Friday, April 16, 2021

Sarah was born into a Moroccan family and lived in a suburb of Montreal, Quebec. Her family was traditional, but not very observant of mitzvos. Tragically, her mother passed away when Sarah was 17. That started her thirst to search for more meaning in her life and Sarah started to learn Torah and take on different mitzvos.

Pesach came and her family joined their cousins for the Seder in a nearby community. After the Seder, Sarah’s father said, “Time to go home. Let’s go to the car.” Sarah was aghast. “But, Daddy, tonight is Yom Tov. We can’t drive—we need to walk.” It was late at night and the walk would be at least a half hour, but the father gave in and they walked. Halfway home, Sarah heard beautiful Pesach songs coming from a home. She saw through a window a large family sitting around a beautifully set Seder table, engaged in lively discussion and singing. She stood in awe at the beautiful sight. What a different experience from her Seder this evening; her heart was pining for this type of experience. She uttered a prayer: “Please, Hashem, let me experience a Seder and a family like this!”

A few years later she was introduced to Moshe, a young Moroccan man from Canada, as a shidduch. They got along very well and shared the same values and aspirations. Before Moshe proposed, he brought Sarah to be introduced to his family. When they pulled up to the house, Sarah was stunned: It was the same home she had stood in front of years before on that Seder night. This was the home and family she had davened to join! They got married and joined her husband’s family for Pesach and experienced the Seder she had davened for.

When I was saying Hallel on Pesach, I noticed something very interesting. Dovid Hamelech says “Min hametzar korasi kah”—from the narrow straits (difficult situation) I called out to you, Hashem.” The words “metzar Kah” have the exact spelling as the word Mitzrayim, except for the last letter. While Mitzrayim ends with a closed “mem” (the mem that appears at the end of a word), metzar Kah ends with the letter “heh.” The main difference is that the heh has an opening at the bottom. This pasuk thus tells us that from the closed-in, enslaving situation in Mitzrayim, the Bnei Yisrael called out to Hashem and Hashem opened up the situation (turning the closed mem into an open heh) and provided us relief through freedom.

At times, it might seem we are trapped—locked into a difficult situation with no way out. Indeed, the Jews were trapped in Egypt, a land from which no slave had ever escaped. Yet as we know, if we call out to Hashem, He will “open up” the situation and release us. Just as Hashem heard and answered the prayers of klal Yisrael when they were in Mitzrayim, so can our prayers be heard…and answered…to release us from our current challenges.

In the daily prayer of Hodu in Shacharis, we say a pasuk from Tehillim: “I am Hashem who lifted you out of Mitzrayim; open your mouth (in prayer) and I will fill it.” Rashi says that Hashem is guaranteeing to fulfill our requests for whatever we ask, but the Gemara Brachos (50a) applies this promise only to a request to help further the individual’s Torah learning and avodas Hashem. This is an incredible gift Hashem is giving to klal Yisrael. What did we do to deserve this invaluable guarantee? I believe the answer lies in the terminology used in the beginning of this pasuk. Usually, we refer to leaving Mitzrayim as Yetzias (exiting from) Mitzrayim, yet here in Tehillim it says “lifted you up from.” The same word is used in Parshas Shemini when Hashem instructs klal Yisrael not to consume insects: “…for I am Hashem who elevated you from Mitzrayim” Why the different wording? The Gemara explains that the reason for the prohibition against eating insects is that Hashem elevated us spiritually after we left Mitzrayim and it would therefore not be fitting for us to eat insects.

I believe we can apply the same explanation with regard to the above request fulfillment guarantee: I am Hashem who elevated you and created a close spiritual bond to Me. Therefore open your lips and pray for any spiritual request. You will be answered because the whole reason Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim was to elevate us and bring us closer to Him. Physical challenges—even oppression—were removed so we could then work to attain the spiritual heights that last forever.

Although Pesach has ended, the gift and power of Pesach remain with us always—the gift of prayer and the power to attain spiritual heights. May Hashem grant all our requests for spiritual growth, just like Sarah prayed to experience an elevated Seder with a spiritual family.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate Rosh Yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit pti.shulcloud.com.