May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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When I was a kid (wow, I’ve reached that age…), before Pesach I would bring home a nice Pesach booklet that contained many divrei Torah. Today, each of our children brings home a complete professional-looking Haggadah, which include personalized pictures, numerous explanations and a plethora of divrei Torah.

It is a true fulfillment of the mitzvah of “and you shall tell your father on that night.”

During the years when I was an elementary school rebbe, I too invested much time and effort to produce such a Haggadah. Each rebbe and morah should be commended for the efforts they invest into producing the haggadot our children bring home.

I was thinking that perhaps all these Herculean efforts are not necessary. All the learning about Pesach takes away from the main subjects our children are learning. I propose that teachers continue teaching their usual subject matter up until the last day before the Pesach break. Then, that last day, they can have a matzah and grape juice party, as well as a carnival with different booths that connect to each of the ten Makkot. Maybe they can also make a small project about Egyptian culture and topography to help everyone get in the mood.

The Yom Tov of Pesach is so profoundly deep, and we all understand that in order to gain an appreciation for the numerous profound lessons of the holiday we need to invest in its study. The excitement that fills the halls of our yeshivot as students learn about Pesach is palpable. It is that excitement that enables each rebbe and morah to produce such beautiful booklets in honor of Pesach and each upcoming holiday.

This is part of the reason I feel frustrated around Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. To begin with, it’s difficult to appreciate the significance of these days while living outside Eretz Yisrael. But that’s all the reason why we need to work harder in that regard.

In regard to avodat Hashem, generally there is no room for half-hearted observance. In the words of Rav Hutner, zt”l, “there’s no Switzerland in the neshama; there’s no neutrality!” Whatever we do as part of Judaism needs to serve as a means to draw us closer to Hashem. That point is at the root of being Torah-observant.

The yeshivot I attended in my youth did not observe these holidays or mark them in any way. Therefore, it is only in recent years that I learned about their significance. That, of course, includes the endemic halachic discussions and political controversies surrounding their observance.

Among those who observe the day as a celebration and holiday, I was mostly disappointed by what I found to be observance that was dry and lacking meaning. The day seemed to be little more than flag-raising and a falafel party and carnival with themes connected to Israel. Due to the phenomena that outside of Israel no one can seem to produce a quality falafel like in Israel, that seemed to only make matters worse. Our schools do their best to foster exciting and enjoyable programs with Eretz Yisroel-based themes. But there seems to be a very unemotional attitude toward these days in the general community. I doubt Pesach would be as meaningful if it was only about listening to a few lectures, no matter how inspiring they would be.

What an opportunity the day presents to educate our children and to remind ourselves about kedushat ha’aretz, mitzvot ha’aertz and why we pined for so long to return there. No other nation has ever returned home after being forcibly and brutally expelled for any length of time. Not recounting the miracles Hashem performed during the U.N. vote on November 29, 1948, and during the War of Independence, or the fact that today the center of Torah study in the world has again shifted back to Eretz Yisrael is like observing Pesach without relating the Haggadah. (The comparison is obviously faulty because we have a mitzvah to recite the Haggadah. I only mention the comparison to bring out the point.)

A colleague in a different yeshiva related to me that on Yom Hashoah last week a student asked him if they were reciting Hallel that day. That’s a pretty strong indication that we are coming up short in our conveying the meaning of these days.

Perhaps we need to approach these days as we do other holidays, beginning to explain our spiritual perspective toward these days a few days prior—why they mean so much to us, and how we can draw closer to Hashem through their observance.

For those communities who don’t observe these days, my personal opinion (which no one asked for) is that they too need to educate their students about a proper perspective of how to view contemporary events in Eretz Yisrael. They too need a framework to understand how to view the miraculous events of the past 70-plus years.

Regardless of what hashkafic perspective one has about the state, what has and continues to occur needs to be addressed. Hashem has wrought incredible and previously unimaginable events to occur. This includes the recapture of Yerushalayim in 1967 and all the miracles of the Six-Day War, the Entebbe raid, Operation Desert Storm ending on Purim, and in fact the country’s daily survival. Ignorance is surely not the answer, though it seems that most are woefully ignorant of the events and a perspective about them.

In a religion that encourages questions and pondering of everything, how can such significant events merely be breezed over?

Last week, my younger brother Yaakov, who was visiting for Pesach, headed home with his family to their home in Nachlaot, Yerushalayim. He sent a picture of his El Al plane from Kennedy Airport with the caption “almost home.”

It struck me afterward how incredible that statement is. They had packed, made it to the airport, and went through security, so all they needed to do was board the plane. He was almost home despite the fact that he was over 7,000 miles away.

What a world we live in. We can be in New York, or any other part of the world, and yet be “almost home”—just a flight away.

When I was a high school student in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, we didn’t recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. The Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein (who said Hallel with his shul next door), would remind us that more important than whether you recite Hallel or not is the feeling of gratitude to Hashem for the incredible events He has allowed us to witness, and that we not lose our sense of amazement and wonder for the gift of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim.

By Rabbi Dani Staum

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at [email protected].

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