Lessons from the Names of Pesach

 “The   entire   Congregation   of  the  assembly   of Israel  shall  slaughter  it in the afternoon” (Shemot 12:6)

Chazal tell  us (Tur, Orach Chaim 430) that  the Shabbat preceding Pesach is called  Shabbat Hagadol because of the  great miracle  that occurred  then. Bnei Yisrael were commanded on that day to take one sheep for  each family  and tie  it to  the  bedpost,  in  preparation  to slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan. When the Egyptians observed how the Jews disgraced their deity, slaughtering it and eating its flesh, they were full of fury and wanted to completely destroy them. Hashem performed miracles on behalf of His people, and they remained unharmed.

An  incident   that  occurred   in  Arab  countries   in  the  year  5771 illustrates  the tumult  that must have erupted due to the slaughtering of the sheep. A Christian  leader wished  to  mock Islam. He publicly burned the Koran. The entire Muslim world was up in arms. Pandemonium and protests broke out, loudly decrying this act.

Bnei Yisrael took the sheep, the sanctified idols of the Egyptians, and publicly  slaughtered and consumed them. These were the very same Jews who had recently  been wretched  slaves, submissive to their Egyptian taskmasters. Here they came and scorned the sheep, deity of  the  ruling  race. The name Shabbat Hagadol attests  to  the  great miracles performed on behalf of Bnei Yisrael, protecting  them from the wrath of the gentiles.

However,  wouldn’t   it be  more  appropriate   to  call  the  Shabbat preceding   Yom  Kippur   Shabbat  Hagadol?   This  is  the  day  when everyone rouses himself  spiritually, and his heart  is filled  with  yirat Shamayim. On this Shabbat each person surely examines his deeds and seeks ways to improve  himself. He does complete teshuvah, in order to prepare himself fittingly for the great day of Yom Kippur. One does not usually attain this purity  of soul on other  Shabbatot of the year. Why, then, is this Shabbat not called Shabbat Hagadol?

The Torah is very stringent  concerning the prohibition of chametz on Pesach. One is enjoined to check every crack and crevice, nullifying any and all forms of chametz. But our Chachamim do not suffice with the mitzvah of the Torah. They commanded that we burn any remnants of chametz in  our  possession, fearing lest  one may come across a tasty-looking piece of chametz on Pesach and eat it (see Pesachim 6b). This  would  seem sensible regarding large amounts  of chametz. But why   are  we  required   to   search  out   and  burn   even  a  crumb long-forgotten in some far corner? Do we really suspect that someone would want to eat it?

In order to address these questions, let us first  study the names of this holiday.  The names given for Pesach, in their  correct  order, can serve as trailblazers  to pave our path in Avodat Hashem.

We begin with Chag Ha’aviv – The Spring Festival. The spring is when all the foliage becomes renewed. The trees turn green and the flowers blossom. The entire world  becomes rejuvenated. A person, at times, wishes to turn  over a new leaf. He wants to open a fresh page in his spiritual  life, improving  himself and walking the road of righteousness. How is this done? By means of Chag Hamatzot – The Festival of Matzot. The word תוצמ  (matzot)  is similar to the word תווצמ  (mitzvot). On the pasuk (Shemot 12:17), “You  shall  safeguard the matzot,”  Chazal say (Mechilta) in the name of Rabbi Yoshiah, “Do not read matzot, but mitzvot.  Do not a let mitzvah that comes your way go sour.” The first step in the journey  to the House of Hashem is to first  and foremost attach oneself to Torah and mitzvot.

To reach this strong connection, one must take the lesson from the name Chag HaPesach – The Festival of Passover. He must “pass over” all materialism. If a person is constantly attracted to the pleasures of this world,  he will  never manage to  acquire  Torah  and perform  mitzvot properly.  One who is enslaved to the pleasures of his body and is not prepared  to  forego them,  constantly  chasing fleeting  frivolities, will never be capable of harnessing himself with the reins of Torah and mitzvot.  He will not agree to submit himself to the yoke of the King of the world.  But if he is wise enough to distance himself from  earthly pleasures,  “passing  over”   physical   pursuits,   and  overcoming   the nisyonot  strewn  on  his  path,  his  way  will  be  paved  before  him, connecting him with the Creator. He has become liberated  of the shackles of the Yetzer Hara, freed from the frivolities of this world. He will thereby become attached to Torah and mitzvot.  The pasuk states (ibid. 12:27), “It is a Pesach feast-offering to Hashem.” By passing over the enticements of the Yetzer Hara, he will  merit becoming sanctified to Hashem.

This  is  the  essence of  Pesach. A person  frees himself  from  the bondage of his Yetzer Hara, distancing  himself from him as much as possible.  For if  he were to  allow  him  even a small foothold  in  his territory, the Yetzer will end up becoming his master, chalilah. Chazal tell us (Bereishit Rabbah 22), “At first,  the Yetzer Hara is weak like a female. Afterward,  he gains strength  like a male. At first,  he is like a guest. But afterward, he becomes the landlord.”

Now we might understand why the Torah is so scrupulous regarding even a small crumb  of chametz on Pesach. Chametz symbolizes the Yetzer Hara, which  must  be eradicated  at  all  costs.  If even a tiny smidgen of the Yetzer Hara resides within  a person’s heart, it will eventually  overtake him completely.  Chazal tell us (Sukkah 52a) that the Yetzer Hara begins as a thin spider’s web and eventually becomes as thick  as wagon ropes. The Yetzer Hara never rests on his laurels, always attempting  to  rope  us in as his slaves. It  is therefore  every person’s obligation  to thoroughly  examine his “cracks and crevices” for any trace of impurity and eradicate it completely.  Any suggestion of sin should be burned, and any negative character trait  purged from within  him. For although  the Yetzer Hara starts  off small, we cannot fathom the proportions he can acquire.

The Shabbat preceding Pesach is auspicious for the name Shabbat Hagadol. It is then that a person perceives the proper  path he should take to  ensure his  walking  safely in  his  Avodat  Hashem. For if  he merited a spiritual  awakening and wishes to start a new chapter in his spiritual  story,  the equivalent  of Chag Ha’aviv, when all of nature  is renewed, he must connect himself closely with  Chag Hamatzot, representing the mitzvot, which he will attain in the merit of Chag HaPesach, “passing over” the passing pursuits of physicality. He will do this with love and joy, all the while maintaining his distance from chametz, the embodiment of the Yetzer Hara. This will  enable him to acquire the tools to facilitate  his spiritual  ascent throughout the rest of the year. The glow of Pesach already begins on Shabbat Hagadol, illuminating one’s way on the  path  of kedushah, liberated  from  the tentacles of the Yetzer Hara.

Furthermore,  these days provide  preparation  for  the long-awaited day, the day of Matan Torah on Shavuot. No pain, no gain, as the saying goes. One who truly  wishes to  wear the victor’s  crown  of Torah  is required to do battle with the Yetzer Hara. Tireless effort is needed in order to reach great heights.

A man once met me and began pouring out all his woes. He had no place to live; he had no means of support;  and was generally in a bad state. He turned to me pleadingly, asking how he could improve his lot.

I told him that I thought he suffered from the trait of laziness. As long as he would sit idly, he would not accomplish a thing. I suggested that he rise with alacrity every morning and go out to work, living from the fruit of his labor. This would bring him fulfillment, and bisiyata di’Shemaya, his  condition   would   improve.   Man  is  born   to  work. Without  toil, there are no gains.

In contrast, I met a man from Syria who immigrated to Venezuela. He had started off as a wretched pauper, who had suffered many failures. But he never gave up. He decided he would take whatever work came his way, in order to provide  himself a livelihood. Every day, he would  pass by the place where the factories  would dispose of their leftover fabrics. He collected pieces of fabric that still looked good. He would bring them home, and he and his sons would fashion these fabrics into men’s ties. They would sell these ties for a profit.  Slowly but  surely,  his  condition   improved.  He upgraded  the quality  of his ties and eventually opened a store. Hashem helped him tremendously, and he ultimately  became one of the wealthiest men in the country.

These tales show us that a little  self-motivation  goes a long way. If this  applies in materialistic  matters,  how much more so in spiritual ones. How much must man exert himself in order  to merit  acquiring Torah! The great people of our nation merited acquiring their status through  exhausting  efforts  to  sanctify  their  souls  and  purify  their minds. They agreed to forego worldly  pleasures. They fought a mighty battle  with  their   Yetzer  Hara  and  therefore  merited  reaching  the summit of the mountain of Torah and yirat Shamayim.

Even in my own life, I see the truth  of this. Through the merit of my holy ancestors, I have been able to establish Torah institutions throughout the world. But only with much sweat and toil. Throughout the year, I sacrifice myself to bring the word of Hashem to every Jew, no matter  where. In order to increase the glory of Torah throughout the  world,   I  am  constantly   travelling.   This  saps  my  energy  and precludes  normal  sleeping patterns.  For a large part  of  the  year, I hardly  get to spend time with  my wife or my children,  may they live and be well. Yet I am driven by the mission to spread Torah all through the world and broaden the borders of kedushah. This is very likely my tikkun, the reason why I came into the world.

The very generous donations which we manage to distribute to the needy also do not come easily. This year (5771), once again with Hashem’s  chessed, we  succeeded  in  arranging  a  kimcha d’Pischa distribution. Thousands of families in various locations, both in Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora, were assisted in this way. Wherever we heard there was a need, in France, Argentina, and many other countries, we tried to meet it however possible.

Do not entertain  the thought  that the funds for these drives come effortlessly. I must meet with various philanthropists, scattered throughout the  world.  It  is my job  to  convince  them  to  contribute toward our cause. I teach them the virtues of charity.  Baruch Hashem, my efforts pay off, and I see success in my labors.

I am not,  chalilah, relating  all this  in order  to  publicize  my good deeds. It is to teach others that in order to achieve positive results in one’s Avodat Hashem, he must put in effort. He cannot sit still, for only through planting with tears will one reap with joy. During these exalted days, days of preparation for Kabbalat HaTorah, one must exert himself to improve his character and perfect his ways in order to merit wearing the crown of Torah.

I know of many people who put in long hours of work every day. But, unfortunately,  when it comes to Torah, they’re  a closed book. They have no strength left for toiling in Torah and mitzvot. On the contrary, in spiritual  matters, they are lazy, unwilling  to expend the necessary energy for  Avodat  Hashem. Good business deals soak up  all  their stores  of  diligence  and alacrity,  so by  the  end of  the  day, they’re finished.

This  is obviously  not  the  right  way to  act.  Hashem desires  that people put minimal effort into worldly  matters, satisfying oneself with little. But in matters of Avodat Hashem, the sky’s the limit. One should constantly  aspire to reach greater and greater heights, as much as he is able, in Torah and yirat Shamayim.

On one of my trips  to the USA, I met a wealthy man. He came to me for  a  blessing.  I  asked  him  whether  he  dons  tefillin   or  observes Shabbat.

 “I don’t even have time to think of such things,” he answered simply. “From dawn to dusk, I am involved in business.”

I didn’t give up, and pressed on. “Think rationally. In the five minutes it takes you to put on tefillin  each morning, you are bonding with your Maker. This  is  the  most  profitable   deal, earning  you  a portion   in eternity. You should know that all the blessings you enjoy in life come from Hashem. What a shame it is that  you don’t  try  to connect with Him in some way…”

The man heard me out and went on his way. After a long time, he came to me again, this  time  with  his wife. I asked him how he was faring. He told  me that his fortunes suddenly took a downward  turn, leaving him with  hardly  anything. But almost in the same breath, he said the following:  “I came to thank the Rav, shlita, for after our first meeting, I began putting  on tefillin  every day. The words  of the Rav made an impression on me. After being scrupulous with the mitzvah of tefillin,  I began to be scrupulous  with  other  mitzvot,  as well. Baruch Hashem, my  entire  family  has  become  transformed.   We  have  all undergone complete teshuvah, and I have fixed times every day for Torah study. I came to show my gratitude to the Rav, who enlightened my eyes and paved the path of teshuvah before me.”

His wife added, “It  is true  that  we are bereft  of all  our  physical wealth. But we are loaded down with spiritual  riches. This is the wealth that brings in its wake true happiness. The way of Torah suffuses us with  real joy. With  all of our previous  wealth, we never reached the level of happiness we have now.”

This  is  the  story  as  it transpired.   Every  word  transmitted  the message that it is worthwhile for a person to invest his main energies in Avodat Hashem, in Torah study and mitzvah observance. Only they will  grant  him  true  happiness. A life of Torah  does not  end with  a person’s passing on. It escorts him to the World to Come, granting him tremendous reward. But apart from what awaits him in the Next World, he eats of the fruits of his labor even in this world, as well.

I would like to add the following  comment. The man who had been demoted from his wealth did not complain at all about his loss. He had no grievances against Hashem, chas v’shalom. He did not wonder why, after accepting the yoke of Torah upon his shoulders, instead of finding blessing in his fortunes, the opposite took place. After he began to see what  a Torah  life is all about,  he appreciated  its  sweetness, as the psalmist says in Tehillim (34:9), “Contemplate and see that Hashem is good; praiseworthy is the man who takes refuge in Him.”



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