chesed like Rav Chaim Goldberg zt”l. He was a serious talmid chochom from a family of talmidei chachomim and tzaddikim who portrayed the greatness that our people are capable of.

Last week, we lost this giant of spirit, whose heart was large enough to include every needy member of Klal Yisroel.

On that Friday a decade ago, I got to see firsthand why Rav Goldberg was a true legend, a one-of-a-kind dynamo whose quiet tzedakah and genuine concern for his brethren were unparalleled.

And now he is gone.

Hashem has taken one of His finest creations, a malach in the guise of a man, a giant of spirit whose life was lived for others.