Ritual Wisdom

Ritual Wisdom 3-29-19

This Shabbat we read Torah reading Shmini, the third reading in the Book of Leviticus. In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading, we also read from a second Torah, Torah reading Parah.

Torah reading Parah is the third of the four special Torah readings read every year before Pesach.

In Torah reading Shemini the Torah indicates the signs of the kosher animals, fowl and fish which a Jew is permitted to eat and specifies the non-kosher one’s which we are prohibited from eating.

Then the Torah says, “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy for I am holy.”

Q. Why does the Torah use a repetitious expression, “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy.”  Naturally, if one sanctifies himself or herself, they are holy?

A. The Torah tells us that G-d says, “Make an effort to sanctify yourself (“Sanctify yourselves”) and I will then assist you and make it happen (“and you shall be holy”).

Our sages find a great lesson in this. G-d helps the person who makes an effort to do good. The Torah guarantees, if one makes the effort, G-d will help them achieve their goal.

Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy for I am holy.” Says Rabbi Levi Yizchak of Barditchev, “When a father is wealthy it is easier for the child to do well in business, for he has on whom to rely for help. So too, it makes it much easier for us to be able to achieve holiness when we know that if we make the effort, our Father in Heaven, G-d, Who is holy, will help us achieve that goal.”

There is a wonderful story told in the Midrash which illustrates this point:  Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa, one of the great Talmudic sages, was very poor. He once saw a beautifully shaped rock which he very much wanted to bring as a gift to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.   However, the rock was too heavy for him to carry and he couldn’t afford to pay porters to deliver it to Jerusalem.

Rabbi Chanina prayed to G-d for help. Soon five angels in the form of men appeared and offered to help.  He told them that he would like them to carry the stone to Jerusalem, but he couldn’t pay them.  The five angels immediately offered to carry the rock to Jerusalem, but with the condition that Rabbi Chanina put his finger to the rock and help them carry it.

Our sages explain that, although the angels didn’t need Rabbi Chanina’s help, the lesson is that G-d wants us to do as much as we can, then G-d will take care of the rest.  This is what the Torah means, “Sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy for I am holy.”

The holiday of Pesach (Passover) is in less than four weeks. The first Seder will be celebrated Friday night, April 19. The second Seder (in the Diaspora only) will be celebrated, Saturday night, April 20.

Our sages tell us that thirty days before the holiday of Pesach we have to begin studying the laws of Pesach. There are many laws and customs associated with the Pesach holiday. We should be prepared for the holiday properly.

The Pesach Seder shouldn’t only be an excuse for another delicious meal. It must also have a religious flavor too. It is a time when we celebrate not only our physical freedom, but also our spiritual freedom. Our children and grandchildren deserve to benefit from the spiritual beauty of the Seder. Just like the food needs preparing, so too, to make the Seder meaningful needs preparation.

The prohibition of chametz (leavened foods such as bread, cakes, alcohol beverages etc.) during Pesach is very strict. Thus, it is very important to make sure that all products purchased for Pesach should have a reliable kosher certificate.  

The holiday of Pesach has four names;

  1. Chag Ha-Aviv – The holiday of spring.
  2. Chag Ha-Matzot – The holiday of matzot.
  3. Chag Ha-Pesach – The holiday of Pesach (Passover).
  4. Z’man Cheiruteinu – The season of our freedom.

Pesach is Chag Ha-Aviv – The holiday of spring. This is the reason why we have an extra month (leap year) every few years (like this year) in the Hebrew calendar. to make sure that Pesach is celebrated in the spring. Without the extra month Pesach would have been this year in the winter.

Q.  The Torah usually refers to the holiday as “Chag Ha-Matzot” – holiday of matzot.  We, on the other hand, call the holiday “Chag Ha-Pesach” – holiday of Passover. Why is this so?

A.  Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev explains it this way. We call the holiday Pesach, which means to Pass-over – thus we give praise to G-d for sparing the Jewish people by passing over their homes when He afflicted the Egyptians. 

G-d, on the other hand, calls the holiday Chag Ha-Matzot; with this name He gives praise to the Jewish people, for the trust they had in G-d, leaving Egypt in haste, without even preparing food for their journey. They only took out their raw dough which the sun baked into matzot. This shows their great faith in G-d that He would provide for all their needs in the desert, as G-d indeed did.








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