Last Days of Passover 5781

Holiday #12 (292)

7th(-8th) Passover 5781

April 2-3

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1)Seventh Day of Passover (Friday evening - Saturday night, March 26-27, 2021)

Four Jewish Approches to Obstacles...Plus One

Yanki Tauber

We all know the feeling: we wake up one morning to the realization that the world is not as we would like it to be.

A common experience, to be sure, but many and diverse are the ways in which a person may react to it.
One man embarks on a quixotic crusade to change the world.
A second gives up the world for lost and retreats into whatever protective walls he can erect around himself and his loved ones.
A third takes the "practical" approach, accepting the world for what it is and doing his best under the circumstances.
A fourth recognizes his inability to deal with the situation and looks to a higher authority for guidance and aid.

The Four Factions

Our forefathers experienced just such a rude awakening on the seventh day after their exodus from Egypt.

Ten devastating plagues had broken the might of the Egyptians and forced them to let the Jewish people go. After two centuries of exile and slavery, the children of Israel were headed toward Mount Sinai and their covenant with G-d as His chosen people and a "light unto the nations." Indeed, this was the stated purpose of the Exodus, as G-d told Moses, "When you take this nation out of Egypt, you will serve G-d at this mountain" [Ex. 3:12].

But suddenly the sea was before them, with Pharaoh's armies closing in from behind. Egypt was alive and well, and the sea, too, seemed oblivious to the destiny of the newly-born nation.

How did they react? The Midrash Mechilta on Ex. 14: 13-15 from this week's Reading tells us that the Jewish people were divided into four camps. There were those who said, "Let us throw ourselves into the sea." A second group said, "Let us return to Egypt." A third faction argued, "Let us wage war upon the Egyptians." Finally, a fourth camp advocated: "Let us pray to G-d."

Moses, however, rejected all four options as inappropriate, saying to the people, "Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d, which He will show you today; for as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again, forever. G-d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent" [14:13-14].

"Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d," is Moses' response to those in despair who wanted to plunge into the sea. "As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again," is addressed to those who advocated surrender and return to Egypt. "G-d shall fight for you," is the answer to those who wished to battle the Egyptians, and "you shall be silent" is Moses' rejection of those who said, "All we can do is pray."

What, then, is the Jew to do when caught between a hostile world and an unyielding sea? "Speak to the children of Israel," said G-d to Moses, "that they shall go forward" [14:15].

The Tzaddik in the Fur Coat

The road to Sinai was rife with obstacles and challenges. The same is true of the road from Sinai, our three-thousand-year quest to implement the ethos and ideals of Torah in our world.

Now, as then, there are several possible responses to an adverse world. There is the "Let us throw ourselves into the sea" approach of those who despair of their ability to resist, much less impact, the big bad world out there. Let us plunge into the sea, they say, the sea of the Talmud, the sea of piety, the sea of religious life. Let us sever all contact with an apostate and promiscuous world. Let us build walls of holiness to protect ourselves and our own from the alien winds which storm without, so that we may foster the legacy of Sinai within.

An old chassidic saying refers to a such-minded individual as a "tzaddik in peltz"–"a holy man in a fur coat." There are two ways to warm yourself on a cold winter day: you can build a fire, or wrap yourself in furs. When the isolationist tzaddik is asked, "Why do you think only of conserving your own warmth? Why don't you build a fire that may warm others as well?" he replies, "What's the use? Can I warm up the entire world?" If you persist, pointing out that one small fire can thaw several frozen individuals, who may, in turn, create enough fires to warm a small corner of the universe, he doesn't understand what you want of him. He's a tzaddik, remember, a perfectly righteous individual. There's no place for partial solutions in his life. "It's hopeless," he sighs with genuine sadness and retreats into his spiritual Atlantis.

The Slave

A second "camp" says, "Let us return to Egypt."

Plunging into the sea is not an option, argues the Submissive Jew. This is the world that G-d has placed us in, and our mission is to deal with it, not escape it. We'll just have to lower our expectations a little.

This Exodus business was obviously a pipe dream. How could we presume to liberate ourselves from the rules and constraints which apply to everyone else? To be G-d's "chosen people" is nice, but let us not forget that we are a minority, dependent on the goodwill of the Pharaohs who hold sway in the real world out there.

Certainly, it is our duty to influence the world. But then again, the Jew has many duties: it is his duty to pray three times a day, to give to charity, and observe the Shabbos. So we'll do what we have to. Yes, it's a tough life, keeping all these laws while making sure not to antagonize your neighbors; but who ever said that being a Jew is easy?

The Warrior

A third response to an uncooperative world is that of the Fighting Jew. He understands that it is wrong to escape the world, and equally wrong to submit to it. So he takes it on, both barrels blazing, striding through life with a holy chip on his shoulder, battling immorality, apostates, antisemites, "Hellenist" Jews, and non-fighting Jews. Not for him is the escapism of the first camp or the subservience of the second--he knows that his cause is just, that G-d is on his side, that ultimately he will triumph. So if the world won't listen to reason, he'll knock some sense into it.

The Spiritualist

** Proverbs 3:17; see Talmud, Gittin 59b

"You hope to peacefully change the world?!" say the other three camps. "When was the last time you looked out the window? You might as well try to empty the oceans with a teaspoon."

"You're absolutely right," says the Praying Jew. "Realistically, there's no way it can be done. But who's being realistic?"

"Do you know what the common denominator between all three of you is? Your assessments and strategies are all based on the natural reality. But we inhabit a higher reality. Is not the very existence of the Jewish people a miracle? Ours is the world of the spirit, of the word."

"So basically your approach is to do nothing," they counter.

"Again you are employing the standards of the material world," answers the Praying Jew, "a world that views prayer as "doing nothing". But a single prayer, coming from a caring heart, can achieve more than the most secure fortress, the most flattering diplomat, or the most powerful army."


And what does G-d say? "Forward!"

True, it is important to safeguard and cultivate all that is pure and holy in the Jewish soul, to create an inviolable sanctum of G-dliness in one's own heart and one's community. True, there are times when we must deal with the world on its own terms. True, we must battle evil. And certainly, we must acknowledge that we cannot do it all on our own.

It is also true that each of these four approaches have their time and place. But none of them is the vision to guide our lives and define our relationship with the world about us. When the Jew is headed towards Sinai and is confronted with a hostile or indifferent world, his response must be to go forward.

Not to escape reality, not to submit to it, not to wage war on , not to deal with it only on a spiritual level, but to go forward. Do another mitzvah, ignite another soul, take one more step toward your goal. Pharaoh's charioteers are breathing down your neck? A cold and impregnable sea bars your path? Don't look up, look forward. See that mountain? Move toward it.

And when you do, you will see that insurmountable barrier yield and that ominous threat fade away. You will see that despite all the "evidence" to the contrary, you have it within your power to reach your goal. Even if you have to split some seas. If only you move forward.

(Reprinted from Ascent Quarterly, based on an essay by the author in Week in Review)


1)Eighth Day of Passover (Saturday night - Sunday night, March 27-28, 2021)

The Teacher and the King

"The spirit of G-d shall rest upon him…He will be permeated with the spirit of the fear of G-d…The wolf will dwell with the lamb." (Isaiah 11:2 - Haftorah for the Eighth Day of Passover outside of Israel)

In this passage, the prophet describes the coming of Mashiach who will arrive and redeem us speedily in our days, highlighting several aspects of the King Mashiach's qualities and his conduct.

At the outset, it describes the spiritual level of Mashiach himself: "And the spirit of G-d shall rest upon him…" And then it continues to describe his conduct: "And he will be permeated with the spirit of the fear of G-d…" Our Sages interpret (Sanhedrin 93b) this phrase to mean that he will judge the righteous through his sense of smell.

Afterwards, the verse continues: "And a wolf shall dwell with a lamb…," indicating that Mashiach's conduct will bring about (1) the revelation of G-dliness throughout the world, not only among humans, but also among animals (2) and within the sphere of inanimate objects, (3) as the passage continues, "and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d" (Isaiah 11:9). Even the physical earth will be "filled with the knowledge of G-d."

But seeing that "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d," why will it be necessary to have a king in that age? [Seemingly, the purpose of a king is to enforce law and order; since all existence will be permeated with the knowledge of G-d, it would appear that such enforcement will not be necessary.]

In short, the explanation of the concept is that kingship is identified with the quality of exaltedness, the concept that a king is separate and uplifted above his people. Even the commands given by a king reflect closeness; the king draws closer to his people by leading them according to his desires.

His subjects' obedience to the king's commands does not come because they know and appreciate the reason for the commands, but rather out of fear and dread for the king, as our Sages say, (Sanhedrin 22a) "His dread must be upon you." Thus even the goodness the king gives to his people reflects that he is exalted and separate.

This reflects the difference between the influence given by a teacher and that given by a king. When a teacher influences a student, he draws closer to him, for he restricts his own understanding to a level appropriate for the student so that the student will grasp the idea. The influence of a king, by contrast, remains separate from the people, above their intellectual comprehension; this is because a king communicates his wishes as decrees, to be accepted out of awe of him - and not because the people understand.)

The source for these two types of influence which Mashiach will provide, that of a king and that of a teacher, is in the Torah (4), for the Torah contains parallels to both of these influences. There are certain Torah concepts that have been enclothed in an intellectual form, paralleling the influence of a teacher. The essence of the Torah, however, remains above intellect, paralleling the influence of a king.

In the Era of the Redemption, both of these dimensions will become manifest, and thus Mashiach will be called both a teacher and a king.
Mashiach will teach the Torah to the entire Jewish people and convey a fine discerning and knowledgeable appreciation of the Torah's mystic secrets. Because of this influence, Mashiach will be considered as a teacher.

And yet, Mashiach himself will comprehend infinitely more than he will communicate through intellect. This dimension of his being he will also convey to the people, but he will do so in an encompassing manner, as a king conveys influence. [The word "encompassing", makif in Hebrew, refers to a light or form of influence that is too powerful to be grasped and internalized and therefore is described as "encompassing." The point is, however, that this encompassing influence is not entirely transcendent. Instead, although it is too powerful to be internalized, it does influence the person.]

Moreover, as is well known, Mashiach will teach people the Torah using the medium of sight, a manner of instruction that transcends ordinary comprehension. Nevertheless, the influence which he will convey as a king is so lofty that it cannot even be revealed through the transcendent influence of sight. And yet, because Mashiach will also serve as a king, he will reveal even these matters to the Jewish people. Their revelation, however, will be in an encompassing matter.


[Excerpted from Sefer HaMa'amarim Melukat II pp 45-46 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
as translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger in "Anticipating the Redemption" Vol. II (S.I.E.]
(1) Note also that the Rambam (Mishna Torah, Hilchot Melachim 11:4) when speaking of Mashiach "perfecting) the world" refers to mankind [as indicated by the proof text he chooses: "I will transform the nations…"] The Rambam also interprets [ibid. 12:1]: "A wolf will dwell with a lamb," as an allegory referring to mankind.
(2) Although the Rambam maintains that this verse should be interpreted as an allegory, the sages of Kabbala and Chasidut rule that the verses should be interpreted according to their simple meaning.
(3) Note the verse, "A stone from the wall will call out" (Habakkuk 2:11), Midrash Tehillim (ch. 73) states that in the Era of the Redemption even inanimate objects will be permeated by G-dly energy.
(4) The same is true with regard to all entities that exist, for they are all a reflection - after numerous intermediate levels - from concepts that exist in the Torah, as implied by the statement "(G-d) looked in the Torah and created the world. (Zohar, Vol. II, p. 161a, b)


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