HOLIDAYS

Elijah, what are you doing here?

“The Hagaddah was written by Eliyahu HaNavi” - R. Simcha Bunim

Running away from Izevel the queen, Eliyahu (in Melachim 1 19) makes his way to Har Sinai. Hashem interrogates him:

(ט) וַיָּבֹא שָׁם אֶל הַמְּעָרָה וַיָּלֶן שָׁם וְהִנֵּה דְבַר יְדֹוָד אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מַה לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ: (י) וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַידֹוָד אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת כִּי עָזְבוּ בְרִיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ וְאֶת נְבִיאֶיךָ הָרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב וָאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּהּ:

And he came there, to the cave, and he rested there, and behold! The word of God came to him, and said to him, “What are you doing here, Eliyahu?” And he said, “I have ben zealous for Hashem the God of Legions, for they have abandoned your covenant, the children of Israel, your altars they have smashed, and they have killed your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they have sought to take my life.”

Hashem shows him a vision:

(יא) וַיֹּאמֶר צֵא וְעָמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי יְדֹוָד וְהִנֵּה יְדֹוָד עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְדֹוָד לֹא בָרוּחַ יְדֹוָד וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְדֹוָד: (יב) וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְדֹוָד וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה:

And He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before Hashem, and behold! Hashem will make a great, strong mountain-splitting and rock-shattering wind pass before Hashem. Hashem is not in the wind. And after the win, a quake – Hashem is not in the quake. And after the quake, fire. Hashem is not in the fire. And after the fire, a voice that is quiet and subtle.”

Malbim explains Hashem's message in showing him this vision:

וממנו ילמדו שלוחיו ונביאיו בל יסערו סער בל ירעישו רעש ובל יבעירו אש, כמו שעשה אליהו בקנאתו לה' צבאות שעצר את השמים ושחט את נביאי הבעל, כי ה' ישלח את נביאיו שיבואו אליהם בקול דממה, וימשכו את העם בעבותות אהבה ובדברים רכים:

And from this His messengers and prophets will learn not to kick up a storm, not make excessive noise and not to burn [like?] fire, as Eliyahu did in his zeal for Hashem Master of Legions, for he stopped the rain and slaughtered the prophets of Ba'al, for Hashem sends his prophets to come in a quiet voice, and will draw the people toward them with cords of love and with gentle words.

But Eliyahu can't hear it.

(יג) וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ אֵלִיָּהוּ וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ וַיֵּצֵא וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הַמְּעָרָה וְהִנֵּה אֵלָיו קוֹל וַיֹּאמֶר מַה לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ: (יד) וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַידֹוָד אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת כִּי עָזְבוּ בְרִיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ וְאֶת נְבִיאֶיךָ הָרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב וָאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּהּ:

 

And it was, when Eliyahu heard this, he covered his face with his cloak, and went out and stood at the opening of the cave, and behold there was a voice directed at him, and He said, “What are you doing here, Eliyahu?” And he said, “I have ben zealous for Hashem the God of Legions, for they have abandoned your covenant, the children of Israel, your altars they have smashed, and they have killed your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they have sought to take my life.”

It seems that Hashem has a different role in mind for Eliyahu than Eliyahu does for himself. And it seems that Hashem sees something in His people that Eliyahu does not. Hashem wants Eliyahu to be someone who brings Him and His people closer together, while Eliyahu maintains his conviction that they are not worthy of that, and so he ends up driving Hashem and His people apart from each other. Hashem insists that Eliyahu get it right, and Hashem will not let him off the hook.

From the very last lines of the last chapter of the last prophet, Malachi (3):

(כג) הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם יְדֹוָד הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא: (כד) וְהֵשִׁיב לֵב אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְלֵב בָּנִים עַל אֲבוֹתָם פֶּן אָבוֹא וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת הָאָרֶץ חֵרֶם:

Behold, I am sending you Eliyah HaNavi, before the coming of the day of Hashem, great and awesome. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers upon the children, and the hearts of children upon their fathers, lest I come and strike the land desolate.

Rashi:

(כד) והשיב לב אבות – להקב"ה.

And he will restore the hearts of the fathers” - to the Holy One Blessed is He.

Eliyahu's (now Eliyah's) task is to restore the hearts of Hashem's people to Hashem. And this will be accomplished for fathers through children and for children through fathers, as Rashi continues:

על בנים - ע"י בנים יאמר לבנים דרך אהבה ורצון לכו ודברו אל אבותיכם לאחוז בדרכי המקום וכן ולב בנים על אבותם

 

Upon this children – by means of the children. [Eliyah] will say to the children, by way of love and placation, 'Go and speak to your fathers to hold on to the ways of the Omnipresent.And so, too, the hearts of the children are upon the fathers

This passage is from the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat before Pesach. It seems relevant to Pesach because Pesach is a time of a unique intergenerational conversation. We hope that the questions and answers of Pesach night will help parents see that their children care, and have a lot to offer, and that they are so worth investing in. And the children will see their parents with their ancestral stories as invaluable resources and support in their own journey toward embracing the covenant.

Elihayu comes at the end of the Seder. Maybe he comes to make sure we are succeeding. The other occasion that Eliyahu always attends is a circumcision. This could be seen as a sort of punishment, or a demonstration by God that Eliyahu is in fact not the only Jew who cares about the covenant.

It is intriguing to think of Eliyahu as the person perpetually charged with the task of bringing Hashem and the Jewish people closer together, specifically at times when we invoke his memory – brit milah, Pesach, and at the end of Shabbat. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch:

וְעוֹד אִיתָא בַּמִּדְרָשׁ דִּבְכָל מוֹצָאֵי שַׁבָּת אֵלִיָּהוּ נִכְנָס לְגַן עֵדֶן, וְיוֹשֵׁב תַּחַת עֵץ הַחַיִּים וְכוֹתֵב זְכוּתָן שֶׁל יִשְֹרָאֵל הַמְשַׁמְּרִים אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת, וְלָכֵן מַזְכִּירִין אוֹתוֹ אָז לְטוֹבָה:

And it is also brought in the Midrash that, every motza'ei Shabbat, Eliyahu goes into the Garden of Eden, and he sits under the Tree of Life and writes the merits of the Jews who keep Shabbat, and therefore we mention him for good.

The original source is from Midrash Rut, and is not specific to having kept Shabbat:

ר' כהן ור' יהושע דסכנין בשם ר' לוי לשעבר היה אדם עושה מצוה והנביא כותבה ועכשיו כשאדם עושה מצוה מי כותבה אליהו כותבה ומלך המשיח והקדוש ב"ה חותם על ידיהם הה"ד (מלאכי ג') אז נדברו יראי ה' איש אל רעהו וגו'

R' Kohen and R' Yehoshua of Sichnin, in the name of R' Levi: In the past, a person would do a mitzvah and the prophet would write it. Now, when a person does a mitzvah, who writes it? Eliyau writes it, and Moshiach and the Holy One Blessed is He sign it. Thus it is written: “Then the ones who fear Hashem speak one to his friend.

Rav Kook expands the range of this story so beautifully:

אליהו יושב בכל מוצאי ש"ק תחת עץ החיים וכותב זכויותיהם של ישראל. על כן ראוי לכל מי שיש לו שייכות של תשוקה לרזי תורה, שהיא מדת גילוי אליהו, באיזה דרגא, אפילו אם היא רק בדרך דמיון, או הרגשה, או השגת השכל האנושי, וק"ו אם עלה בחסד עליון למדרגות יותר גבוהות, שבכל מוצאי ש"ק יעשה גם הוא כמעשיו של אליהו, ויעסוק בזכויותיהם של ישראל. ויכיר בהכרה שכלית ובהשגה בהירה וברורה את קדושת ישראל, ויקרת מעלתו, וידבק עצמו בכללות עם קדוש, עם ד' וסגולת נחלתו, שאין קץ ותכלית להופעת אור קדשו של כל יחיד ויחיד שבהם, שגם הריקים שבישראל כל העולם משותת עליהם .ויש להתרעד ביראה קדושה, מקדושת הנשמה האלהית העליונה של כל נפש מישראל ולהיות מלא שוקקות וחמדת עולמים לקדושת רוממות קרן ישראל בכלל, ולהצלחתו של כל יחיד מישראל, בכל מעשי ידיו, בחומריות וברוחניות, ובכל טוב. ומתוך מעמקי נשמתו ירנן ויקרא, אשריכם ישראל, אשריך ישראל מי כמוך עם נושע בד'. אהבתיך עמי ולאומי, איויתיך בכל לבי, ובכל נפשי, אחמדך בכל חום לב, בכל אש עצמותי, אשתוקק לראות כבודך, יפיך, והדרך, עת תרומם ותנשא, עת תגדל ביפי צביוניך, ויצאו כל סגולותיך, והנפלאות הכמוסות בך, מן הכח אל הפועל, עת תנטע ותתאזרח בארץ צביונך, בארץ פארך, ויגלו לצפון ולים, לקדם ולמערב, תפארת עוזך וגובה קרנך. וראו גוים צדקך וכל מלכים כבודך, וקורא לך שם חדש אשר פי ד' יקבנו, והיית עטרת תפארת ביד ד' וצניף מלוכה בכף אלהיך.

Eliyahu sits every motza'ei Shabbat under the tree of life and writes the merits of Israel. Therefore it is fitting for anyone who has some relationship to longing for secrets of Torah, which is what is meant by 'an appearance of Eliyahu',' on whatever level, even if it is only by way of imagination, or feeling, or something grasped by human intelligence, and all the more so if a person ascended, by God's kindness, to higher levels, that on every motza'ei Shabbat he, also, should mimic Eliyahu's actions, and involve himself with the merits of Israel. And he should recognize the holiness of Israel with intellectual recognition and clear understanding, and the preciousness of Israel's high level and he should attach himself to the entirety of the holy nation, the nation of Hashem, the treasure that flows from Him, and that there is no limit or end to the display of the holy light of each individual among them, and even the 'empty' people of Israel – the whole world is founded upon them. And one should tremble with holy awe from the holiness of the Divine Supernal soul of every Jewish person, and to be full of avidity and delight in the holiness of the loftiness of the pride of the Israelite people in general, and the success of every individual Jew, in everything he does, physically and spiritually, and in all good. And from the depths of his soul, he should sing out and cry out, “Fortunate are you, Israel, fortunate are you, Israel, who is like you, nation saved by Hashem/ I love you, my people, my nation, I long for you with all my heart, with all my soul, I delight in you with a warm heart, with all the fire in my bones, I wish to see your glory, your beauty, your splendor, at such times that you rise up, at the times when the beauty of your pride is expanded, and all your capacities, and the wonders that are hidden in you will emerge, form potential to actual, at such time that you are planted in and become native to the land of your pride, in the land of your splendor, and the splendor of your power and the height of your pride will be revealed to the north, to the south, to the east and the west. And nations will see your righteousness, and all the kings will see your glory, and you will be called by a new name that the mouth of God will determine, and you will be a crown of splendor in the hand of God, and a mitre of kingship in the palm of your God.

 

 

Speak intensely to your children

We learn a great deal, in the first Rashi of the book of Vayikra, about the nature of the ‘call’ that went out to Moshe before Hashem spoke to him. 

ויקרא אל משה - לכל דברות ולכל אמירות ולכל צוויים קדמה קריאה לשון חבה (יומא ד' ויקרא ר') לשון שמלאכי השרת משתמשים בו שנא' (ישעיה ו) וקרא זה אל זה

And he called to Moshe - for all of the speakings and all of the utterances and all the commandments there was a calling beforehand, which implies affection, language that the ministering angels use, as is written, “And they call to one another.” 

Rashi, from the Gemarra and Midrash, explains that this calling happened every time, regardless of the type of speech that was about to be used. It is interesting, then, to consider, in the opposite direction, what was additional element might have been operative when Moshe spoke to the people. As Rav Kook explains, Moshe had to not only convey a specific message, he had to do so in a way that would have an inspiring effect on the listener.

וידבר ד' אל משה לאמר, צו את אהרן ואת בניו לאמר. כשם שה"לאמר" הראשון הוא מיוסד להגיד, שכח ההשפעה המקורית של הדבור אל משה הופיע ג"כ בהאמירה שלו, למסור דבריו למי שנצטוה להגיד לו את דבר ד', כמו-כן ביסוד   הצואה של אהרן ובניו, שיש בה משום זירוז מיד ולדורות, יעמד כח החיים של דבר ד' הראשון כאשר יצא מפי רועה נאמן לראשית קדושת הכהונה,בישראל, לאהרן ובניו. כמו שהיה מיד, כן יהיה לדורות, באותו רשם הקדש, בעוצם חיותו ועומק קליטתו באמונת אומן נשגבה. והרשם הזה פועל להגן נגד כל התרשלות, האפשרית לבא במקום שיש חסרון כיס, ופועל להקיש את רשם הדורות אל הרשם של מיד. "אין צו אלא זירוז מיד ולדורות. אמר ר"ש ביותר שיש חסרון כיס" (ספרא). 

The first 'to say' is there to communicate that the original effective power of the speech to Moshe was in force when he spoke to convey the word of God to those to whom he was commanded to speak. And the life-force of the original word of Hashem, as communicated by the faithful shepherd at the moment of the original sanctification of the Priesthood, continued to be in force toward Aharon and his sons in order to motivate them, immediately and for all generations. As it was at that first moment, so shall it be for future generations, with this very same impression of the Holy, in its intense alive-ness, and its deep capacity to absorb people into its great faith. And this impression acts to protect against all sorts of weakening which are likely to come when an endeavor is costly, and it also acts to position the impression on future generations as relate to the impression of the original moment. “The word tzav always implies urging, immediately and for future generations. Rabbi Shimon added that this is even more necessary when the act is costly.”

This particular lesson has enormous implications in the realm of pedagogy: It is of  essential importance that we invest our teaching - be it in the classroom or at the seder, or anywhere - with enthusiasm. That is what comes through, in the end. And this can help open up at least one portion of the Hagaddah.

As I have attempted to articulate elsewhere, in light of a teaching from Erica Brown, the Hagaddah is less the story of the Exodus, and more a series of stories about people talking about the Exodus.

Ostensibly, each one of these stories - the Bnei Berak Seder, the 4 sons, the person delivering 1st fruits to Jerusalem, and many others - represents a sort of Exodus in itself. In each, there is some Mitzrayim, and some Exodus, at least in potential. The Four Sons, for example, may represent a family and the need for that family to escape certain patterns that keep that family from the generational healing that Eliyahu the prophet is supposed to bring through the Seder. The bearer of the 1st fruits may be stuck in thinking it is someone else’s story, and he needs to make it his own. 

But what of the Bnei Berak Seder? What’s astounding about this story is that we have no record of what they said (outside of sporadic mention in other parts of the Hagaddah of the five men who were there that could, theoretically, be pinned to that Seder). Rather, we have the simple assertion that these five men, who knew SO much Torah, still enthusiastically engaged with the telling, to the point where they needed to be stopped. 

So what becomes remarkable about the story is not the content, not what they said to each other. Rather, we are left to wonder at the fact that, somehow, there was just so much to talk about. How? Wasn’t the material finite? Sure. but that’s just in one dimension. In this other dimension, driven by passion, enthusiasm, intensity - those things open up so much in the text. So we have an Exodus from the sense of the text, the story, the symbols, the possibilities as finite.

 

Get out of here - Nissan and Pesach

Some people, apparently, dance when the new moon of Nissan approaches because we are about to enter a month of not saying tahanun - the part of the prayer service in which we confess that we have done wrong, take responsibility, experience regret, and ask for forgiveness.

Another time I’d like to explore why I think tahanun is one of the highlights of the prayer service. In the meantime, though, it is interesting to note the reason why we don’t say tahanun during the month of Nissan. This is from the Magen Avraham, one of the primary commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch:

ג) בכל חדש ניסן.  מפני שי"ב נשיאים הקריבו י"ב ימים וכל יום הקרבן היה י"ט שלו ואח"כ ע"פ ופסח ואסרו חג א"כ יצא רוב החדש בקדושה לפיכך עושין כלו קדש :

For the whole month of Nissan - since the twelve leaders of the tribes brought offerings on the twelve days and on each day of the offering was a festival day for that leader, and then the eve of Pesach, and Pesach, and isru chag - with that, most of the month is in holiness, therefore we make it entirely holy

This is not the only instance in which we desist from saying tahanun because of someone else’s joy. This, from the Shulchan Aruch, OC 131:7:

נהגו שלא ליפול על פניהם לא בבית האבל, ולא בבית החתן, ולא בבהכ"נ ביום מילה, ולא כשיש שם חתן:

We have a custom not to ‘fall on the face’ (another name for tachanun - ed.) in a house of mourning, nor in the house of a bridegroom, nor in a shul on the day of a bris, nor in a shul when a bridegroom is present

 

At all times that we do not say tahanun, it is not that we do not have what to confess, take responsibility for, feel regret about, etc. It is that the need to do so is overshadowed by another consideration - be it a holiday, or someone else’s joy. 

This is an incredible move. And it is not unique to the Jewish - or for that matter the general human - approach to the experience of multiple and conflicting priorities or emotions. Sometimes we mix them all together and average them out, and that is our mood. At other times, we emphasize some components of our experience and suppress others because of some overriding purpose. The month of Nissan is one of them.

But the month of Nissan seems extreme because of the length of time over which we emphasize and deemphasize. It is notable as an experience - a month when we downplay our sins and regrets in favor of other sentiments.

L’ma’aseh, functionally, if we use this forgoing of tahanun not simply as a way to save us 90 seconds on Sunday Tuesday Wednesday Friday and maybe 5 minutes on Monday and Thursday, but as presenting a series of opportunities to actively downplay our sins and regrets so that we can play up something else, then Nissan becomes very rich, and a path to Pesach and its exodus becomes clear.

**

What is it that we play up when we downplay our flaws and faults? I’d suggest that we’d be playing up our good points, so we could be happy, so we could be redeemed. Here’s how I’d frame it:

כִּי בְשִׂמְחָה תצאו

In joy, you shall go out

וְזֶה הוּא כְּשֶׁיֵּצְאוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵהַגָּלוּת, כְּתִיב (יְשַׁעְיָה נ"ה): "כִּי בְּשִׂמְחָה תֵצֵאוּ"

And thus, when the Jewish people left exile, it is written “In joy, you shall go out.”

                                    Likutei Moharan I:24

How do you get happy?

כִּי זֶה יָדוּעַ שֶׁצָּרִיךְ הָאָדָם לִזָּהֵר מְאֹד לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד, וּלְהַרְחִיק הָעַצְבוּת מְאֹד מְאֹד (כַּמְבֹאָר אֶצְלֵנוּ כַּמָּה פְּעָמִים). וַאֲפִלּוּ כְּשֶׁמַּתְחִיל לְהִסְתַּכֵּל בְּעַצְמוֹ וְרוֹאֶה שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ שׁוּם טוֹב, וְהוּא מָלֵא חֲטָאִים, וְרוֹצֶה הַבַּעַל דָּבָר לְהַפִּילוֹ עַל יְדֵי זֶה בְּעַצְבוּת וּמָרָה שְׁחוֹרָה, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אַף - עַל - פִּי - כֵן אָסוּר לוֹ לִפֹּל מִזֶּה, רַק צָרִיךְ לְחַפֵּשׂ וְלִמְצֹא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, כִּי אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה מִיָּמָיו אֵיזֶה מִצְוָה אוֹ דָּבָר טוֹב, וְאַף שֶׁכְּשֶׁמַּתְחִיל לְהִסְתַּכֵּל בְּאוֹתוֹ הַדָּבָר הַטּוֹב, הוּא רוֹאֶה שֶׁהוּא גַּם כֵּן מָלֵא פְּצָעִים וְאֵין בּוֹ מְתֹם, הַיְנוּ שֶׁרוֹאֶה שֶׁגַּם הַמִּצְוָה וְהַדָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה שֶׁזָּכָה לַעֲשׂוֹת, הוּא גַּם כֵּן מָלֵא פְּנִיּוֹת וּמַחֲשָׁבוֹת זָרוֹת וּפְגָמִים הַרְבֵּה, עִם כָּל זֶה אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה בְּאוֹתָהּ הַמִּצְוָה וְהַדָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, כִּי עַל כָּל פָּנִים אֵיךְ שֶׁהוּא, עַל - כָּל - פָּנִים הָיָה אֵיזֶה נְקֻדָּה טוֹבָה בְּהַמִּצְוָה וְהַדָּבָר טוֹב שֶׁעָשָׂה, כִּי צָרִיךְ הָאָדָם לְחַפֵּשׂ וּלְבַקֵּשׁ לִמְצֹא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, כְּדֵי לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ, וְלָבוֹא לִידֵי שִׂמְחָה כַּנַּ”ל,

 

And so, too, a person must find in himself, for it is known that a person must be very careful to be joyous always, and to be very far away from depression (as we have explained several times). And even when a person begins to look at themselves and sees that there is no good at all, and he is full of sins, and the Other Side wishes to make him fall because of that into depression and melancholy, God forbid, even so, it is forbidden to fall because of this. Rather a person must seek and find within himself some bit of good. For how is it possible that he did not, in all his days, do some mitzvah or good thing. And even when he starts to look at that good thing, he sees that it is full of flaws, and there is no respite. Meaning, he sees that even in that mitzvah or holy thing that he merited to do, it is also full of ulterior motives and strange thoughts and many flaws. Despite this, how is it possible that there wouldn’t be, within that mitzvah or holy thing some bit of good. For anyway, however it may be, anyway there was some good point in that mitzvah or good thing that he did. For a person must search and seek and find in himself some bit of good, to give himself life, in order to come to joy. 

So, it was essential that the Israelites be worthy of being redeemed from Egypt. Here’s Rashi on Shemot 12:6:

(ו) והיה לכם למשמרת - זה לשון בקור שטעון בקור ממום ארבעה ימים קודם שחיטה ומפני מה הקדים לקיחתו לשחיטתו ארבעה ימים מה שלא צוה כן בפסח דורות הי' ר' מתיא בן חרש אומר הרי הוא אומר (יחזקאל טז) ואעבור עליך ואראך והנה עתך עת דודים הגיעה שבועה שנשבעתי לאברהם שאגאל את בניו ולא היו בידם מצות להתעסק בהם כדי שיגאלו שנא' (שם) ואת ערום ועריה ונתן להם שתי מצות דם פסח ודם מילה שמלו באותו הלילה

 

And it shall be for you a safekeeping - this is a language of checking, that the sheep would require checking for flaws for four days before it would be slaughtered. And why did the taking of the sheep precede its slaughter by four days, that which was not commanded for the Pesach offering of future generations? R’ Matia b. Cheresh says: “It is written (Yechezkiel 16) ‘I have passed by you, and I have seen you, and behold your time is a time of companionship’ - the promise that I promised to Avraham that I would redeem his children has come about, and they had no mitzvot in hand with which to involve themselves such that they would be redeemed, as is written, ‘and you are naked’,’ and He gave them two mitzvot - the blood of Pesach and the blood of milah, for they were circumcised that night. 

In this reading, God gave them mitzvot, so they could be happy, so they could feel worthy of being redeemed. But does that work? If you do one good thing, but the rest of you is still so identified with all the lousy things you’ve done? Would you feel redeemable?

That would be the trick. Your ability to identify with that little bit of good would be your ticket to redemption.

Consider this Midrash:

 וחמשים עלו בני ישראל אחד מחמשה ויש אומרים אחד מחמשים ויש אומרים אחד מחמש מאות 

And the Jewish people went up from Egypt chamushim - one in five; and some say, one in fifty; and some say, one in five hundred

The simple meaning of the Midrash discusses how many of the Jews left Egypt. The deeper level of the Midrash, as explained by Rabbi Henoch Dov Hoffman (among others?) is ‘how much of each Jew left Egypt?’ 

Said another way, how representative of me or you would that good point have to be in order for us to feel redeemable? The first answer is one in five - it would have to seem like that was a decent amount of who we are. The second answer - one in fifty. Even less. The third answer - one in five hundred. Even if most of me feels so far from that point, it is still enough. It is still in me, and certainly that part of me could be nurtured and grown. 

So I’m looking at it in reverse: let me find all the subtlest, tiniest bits of good in myself and others, even if it don’t feel representative of who we are at present, and let me consider those worthy of redeeming, too. And in order to do that, we’ve got to not say tahanun for a month, so we can give ourselves maximum permission to find all the goodness inside of us and inside of others, so it can all be redeemed, expanded, expanded upon, grown, and given the chance to have maximum impact.

PURIM 2 - MIRACLES AND NON-MIRACLES

PURIM 2 - MIRACLES AND NON-MIRACLES

One of my favorite “jokes”: A Jewish guy is driving through downtown, looking for a parking spot. After failing for some time to find one, he says, “OK, God. If you hook me up with a parking spot, I’ll give $50 to charity.” He continues searching, but fails to find a spot. “OK, God, fine. I’ll start keeping Shabbat.” No parking spot. “Ok, fine! If you hook me up with a parking spot I’ll stop eating - - - oh, never mind. There’s one.”

PURIM 3 - FRAMEWORKS AND THEIR SHORTCOMINGS

Hopefully you can conjure and articulate a narrative or framework about your life in which things make sense. A framework helps us understand why we are doing something, what we can expect for ourselves, what we can expect the results will be, what challenges are likely to come up, how we might overcome them, etc. A framework lends a sense of order to all the components of a particular set of factors. 

For example, you might hate your job, but you remind yourself that going to work everyday allows you to provide for your family, and that allows you to get over the aggravation of going to work. In this framework, every misery is mitigated by the benefits of your family having food or shelter, or the possibility that your kids will be better educated and more successful than you. 

It gets trickier when we’re talking about religious life and religious acts. Convincing frameworks are harder to come by because it is far more difficult to speak about anticipated results of religious acts. But this difficulty doesn’t make it less necessary - just harder to come by. After all, iff I don’t have a framework in which to understand, say, prayer, then it stops making sense, and then I either stop doing it, stop thinking about it, or stop believing I can actually invest myself in it. And none of those are very satisfying answers. So my framework might not be hermetically sealed, but it’s got to offer me at least some context. 

 

 

 

 

 

PURIM 4 - MOMENTARILY ESCAPING THE FRAMEWORK

“If you look carefully at my lips… you'll realize that I'm actually saying something else.”

 

                                    The Naked Lunch

Enter Purim. On Purim we are acknowledging chaos, and even cultivating it. We are acknowledging that our framework neither frames nor works. The story we’ve been telling ourselves about what is going on is simply not accurate. 

Alas. We are in fact quite capable of building and dwelling in alternate universes. It allows us to ignore the inconvenient truths that threaten to intrude from the edges. We get to block other people’s needs out. We get to pretend we are doing our jobs - like Shaul, who tells Shmuel, “Blessed are you to Hashem! I have done what Hashem told me!” As Shaul continues to delude himself - “I have listened to the voice of Hashem, and I have walked in the way that Hashem sent me!” - as he is declaring his perfect adherence to Hashem’s will, King Agag of Amalek is alive, and Purim is born.

On Purim, if we look carefully, we will see that we are actually living in chaos, that our frameworks are more prophylactic than conduit, that our stories are more delusion than description. Maybe we’ll see that our love is self-love, that our service is self-service.

But this is the day. We scramble the signal and for one holy stretch of time we go out of our minds and perhaps - perhaps! - we can learn about a frame that is not-frame.