May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 19, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Getting Spiritually Ready for Pesach

With the arrival on Tuesday of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, before we know it, Pesach will be here. Preparing for Yom Tov comes amidst the realization of what has transpired since the last Yom Tov. Can any one of us forget where we were on Shemini Atzeret when we heard the news of the brutal attack in Israel? Without being able to check my phone or turn on the news, I remember relying on non-Jewish neighbors for bits and pieces of information and the latest devastating updates. Or perhaps we were in Israel and experienced firsthand the sirens and the sight of so many young men and women rushing to leave shuls and their homes, to join units, and solo rescue operations, not knowing if they would ever return…

With the war still raging and so many devastating losses in the IDF, with much of the world turned against Israel, and antisemitism skyrocketing within our midst, it is a challenging time to begin to get into the Yom Tov mood.

And yet—when we look at the very essence of the story of our ancestors in Egypt, it is a model of how to have hope even amidst such difficult circumstances. The incredible midrash of how Moshe came to be born and succeeding events reminds us how single individuals can impact our destiny. When Pharaoh decreed to kill all the male children, Amram, who was head of the Israelite court, made a decree that the Jewish husbands should divorce their wives, since if they got pregnant and gave birth to a male child, that child would be killed. It was Miriam, who was a little girl, who told her father that he was actually worse than Pharoah. “He only decreed against the males, yours applies to females also. He intends to rob children of life in this world; you would deny them even life in the World to Come.” As they say, out of the mouths of babes came incredible faith and wisdom, and Amram heard her sage advice. Setting the example for others to follow with their spouses, he reunited with Yocheved, she became pregnant, and Moshe would be born. What incredible bitachon it took to go on having children—knowing what would face the Jewish women if they gave birth to a male child. I repeatedly think of this midrash when I read of so many Israeli women who have been left widowed—and pregnant—and some have already delivered babies—and their incredible strength in going on with their lives. If you haven’t had a chance to read some of the speeches these women have given on the occasion of their children’s births, take the time to do so. It filled me with hope when I read about their finding meaning within such a difficult time.

I also take solace in the other aspect connected to Moshe’s birth. The Torah evocatively teaches us that when Yocheved could no longer safely hide Moshe at home, she placed him into a basket and Miriam was tasked to watch him as he floated in the Nile. When Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh is bathing in the Nile, she discovers Moshe in the teva and ends up taking him into her house and raising him like a son. Here is one of the most powerful examples we have of a righteous gentile—at risk to her life and situated within the very palace from which the call to genocide—true genocide—goes out, she acts to save a Jewish baby who will end up leading the Jewish people to redemption.

It’s a reminder to me that allies can arise from places one would never think possible. I think of two non-Jews—Senator John Fetterman, once a part of the progressive Democratic caucus, who split ranks because of their anti-Israel positions and now is a vocal supporter of Israel. And of course Congressman Ritchie Torres who has been such a steadfast supporter of Israel that after winning in 2020, he announced he would not join the “Squad,” the progressive caucus, because he was revolted by their support of the BDS movement. Since October 7, he has continued to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and the Jewish People. As we know, Moshe had a Hebrew name but for the rest of his life kept the name Bitya gave him. The Rabbis teach us that this was an example of the hakarat hatov, the gratitude Moshe had to the woman who reached out literally and figuratively to save his life. For us it is a reminder to express our gratitude to elected officials such as Congressman Torres and Senator Fetterman, despite so much pressure exerted on them to fold.

And finally, we should be inspired by the trajectory of Moshe’s life. He was living in the palace and could have continued to keep his Jewish identity to himself. And yet, when he saw the suffering of his people, he “went out to them.” He went so far as to kill an Egyptian overseer who was beating a Jewish slave. It is at that moment, when he saw that no one else was going to intervene, that he rose to the occasion and would not only end up throwing in his lot with B’nai Yisrael but becoming the singular figure to lead them to freedom, and lay the groundwork for us to eventually return back to our indigenous homeland. We have seen countless examples of American Jews who on October 6 identified merely as Jews by birth. On October 7, all that changed with the events in Israel and suddenly caused them to deeply reconnect with the pintele yid within them. We need to continue to reach out to them and be there as a means of support, as so many younger Jews continue to tell me of the loneliness they feel at work and in social circles as Jews who support Israel.

The events that the Torah describes surrounding Moshe and the Jewish people’s Exodus should serve as an inspiration to us as we get both practically and spiritually ready for Pesach. These few weeks prior give us the chance to think about what Pesach truly means and how to face the difficult challenges. And we should never forget amidst our cleaning, shopping, cooking and packing, to redouble our tefilot and support for Medinat Yisrael, Am Yisrael, the chayalim and of course the safe release of the hostages.


Rabbanit Adena Berkowitz is author of the bestselling The Jewish Journey Haggadah which is available on Amazon and your local Jewish bookstore. A practicing therapist, she is Scholar in Residence at Kol HaNeshamah NYC, an organization dedicated to reenergizing the spiritual life of both affiliated and not yet affiliated Jews. She can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles