April 12, 2024
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Pesach: The Post-Game Analysis

In the weeks leading up to Pesach, or really any holiday, Passaic becomes a bustle of excitement. There is just something in the air. You can feel like something big is happening. Every trip to the grocery or cleaners is another chance for a stop and chat. (By the way, the term stop and chat has been coined by family. It used to refer to when you are walking on Shabbos and you bump into someone and stop to chat and catch up. More recently, a stop and chat can occur during the week while doing any errands.) When one is standing in the grocery and sees a friend stocking up on potato sticks, it makes you feel like you’re not alone in the Yom Tov prep. Even if you’re busy with looking for the perfect dress for the Seder, I guarantee there are links being texted back and forth among friends. The planning and coordinating seems to be a group effort—almost as if we’re in it together.

It occurred to me around the second day of Chol Hamoed that the experience once Pesach finally starts is much more personal, as all the mitzvos for this Yom Tov have to be by each individual person. Each person has their own obligation to each matzah and marror as well as recite specific parts of the Haggadah. Even more so, it’s the one holiday with a rain date option of Pesach Sheini for your korban if you can’t make it to Yerushalayim in Nisan, as you should not rely on a proxy to give this korban on your behalf. While one relies on a baal koreh on Rosh Hashana to fulfill the mitzvah of tekias shofar, you can’t delegate the mitzvos of the Seder. On Purim, the only way to complete all the mitzvos is to interact with others by giving mishloach manos. We have a specific mitzvah of pirsumei nisa with our menorahs on Chanukah, and one of the objectives of our sukkah is to have the outside world see us and ask questions about the mitzvah. The essence of Pesach is to feel as if you were actually leaving Mitzrayim and feeling the miracle in your soul, so the idea of doing the mitzvos on your own completely aligns with the essence of the Yom Tov.

One of the parts of the Seder that I only appreciated in more recent years is Hallel. At that point it’s so late, and most years I just rush through it on my own if I even say it at all. This year I managed to stay up and might have even enjoyed it. It occurred to me at lunch the first day of Yom Tov that I had already said Hallel three times. I was in shul the first night before the Seder and it is the shul’s minhag to say Hallel at night, next at the Seder and then in shul the next day. This idea resonated with me tremendously. Here I was having a holiday that I personally had to be so involved in, while I also was constantly praising Hashem. I wasn’t asking for anything like forgiveness and a year full of success like I do on the yamim noraim. Or making beautiful mishloach manos to bring to my friends. It was just me having an independent experience. I sat at a Seder table filled with family and very close friends, but each of us were biting into the matzah and marror and eliciting all sorts of unique feelings for each one there. And while singing Hallel, each time I was thinking of different things that I actually wanted to praise Hashem for. Whether I was conscious of it or not, praising Hashem continuously was seeping into me and was reminding me to fully take the time to focus on Hashem’s abilities and believe even more that He is kulo tov, no matter what is happening in my life or those I love and care about.

As I have written in the past, Pesach is like a Rosh Hashanah for us. It’s a chance for each of us to renew our relationship with Hashem. While we spend Rosh Hashanah in Tishrei asking to be bentched for all good things for a new year and forgiveness for all we have done the past year, Pesach is our time to praise Hashem for all the good we have received so far and renew and refresh our relationship with Him. A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through Instagram and caught Abbey Wolin’s instastory. She was sharing how she was having some anxiety about a project she was working on in her business and whether or not it would be successful. She mentioned that her husband pointed out that whatever was going to happen was already decided on months ago on Rosh Hashanah and finalized on Yom Kippur. While the yamim noraim seem like a lifetime ago, it’s hard to remind ourselves that everything we are working through—the good, the bad, the ugly—has all been determined months ago. Of course we believe in bechira and hishtadlus, but that reminder that all aspects of our lives—from all the good we are bentched with to the heart-wrenching nisyonos we are challenged by—are all part of Hashem’s plan.

Due to the nature of the calendar this year, we read Shir Hashirim on the very last day of Yom Tov. Shir Hashirim is the ultimate love story between Hashem and klal Yisrael. Shlomo Hamelech wrote Shir Hashirim with the anticipation of klal Yisrael being exiled to galus one more time, and in some ways needing a textual reminder that despite the galus, Hashem’s love for us knows no bounds. I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to end a Yom Tov of praise and song. We can spend day in and day out praising Hashem for all the good, but how often do we stop and think about our personal relationship with Him and how He craves it just as much as we do?

During Pesach we begin to count Sefira: another mitzvah that is not only time bound, but also can not be done on someone else’s behalf. There are two aspects of Sefira to focus on. The first is that we are preparing to receive the Torah on Shavuos. It is our time to re-accept the Torah and remind ourselves to do everything we can to incorporate the Torah in to our lives the best we can. For each person that will look like something different: how we define the mitzvos, how we understand the stories of the avos and imahos—this will all be unique to each person. What is most fascinating about Shavuos is that it’s the only Yom Tov that currently does not have any specific mitzvos as part of the observance of the holiday. (Iy”H, when we have the Beis Hamikdash, we will have specific korbanos to bring.) It has become a minhag to stay up all night and learn, but that still falls under the general mitzvah of limud Torah. It’s as if Hashem is giving us this gift of time when we don’t have to be busy with anything else and we can spend a Yom Tov reacquainting ourselves with our precious Torah and reaccepting the mitzvos into our lives.

The second aspect of Sefira is mourning the loss of Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim. We are taught at a young age that the talmidim were killed because they were no longer showing respect for one another. While we take this time to mourn their loss, it seems we should be taking the time to evaluate how we respect those around us. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own lives, our own needs, that simple common courtesy can fly out the window without even realizing. I believe that people generally have good intentions in how they approach others with their speech and their actions. Whether or not the execution of those intentions yield positive results is another matter. We may not even realize that we are speaking insensitively to someone or not including someone. As the recipient of more chesed in my lifetime than I will ever have a chance to reciprocate, I can say first-hand that this is where things can go off the rails. This can be when it comes to helping someone who is going through a challenging time or making a simcha when we just have a need to be a part of our friends’ lives and crave to help them so they know we care. More often than not, it has to be done on our terms. Suppose your friend is making a simcha and asks you to make a salad, but you already have cookies in the freezer and you’re just not in the mood to cut up all those vegetables, so you just send the cookies anyway and forget the salad? Suppose your friend is having a bad day and just needs you to listen, but you just had a fabulous day and found out about a promotion at work and can’t wait to share your great news? How does your sensitivity to respecting your peers come into play? Do you do the good deed just so you can check it off your to-do list, or are you actually focused on the needs of the recipient? While we are in school we have yimei iyun to focus on our midos, but then we hit our 30s and we’re somehow expected that these things don’t need work.

There is an obvious correlation between these two concepts; it’s not possible for one to walk into kabalas haTorah in a few short weeks without strengthening both our bein adam lechavero and bein adom laMakom. The hard part is that we have a tendency to forget that Hashem is in truth leaps and bounds more forgiving than our peers and will love us unconditionally and forgive us no matter what, while relationships with actual humans takes a lot more work as feelings and emotions are at stake. Hashem will take any sort of relationship from us, but you have to be in it to feel the reciprocity. On the other hand, the people we choose to keep in our lives require more sensitivity and negotiation. In both types of relationships, when they are good they can elevate you to heights you’ve never dreamed of, and that’s what we strive for.

It’s apropos that my grandfather, Reb Yaakov Meir HaLevi Ben Moshe, was niftar on Isru Chag Pesach at the very beginning of our Sefira experience. To watch him wrapped in his tallis with his tefillin propped on his thick gray hair (that he used to joke he only had cut on Lag BaOmer) was to watch someone in direct communication with Hashem and completely in sync with the life Hashem had blessed him with, which certainly came with many challenges. And then to watch him interact with ticket collectors on the Staten Island ferry to homeless people he would buy sandwiches for was living proof that every human deserves respect. My grandfather epitomized the term kiddush Hashem, whether it was his life as the campus rabbi in NYU when he was a newlywed in the ‘50s, the impact he made on Jewish journalism in the United States as editor of many publications, to his time as a speechwriter for Mayor Koch, to his ultimate role as a husband, father and grandfather. He will continue to be a source of strength to all those who miss him so dearly, and certainly his legacy can be a source of inspiration to all as the epitome of a true eved Hashem.

By Rachel Zamist

 

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