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Why Celebrate a Partial Liberation? - פסח

Why Celebrate a Partial Liberation?  

For millennia, on the night of Passover, the Jewish people have sat with family and friends, celebrating the liberation from Egypt. Yet what is the meaning of commemorating a liberation which did not last? For most of Jewish history, the Jewish people have been subjugated by world empires, oppressed and persecuted. What value is there to the exodus from Egypt if we reverted to other forms of slavery? Even today, when we live in free countries, we are not in a state of liberty, free of challenge and pain. Amongst us there are people who, to some degree, or another, experience poverty, pain, and suffering. 

In addition to physical liberation, the exodus from Egypt ushered in spiritual liberation. Yet, the spiritual freedom did not either last. We look within ourselves, and we know that, to some degree, we are plagued by negativity and challenge, far from the ideal state of spiritual liberation.

How, then, can we celebrate liberation when we are burdened with worry and hardship? How can we celebrate spiritual liberation if we don’t feel spiritually free? 

The key to understanding the nature of the celebration is the introductory passage we say at the beginning of Magid, the part of the Seder in which we recite the story of the exodus:

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.

This introductory passage highlights that we are very much aware of the present reality as we sit down to celebrate freedom. We are aware that we are far from an ideal state of freedom. Amongst us there are people who are hungry and in need who we must reach out to and invite into our homes. “This year we are here,” we are not in our ideal state in the land of Israel. “This year we are slaves,” we still have vestiges of bondage to material hardship and worries as well as subjugation to spiritual challenge. 

Judaism in general, and Passover in particular, is a bridge within time, interconnecting past, present and future. We are firmly in the present, rooted in the past, and working to the future. Therefore, despite the past exodus from Egypt not being a complete redemption, and therefore, in the present, the freedoms we received have eroded over time; we celebrate the exodus from Egypt because it unleashed the potential for us to work toward the future, complete, redemption. 

As we sit down to our Seder, we celebrate the past exodus because it empowers us in the present to work for a wholly liberated future. The Matzah, the “bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt”, inspires our present (“this year we are here”) to improve the future and usher in the ultimate liberation - “next year in the land of Israel... next year [we will be] free people.”

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 17 Pesach sicha 2 


Do You Hear the Calling? - ויקרא

 Do You Hear the Calling?


The opening verse of the third book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra {Leviticus} reads: 


And He called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying. 


This verse raises several grammatical questions. (1) What is the meaning of the double expression "he called" and "spoke"? The verse could have simply stated: "the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying"? (2) Why does the verse say "He", without stating explicitly that it was Hashem who called; whereas regarding the expression "spoke" the verse states clearly that it was "the Lord" who spoke?


Rashi, the preeminent Biblical commentator, explains that the Torah writes "And He called", in addition to "spoke ", because it is an expression of affection. As Rashi tells us: 


Every [time God communicated with Moses, whether it was represented by the expression] "And He spoke," or "and He said," or "and He commanded," it was always preceded by {the expression of} calling {to Moses}. "Calling "{Vayikra} is an expression of affection, the {same} expression employed by the ministering angels {when addressing each other}, as it says, "And one called to the other…" (Isaiah 6:3). 


There is a Chasidic explanation for why the Torah uses both expressions "He called" and "Hashem spoke. 


The word Vayikra, "and he called," is written in the Torah scroll with a small Aleph {ויקרא}. The letter Aleph, which is the numerical value of one, is related to the word "Aluf," which means leader or ruler, referring to Hashem, the ruler of the universe. The letter Alef is small because although we often hear a Divine call - something inside us is stirred, we feel moved and inspired to change and improve, or we feel that the life we are living is lacking - the Aleph, the Divine source of the call, is hidden. We feel drawn to something, but we are not sure what we are drawn to, we sense our soul yearning, but we don't know what we are yearning for; we hear the calling, but the caller is hidden. 


The third book begins "and He called," concealing the identity of the caller, because when Hashem reaches out to us, he does not overwhelm us with his awe-inspiring presence. Instead, He calls to us through a guise of nature, circumstances, or the yearning within ourselves. If, when we hear the call, we continue to explore, we will discover that, in reality, it is Hashem who is calling us. We then reach the second clause of the verse: "the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying", we will come to the tent of meeting, the temple which housed the ark and the Torah. In the Torah, we will advance from hearing the disguised call to understanding and appreciating the holy words of the Torah, which articulate Hashem's words to us. 


Hashem is calling you. The Torah will help you understand the calling. 


Adapted from the Meiras Einayim   



The Kabbalah of Colors - ויקהל פקודי


The Kabbalah of Colors 

The Mishkan, the Sanctuary the Jewish people build in the desert, is described in this week’s portion in all its detail. The commandment to construct the Mishkan, “make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell amongst them,” employs the plural {“them”} because it alludes to Hashem dwelling in the figurative sanctuary within every individual. As the equivalent of every detail of the temple: its coverings, walls, foundation sockets, courtyard, and furniture, exist within the life of every Jew. 

Covering the sanctuary was a magnificent tapestry of woven colored wool and linen. As the Torah describes: 

Then all the wise-hearted people of the performers of the work made the Mishkan out of ten curtains [consisting] of twisted fine linen, and blue, purple, and crimson wool. A cherubim design, the work of a master weaver he made them. (Exodus 36:8)

The colors of the dyed wool are significant. The Kabbalah teaches that every soul possesses seven emotional sefirot, or attributes, which blend to produce the full spectrum of human emotion. Three of the seven represent three primary emotions, represented by 3 colors: crimson - love, blue - awe and respect, purple - compassion. 

Red is the color of passion. Crimson red represents the soul’s passionate yearning to cleave to Hashem. Like the flame surging upward, our soul is in a constant dance of passionately yearning to reconnect to its source and reunite with Hashem. 

Turquoise Blue represents awe and respect. While love is the draw to connect, to become one, awe causes one to pull back. The attribute of love desires to connect and unite. In contrast, the feeling of awe creates distance and respect. 

The Talmud (Menachot 43b) teaches that “tekhelet {turquoise-blue} is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the firmament and the firmament is similar to the throne of Glory.”  Blue evokes the color of the heavens, which reminds us of how small we are in comparison to the universe, and evokes within us the awe of Hasehem. 

Purple, a blend of red and blue, represents compassion, which is a blend of love and awe. Compassion is the feeling of love that is awakened by the fear of a painful circumstance. When we feel compassion, we are feeling the love for someone as well as dread of the suffering. 

All three colors-emotions are necessary in order to build a relationship with Hashem. Crimson, the love that draws us to come close to G-d, is balanced by turquoise, the retreat in awe back to fulfill Hashem’s will on this earth. And at times when we don’t feel emotionally connected, when we feel numb and cold, we look to the purple, the emotion of compassion. By feeling empathy and compassion for our soul, a spark of Hashem trapped in material reality, the awe and love are again reawakened. 

(Adapted from Hayosheves Baganim 5708)

Fire From Flintstone - כי תשא

Fire From Flintstone 

It seems that all hope is lost; the fire has been extinguished. 

Fire needs suitable conditions to survive, it needs fuel to burn, and water can wash it away. But what if the fuel was spent, and the diminishing coal is thrown into the water? 

In that case, you can create a new fire from a flintstone. The beauty of the flintstone is that its fire yielding potential can lie dormant for many years, the stone can be immersed at the bottom of the sea for decades, yet, when steel hits the rock with force, it can produce a spark that will once again ignite a fire.  

The verse says: "the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire." The Divine energy, like fire, surges upward, seeking to escape the confines of this world and return to its source. In order for the Divine holiness to be present in our life, we must produce the fuel that keeps the fire grounded. The fuel is thought, speech, and action of Torah and Mitzvot. Every time we engage in a holy thought, speech or action, we produce the fuel that keeps the Divine fire alive in our world and in our life. 

In this week's portion, we read about how the people betrayed G-d and created the golden calf. Like the tablets Moses shattered, the fire of love and passion to G-d was destroyed. Lacking fuel, the flame of romance escaped and ascended into thin air.  

As the story unfolds, we realize that it is, in fact, a story of healing and reconnection. G-d forgives the people and gives them the second set of tablets. And Moses, amazed, asked to see G-d's glory, to understand the essence of G-d, the source of forgiveness.

In what are perhaps the most cryptic mystical verses in all of the Torah we read: 

And the L-rd said: "Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock.

And it shall be that when My glory passes, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. (Exodus 33:21-22)

What is the meaning of these words and images? G-d's glory? The rock? The cleft of the rock? 

While there are multiple interpretations, one Kabbalistic interpretation is that the rock alludes to the imagery of the fire-producing flintstone. For indeed, the passionate fire of the relationship between G-d and His people is no longer seen or felt. "My glory has passed", the light and the warmth are gone. Yet G-d tells Moses that the core of the Jew, the cleft of the rock, can still produce fire. Even when the stone, the core of the Jew, is immersed in water, nothing can rob it of its ability to once again produce a spark. The forceful pull to return to G-d, motivated by the pain of distance from G-d, creates the spark that will ignite into a fire, healing the pain, and recreating the love. 

In our own lives, we sometimes feel that hope is lost; the fire has been extinguished. Like Moses, we must remember the image of the flintstone lying in the water. And remember that our soul, like the flintstone, always retains the ability to create warmth, holiness, and fiery passion. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Ki Tisa 5722

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