Month: April 2022

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Achrei Mos

Live By Them

In the end of this week’s parsha, Acharei Mos, we find the phrase Vochai Bohem, a commandment to keep the laws of Hashem and “LIVE BY THEM.” Rashi comments that to live by them is not referring to living by them in this world, but rather in the world to come.  His explanation, however, requires further exploration. What mitzvos are we doing in the world to come? We are taught by Chazal that we do mitzvos in this world to enable us to enjoy the next world. The world to come is the world where we reap the benefits from what we did here in this world; the world to come is not a place of doing.

Furthermore, the Talmud uses this very same verse to teach us that we need to LIVE BY THEM (the mitvos), meaning not to die by them. Therefore, we are not supposed to give up our lives in this world in fulfilling a mitzvah (except for the three exceptions of murder, idol worshipping, and immoral relationships). Hence, this verse is speaking about this world and not the world to come. So how do we reconcile these two different interpretations of the same phrase, Rashi’s explanation with the understanding of the Talmud?

The Slonimer Rebbe z”l (20th c) resolves this difference in opinion with a simple thought.  According to him, both interpretations are correct. The verse is referring to both worlds.  Rashi is telling us that the reward we earn in the world to come is based on how we kept the mitzvos in this world. If we are inspired and we are truly living the mitzvos with enthusiasm and passion, in the world to come we will feel a greater connection to Hashem. However, if we are just going through the motions while doing the mitvos, we may not feel as connected in the world to come. In other words, what we put in here (in this world), carries over to the next world (the world to come).

The following short story epitomizes this thought. A student once proudly stated to his Rabbi with excitement that he just went through a tractate of Talmud and completed it. The Rabbi commented, “That is nice that you went through it, but did the words you learn go through you, did they touch you?” We need to take the inspiration of how we do our mitzvos with us.

Last week we concluded the holiday of Passover providing us with many opportunities to fulfill many mitzvos. These mitzvos are ones that we generally celebrate with much enthusiasm and inspiration. Let’s take that inspiration as a model to LIVE BY THEM throughout the year so in the world to come we will have that stronger connection with Hashem. 

A Taste of Torah – Pesach

Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller

In the Mishna in Pesachim, our sages tell us how to structure the retelling of the narrative of יציאת מצרים-the Exodus. We are told to be, “מתחיל בגנות ומסיים בשבח- begin with the embarrassing information about our past and then to conclude with the ennobling information.” The Gemara quotes two amoraic opinions, Rav and Shmuel, who argue as to how to fulfill this directive. Shmuel holds that we should begin with our sad plight as slaves and to conclude with our freedom. Rav’s opinion is that we should begin with our ancestors’ idolatry and conclude with our closeness to Hashem.  The first explanation seems to focus on the physical journey from slavery to freedom and the second explanation focuses on the spiritual journey from alienation to closeness with Hashem. In either interpretation, we need to understand why Chazal structured the Hagaddah in this manner.

It appears that our sages wanted to enrich this night’s great and foundational mitzvah by adding several components to it:

  1. A full perspective of the history of Yetziyas Mitzrayim: The complete scope of any event cannot be understood without the background information. This process is called סיפור-recounting since we literally “count out” the events and conditions that led to the climax of the story. If we don’t explain our early history and even our less appealing past, we cannot appreciate to where we’ve arrived.
  2. Humility: When we celebrate our triumph and our vindication, we need to double down on humility and to remember that all of this is by the grace of Hashem. If He would not have chosen us for a special role in history, we would be relegated to the dustheap of history just as all the other nations of antiquity who perhaps shone brighter than ourselves in the ancient days.
  3. Need to be vigilant: The most important thing about history is to learn its lessons. Our history exposes some weaknesses in our past, and we need to be aware of them so that we can be careful and not slip back into the unproductive and incorrect behaviors and attitudes of the past. This awareness builds our resilience. If we focus only on our success, we won’t know where the landmines are.

Let’s take these ideas to heart as we gather with our families to relive the awesome experience of the Exodus and its impact on us, a people forever. This annual experience reestablishes our identity, our relation to Hashem and our priorities as a people.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

A Taste of Torah – Parshas Metzora/Shabbos HaGadol

Written by: Rabbi Mordechai Raizman

Three Matzos

Pesach will soon be here and as we approach the Seder there is a noticeable change in the start of the meal. Usually we set the table with two challos on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but on the night of Pesach we use three matzos. Some commentaries explain that each matzah represents one of our forefathers, Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the founders of the Jewish nation. Since Pesach is the time when the Jewish people became a nation, it is befitting to keep our beginnings in mind, look back at our roots, our spiritual genes so to speak, as we start the Seder night.

One question arises if we explore this idea one step further. The middle matzah which represents Yitzchak is the matzah that we break in two and save part of it for the Afikomen. What, if any, is the significance to breaking Yitzchak’s matzah?

When Avrohom was about to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice to Hashem, Yitzchak never wavered in his belief. He was ready to give up his life for his beliefs. The breaking of “his” matzah symbolizes that mesrias nefesh (giving of one’s self) to do the will of G-d. Yitzchak’s actions instilled in Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) the fortitude and strength to overcome the many challenges not only in connection with the Pesach story but for all successive generations.

Pesach, as we experience the Seder, is the opportune time for all of us to acknowledge how we have benefited from the previous generations’ mesrias nefesh.  Their tremendous sacrifices continue to play a big part in instilling in us Torah values. The Seder provides the perfect setting for us to express our gratitude to our Rabbeim, Moros, parents, and grandparents for their constant mesrias nefesh to help us become steadfast in our commitment to be Torah Jews.