Wednesday, January 20, 2021

With Renewed Strength

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We don’t know what the Biden presidency portends for us, but we do know that as long as we are guided by the eternal truth, we shall be safe and strong.

We live in a time when truth is relative. The news cycle captivates the country and molds people’s opinions. It informs, educates, saddens and gladdens those who follow the ever-changing surprising happenings of the country and the world.

People hear and read the news and then debate it for the rest of the day. Lately, they have had lots of things to talk about. President Trump has been the gift that keeps on giving. Ever since he announced that he was running for president, he’s been driving the news cycle and keeping tongues wagging. Every day was something new, something to argue about. No one ever knew what the day would bring, but whatever it was, his voters loved it and his detractors hated it.

Impeachment, once rarely attempted, has now been used twice against President Trump, effectively turning the ultimate punishment into yet another political weapon. Within a day the charge was brought and voted on and with that, for all practical purposes eviscerated. With a week to go in his term, after a contentious election in a country dealing with a pandemic, people who promise unity engaged in the highest form of political retribution, capping off their four year vendetta against a foe who would not bend to them and their attempts to destroy him.

Democrats and the media viewed everything he did as a reason to unseat him. It’s all about talk. It’s not about explanations or answers, firm positions or the truth. Covid, the economy, and everything else going on are spun to fit a party narrative.

We must ensure that we don’t become bitter, vindictive and dishonest. We need to remain loyal to our moral code and maintain our sense of decency. We have to examine issues honestly and together to be able to realize our destiny.

Those committed to a life of Torah, who probe the depth of pesukim and dissect the words of the Torah, Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Acharonim become better people, with depth and greatness. We are not about empty words and cute sound bites. We are about being real. And good.

At the outset of his commentary to the Torah, Rashi (Bereishis 1:1) famously quotes from his  father, Rav Yitzchok, that the Torah should have begun with the mitzvah of hachodesh hazeh lochem. 

This week, in Parshas Bo, we arrive at the parsha with which the Torah ostensibly should have begun. By studying the previous parshiyos, we have become familiar with the messages of our avos and grown to appreciate the connection we have, through the promises made to them, with Hashem and with Eretz Yisroel. We have been taught how to conduct ourselves from the stories the Torah tells about our forefathers. We should now be ready to progress to the mitzvos of the Torah.

As we progress to studying the mitzvos, we stop and try to understand the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh and why it was the first commandment presented to the Jewish people as a group of avdei Hashem. 

Perhaps, we can understand that this is because Kiddush Hachodesh is a procedure that is entrusted to the Jewish people as a whole. The proclamation of the new moon requires a verbal statement of a bais din. The dayonim on the bais din, who certify that a new moon has been seen and proclaim, “Mekudash,” have to either be members of the Sanhedrein or “semuchin,” certified and invested with the power of p’sak, links in a chain stretching back to Har Sinai (Rambam, Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh 5:1).

Why does the Torah require those who proclaim the new moon to be semuchin? Why is it not sufficient for them to be proficient in the shapes of the moon so that they can ascertain when to accept testimony regarding the birth of the new moon?

The reason is because when it comes to this special mitzvah, it is evident that the words and actions of humans can be invested with Divine properties.

The Nefesh Hachaim and other seforim discuss the ability of Klal Yisroel to affect happenings in this world and in Shomyaim through the observance - and transgression of - mitzvos. That capability is first evident in the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh.

It is through having the power to proclaim Rosh Chodesh or be me’aber the shanah that the Torah first reveals to us the capacity and potential of man to rise to the highest sphere, becoming a partner with the Creator Himself.

Rav Chaim Vital and others discuss that each Yom Tov brings with it special hashpa’os, an awakening of the Divine flow that occurred back when the miracle the Yom Tov commemorates originally took place. Bais din, through its proclamation of which day will be Rosh Chodesh, and subsequently on which day Yom Tov will occur, determines when Hashem will cause that specific measure of Divine hashpa’ah to occur. The Ribbono Shel Olam abides by the bais din’s determination to celebrate the Yom Tov on that day.

The many ramifications of bais din’s decision attest to its power. An example of the extent of bais din’s power is discussed in the Yerushalmi (Kesubos 1:2) regarding a physical phenomenon that can be manifest in a girl when she reaches the age of three. (See Shach, Yoreh Deah 189:13, for a further dissertation.) If she was born during the month of Nissan, for example, if the bais din decides to add a second month of Adar, postponing her birthday for a month, the physical realities that set in as she becomes three years of age are actually dependent on the bais din’s decision and are postponed for a month because she will not be celebrating her third birthday until Nissan.

Thus, since the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh is unique in that it demonstrates to Klal Yisroel the incredible heights they can reach, that they can literally influence even the Heavenly realms, it is the first mitzvah given to us as a group and serves as an introduction to all the other mitzvos. It goes to the root of the greatness of Am Yisroel and demonstrates how much we can accomplish if we devote ourselves to observing the mitzvos and living lives dedicated to Hashem and His Torah.

In Lita, people would retell a story to underscore the potency of the rulings of talmidei chachomim. There was a man who lived in Volozhin who suffered from a lung disease. He sought out the best doctors and attempted to heal himself with the available remedies, but he remained worried about his condition.

Legend has it that the sick man’s father appeared to him in a dream and informed him that his specific lung ailment was the subject of a machlokes between the Rama and the Shaagas Aryeh. The Rama held that when the form of lung disease from which he suffered occurs in a cow, the animal is treif, as it is incapable of living for another year. The Shaagas Aryeh, however, ruled that an animal with this disease is kosher, since it could live well past a year with that disease. In the dream, the father warned his son to remain in Volozhin, the Shaagas Aryeh’s town, where the p’sak - and therefore the reality - would be in line with the Shaagas Aryeh’s view, and he would therefore live.

This is the idea of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hachodesh, which would have been a fitting opening to the entire Torah.

Imagine the message that Klal Yisroel received when, still in the throes of servitude, they were injected with this awareness and taught the particulars of a mitzvah with the capacity to determine the calendar and holiness. What a resounding announcement of their own freedom from the constrictions of Mitzrayim! It is as if they were gathered together by Moshe Rabbeinu and told, “You are ge’ulim, redeemed, and ready to soar!”

That awareness, with its accompanying demand for growth, was given to Klal Yisroel on the verge of freedom, as if to say, “This is what you can reach and accomplish through mitzvos and by learning Torah.”

We can now understand the depth of a posuk later on in the perek. After the pesukim discuss the halachos of Pesach, the posuk (12:28) states, “Vayeilchu vaya’asu Bnei Yisroel ka’asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe v’Aharon - The Bnei Yisroel did as Hashem had commanded Moshe and Aharon.”

The Mechiltah, quoted by Rashi, notes that the lesson was given to the Bnei Yisroel on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, while the actual fulfillment of the laws of Korban Pesach didn’t take place until the middle of the month. Still, the posuk refers to the Jews as having done as Hashem commanded Moshe, in the past tense.

We can suggest that the posuk refers to them as having completed what was asked of them because this parsha of hachodesh hazeh lochem carries within it something integral to the observance of every mitzvah that would follow it, namely, an instructive lesson into what a mitzvah can do to man and the levels he can reach by following the Torah. “Vaya’asu” indicates that they understood the message that was being imparted to them, appreciating its relevance at every juncture of life. In this case, hearing, comprehending and internalizing the messages of hachodesh hazeh lochem and the chag hegeulah were themselves fulfillments of Hashem’s will.

The halachos of Kiddush Hachodesh and Pesach aren’t merely introductory and practical. They are a call from Heaven. “My children,” the Ribono Shel Olam is saying, “you are ge’ulim. There is no end to your freedom and to how great you can become!”

According to the Nefesh Hachaim (1:13), the word asah, which is at the root of the word vaya’asu, means that what was being discussed achieved its tachlis, or purpose. Thus, when the Torah employs the verb asah to complete the discussion, stating, “Vaya’asu Bnei Yisroel ka’asher tzivah Hashem,” that indicates that they realized the potential inherent in Hashem’s commandment. They understood the message behind the command, and thus, even though they had not yet performed the mitzvah, they had actualized the potential of how high they could reach.

We, the she’airis Yisroel, the remainder that clings to the message of Kiddush Hachodesh and cherishes every mitzvah, know that we have a higher calling and a path to traverse.

With this, we can explain the significance of the custom to say “Shalom aleichem” to each other when we recite Kiddush Levanah. We leave the shul and go outside to greet the new moon, perceiving in its reflected light our ability to rise, and the levels we can attain if we would join together as one people, as we exert and dedicate ourselves to Torah.

Beholding the new moon and the message of Kiddush Hachodesh should generate thoughts of teshuvah, growth, and a new beginning. Thus, as we begin that journey renewed and rejuvenated, we wish each other “Shalom aleichem,” welcoming the “new” neighbor.

As we study Parshas Bo and its mitzvos, we should proceed with renewed strength towards realizing our potential to positively affect the world.

But as we recognize the strength we have, we need to ensure that we maintain a proper perspective about ourselves. Paroh’s emotions blinded him from acknowledging what was obvious to any objective observer. “Haterem teida ki ovdah Mitzrayim?” his servants challenged him. “How can you not see that Mitzrayim is on a collision course with disaster?”

Paroh was robbed of understanding his own abilities, strengths and weaknesses, because he was crippled by petty calculations and rotten middos. Deluded of clear vision and lacking humility and clear perception, Paroh led his people to the brink of disaster. Then, when he could have saved them, he led them over the brink to drown in the Yam Suf.

Great people see past themselves. They are able to see several steps ahead and provide counsel that will benefit the listener in the long run. To succeed, we have to be honest with ourselves and those around us.

The Torah, in speaking of makkas bechoros, commands us (Shemos 12:24-25) to observe this as a chok for us and our children and to bring the Korban Pesach when we merit entering Eretz Yisroel. The posuk continues (ibid., 26-27) that when your children ask you to explain the avodah, tell them that the Korban Pesach commemorates the miracles Hashem performed for us when we left Mitzrayim.

When our children want to understand our way of life, we explain to them that we come from a long chain of bnei Avrohom Yitzchok v’Yaakov. We are proud of our heritage.

With pride and love, we provide the same answers to our children that our parents gave to us and their parents gave to them. That ensures a “leil…shimurim lechol Bnei Yisroel ledorosam.” If you follow the precepts, laws and explanations of the Torah, you will be protected throughout all the generations.

May we be protected and blessed with much nachas and growth.


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