shabat chol hamoed pesach

april 23th 2011

nisan 19th 5771


by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita

The service of Hashem requires great spiritual effort on the part of man, enthusiasm and eagerness in the performance of mitzvot. We learn this amazing principle from what Rashi says in explaining the expression Korban Pesach:

“The sacrifice is called Pesach because of the skipping and jumping over, as the Holy One, blessed be He, skipped over the Israelites’ houses that were between the Egyptians houses. He jumped from one Egyptian to another Egyptian, and the Israelite in between was saved. You shall perform all the components of its service in the name of Heaven. Another explanation: In the manner of skipping and jumping, in commemoration of its name, which is Pesach.”

The Maharshal states that Rashi’s two explanations are really one (and that we should not read “Another explanation”). In other words: You shall perform all the components of its service in the name of Heaven in such a way that it implies skipping. This means that in the service of Hashem, it is forbidden for man to rest, as we have learned in regards to our father Jacob, the greatest of the Patriarchs: “The Patriarch Jacob wished to live at ease in this world, whereupon he was attacked by Joseph’s Satan” (Bereshith Rabba 84:3). This means that if someone wants to live at ease, a tragedy will strike him, for one must not live at ease in the service of Hashem, but do everything with great enthusiasm, as if leaping.

If someone slackens in his study of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvot, he can rectify this during Passover by eagerly “leaping.” However he must remember that he cannot act hastily, for haste may lead to sin. Everything must be done with eagerness: Getting up early, praying, performing mitzvot, and studying Torah.

Sensing an Improvement

We see these things every day. It is not enough just to listen to words of Torah; we must act, practice, and do everything with eagerness, for “Not study, but practice is the essential thing” (Pirkei Avoth 1:17). Granted, many people love to listen to Torah lectures, but that is not the essential thing. A person must feel himself improving, and if a lecture does not lead to any improvement, what good does it do?

Furthermore, the leaping alluded to here teaches us another important principle. A person must elevate himself gradually, not taking a great leap all at once, for the Sages have taught: “If you take hold of too large a thing, you may lose your hold” (Yoma 80a). If we want to grab too much, very little will end up in our hands. Here we learn a way to proceed in the service of Hashem that applies in every generation.

A person must progress slowly in order to overcome the difficulties of this world, in order to eliminate and overcome them. However when he comes upon a difficulty, he should immediately leap above it all at once. Just as someone who is about to leap proceeds slowly at first, but then suddenly springs into action, the same applies in the service of Hashem: We must prepare ourselves slowly and only then must we leap. We thus rise above obstacles and overcome them.

Little by Little

This serves as a warning to each and every person, regardless who he may be. One who spends all his time immersed in the vanities of this world cannot do it all at once, for he cannot become a tzaddik overnight. To become a tzaddik, one must proceed slowly, and only later can he leap. He can attain this goal only by proceeding in this way.

This is what happens on Passover, and from the material world we can learn a lesson for the spiritual world. Before the holiday of Passover, we act slowly. We clean up little by little, not doing everything on the last day before the holiday. This is also what happens in the spiritual world: Before Passover, we must learn to restrain ourselves in regards to the vanities of this world. Then on Passover, we can truly sense a change, at which point we proceed to Torah study.

He is Promised that He Will Not Sin

This is why the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the holiday of Passover, in order to separate us from the vanities of this world, for in this way we can leap above obstacles. It is true that we prepare ourselves before the holiday, since before it arrives we get rid of chametz, which as we know represents man’s sins. The holy Arizal alludes to this idea in saying that whoever avoids the slightest trace of chametz during Passover, he is promised that he will not sin during the rest of the year.

However in order to clearly understand the nature of Passover, we must eliminate and eradicate chametz, meaning that we must prepare ourselves before the holiday. We then come to Passover by leaping above the vanities of this world, at which point we experience a renewal in the service of Hashem. We learn his amazing concept from the word itself: Passover – to pass over the vanities of this world and enter into spirituality and the service of Hashem.

Guard Your Tongue!

People are Obligated

Because of our numerous sins, there is a certain area in which many people stumble. For instance, when there are people in town whom we know are poor, we must give them tzeddakah.

It sometimes happens that people disparage them, saying that they are not really poor, but are just pretending in order to deceive people. According to the Torah, believing such remarks is a grave sin, for it is actually part of accepting Lashon Harah. The Torah commands us not to believe Lashon Harah, but simply to be cautious, in which case we cannot exempt ourselves from giving to a poor individual. He is still to be considered poor, since he has been poor for a long time. People are therefore obligated to help him live, and they must simply take what they hear into account and verify it thoroughly. As long as we do not clearly know what the situation is, we cannot exempt ourselves from giving tzeddakah. To such cases, the Sages have applied the verse: “Do not rob the poor because he is poor” (Mishlei 22:22).

The Secret of Faith

Numerous crowns have been attached to the concept of matzah, and an abundance of virtues and segulot have been attributed to it, from the growing of wheat for the mitzvah of matzah, to the eating of matzah on the Seder night and the unfolding of the seven days of the holiday. The holy Zohar describes matzah as “a curative to help in coming into and knowing the secret of faith” (Zohar II:183b). The book Maor VaShemesh states that eating matzah constitutes a healing – the healing of the soul of every Jew – so that the eating of chametz does not harm him during the year, just as when our forefathers lived in the desert and ate the manna. The book states, “Hashem’s wisdom has decreed that the eating of matzah for seven days will be enough to protect every Jew from diseases of the soul caused by the eating of chametz during the entire year.”

An Amazing Remedy

Numerous stories have been passed down from generation to generation concerning the healing properties of matzah, a remedy that gives new life to the sick, to those who have lost hope of ever being cured.

Among other things, we have chosen to cite the moving account of Rabbi Aharon First of Bnei Brak. His account is a personal story that took place during the Holocaust. He states the following:

Mildorf, Germany on the eve of Passover 5708.

Who could dream of matzot in the Mildorf concentration camp?

During that terrible time, as I was hospitalized in the camp’s “infirmary,” hunger constantly accompanied us. Even the sick in the infirmary received but miniscule meals, and even water was given in very small amounts. Many of the sick rendered their souls on account of both illness and hunger.

Passover was approaching as I was in the infirmary, and my life was in danger.

We didn’t ever dare to dream of matzot, since we hoped for a few crumbs of chametz to keep us alive. As my illness worsened, I lay down without strength, my eyes closed.

I heard a familiar voice say to me, “Today is the eve of Passover.” I opened my eyes and saw the holy Rebbe of Klausenburg, who was leaning over my bed. He wanted to teach me how to hang on, and told me of some ways to avoid chametz on Passover. I cried out to him, “On the contrary, if only I had a piece of chametz to eat!”

The Rebbe, who had secretly made his way into the hut that served as the infirmary, had to leave soon or else the Nazis would recognize him. However he was able to promise me, “Aaron, by dear friend, remain strong nevertheless! Don’t let go, and Hashem will save you!”

After having been surprise by this lightening-quick visit, I thought to myself: “Does the Rebbe – personally immersed in an ocean of suffering that assails him in this valley of tears – have no other worries at this time but not eating chametz on Passover?”

A few hours later, the Rebbe once again came into the hut that served as our infirmary. After making sure that he had not been followed, he approached me and carefully took a piece of mitzvah from out of his clothing. He then gave it to me and quickly left.

As I held this piece of matzah in my emaciated hands, tears dripped from my eyes. I could still hear the few words that the Rebbe had said: “This is the matzah of healing.”

In fact this piece of “matzah of healing” was an amazing cure for my illness. My condition improved after I ate it, and from day to day I felt stronger, eventually reaching the point of being able to walk on my own two legs like a regular man.

After less than a month, we were freed from the camp along with what remained of the other Jews.

The Rebbe’s Blessing

The power of the Sages of Israel is so great that even maror can become, through their blessing, a food that brings healing. This occurred to a Jew from Dinov who had fallen ill with a life-threatening lung disease, and who had gone to see the greatest doctors of Vienna. These doctors examined him and announced that there was no cure for his disease, for his lungs had been displaced and filled with fluid that was impossible to remove. This fluid was eventually going to kill him, and it was therefore better for him to return home rather than die abroad.

The man left with a broken heart, passing the city of Sanz on his way home. At that point he thought, “Since the holy Rebbe, the author of Divrei Chaim, is known as a posek, I will ask him what I should do for the night of the Seder, which is approaching. Since the doctors have forbidden me from eating a kezayit of maror, can I eat less than that amount, and can I say the blessing on it?”

The Rebbe listened to his questions and replied, “It is written that the maror is a food that heals, and you can therefore eat a kezayit of it and be healed.”

Once this Jew left the Rebbe, he thought that the Rebbe must have made a mistake. In the Zohar, it is not said that the maror is a food that heals, but only the matzah. The Rebbe had therefore made a mistake, but he didn’t think about it further.

Come the night of the Seder, the man took a small quantity of maror and ate it. However this made him immediately start to cough, making him lose whatever strength he had. He began to cry out, “If my end has already come, may I at least merit to fulfill the mitzvah according to the Halachah.” He therefore took an entire kezayit of maror and ate it. After eating the maror, his cough worsened and his entire body began to shake violently.

His family ran to get a doctor, but he too was seated at a Seder table with his family, which is why it took him some time to come. When he finally arrived, he found the man asleep, and he told his family that sleep was good for him, and to let him be.

In fact he slept until late the next morning, and when the doctor came to see him again, he was stunned to realize that he was in perfect health!

It turned out that the power of his cough had pushed his lungs back into place and forced the fluid out of his body. The maror had therefore been the exact “food of healing” that he needed, just as the holy Rebbe had said.

A Segula for Protection

In eastern lands, Jews had the custom of placing a small piece of the afikomen in their pocket throughout the year. They said that it was a segula for protection against all illnesses, and especially for protection against storms at sea and dangers on the road. Faith in the mitzvah of matzah has the merit to protect whoever carries it in his pocket.

This custom has an ancient origin, namely the old Beit HaShoeva siddur, where it is written that the matzah of the afikomen from the night of the Seder is a segula for protection against thieves. This is because the term matzah means “dispute,” as if to say that the matzah stands against those who attack you.

In certain communities, people were very careful to place a small amount of matzah in their wallet. They believed that it was a blessing for their wallet, which would expand and be filled to the brim, naturally due to the matzah.

In Polish villages, matzah was suspended from the beams of the synagogue ceiling on Isru Chag of Passover (just as in certain communities the “eruvei tavshilin” are suspended from the wall of the synagogue). They would therefore remain suspended for the entire year, until they would be changed the following year. The Jews of Poland believed that by the merit of the “bread of faith,” they would be saved from all kinds of evil decrees that they used to experience in certain eras from non-Jewish land owners who constantly exploited and persecuted them.

Against the Evil Eye

In his book The Jews of the Maghreb, Raphael Ben Simhon describes a custom of the Jews of the Maghreb: At the end of the Seder meal, after the family had finished reading the Haggadah and Shir HaShirim, the mother would assemble the bits of matzah remaining on the table and hide them in a closet. After the holiday, she would remove them from the closet and roll them into a ball with great care, until it took the form of a small matzah, and then she would make a hole in it and a place a long thread through it. She would place this small round matzah around the neck of everyone in the home like a collar. It was a segula against the evil eye, in order to protect her children and prevent anything bad from happening.

A True Story

The Shtreimel and the Seder Meal

The following story took place about a hundred years ago in Jerusalem. Living within the walls of the old city were families from different communities, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, chassidim and mitnagdim. Each community was separate, their differences expressing themselves in the details of prayer, customs, and naturally during weddings. In fact it was unusual to find a shidduch between chassidim and mitnagdim.

Curiously enough, this is precisely what happened one time, and the Chuppah was prepared for the start of the month of Nissan. The groom was from a family of mitnagdim, and the bride from a chassidic family. A great dispute arose between the two families as early as the Shabbat preceding the wedding, a dispute that centered on the “shtreimel” that the father of the bride had purchased for the groom. Should he wear it on the Shabbat when he would be called to the Torah (which, according to Ashkenaz custom, is the Shabbat preceding the wedding), or should he only wear it starting from the wedding?

The father of the bride, who as we have said was from a Chassidic family, firmly believed that the groom should abide by the customs of his ancestors and wear the large shtreimel as early as the Shabbat preceding the wedding. That is what he did.

On the night of the Seder, the young married couple was invited to the home of the bride’s father. Soup was brought to the table, when suddenly the new husband noticed a grain of wheat gently floating in his bowl of soup!

“A grain of wheat in a soup bowl at the Seder table? How could that be?” the new husband exclaimed aloud.

His father-in-law was forced to swallow his words, and he became red with shame. How, in fact, could a grain of wheat have reached the Seder table? And what was he to do with all his food for the holiday? Was his entire kitchen treif? These questions, however, seemed minor compared to the fact that all this had occurred before the eyes of his son-in-law, the “mitnaged.”

“Alright, I can go over the humiliating story of the shtreimel,” the father-in-law thought. “But where can I hide my shame now? A grain of wheat in the soup bowl of my son-in-law the ‘mitnaged’ on the night of the Seder – what a disaster!”

The father-in-law immediately arose and left the house, heading for the Rav of Jerusalem, the gaon Rabbi Shemuel Salant, who would certainly find a solution for the Passover meal. At the time, Rabbi Shemuel was in the middle of recounting the story of the exodus from Egypt, his large family gathered around the table. The sound of knocking at the door puzzled everyone there, but they became interested in the sad story of the father-in-law.

The Rav listened to father-in-law’s question and ordered him to immediately return home and bring him the shtreimels of everyone seated at his table.

The father-in-law did not question the Rav’s order. He quickly ran home, gathered all the shtreimels, including his son-in-law’s, and returned to the home of Rav Salant to see what he would say.

Rav Salant took the shtreimels from the hands of the father-in-law, examined them briefly, and immediately selected the newest shtreimel among them. The Rav moved away from the Seder table and began to shake it from top to bottom.

Astonishingly enough, a grain of wheat fell from it!

It seemed that the grains were coming from the shtreimel of the new husband. These were the grains that people customarily throw at the groom on the Shabbat that he is called to the Torah. The grain that had found its way into his soup bowl had not been cooked with the soup, but had fallen into his bowl during the Seder. The Rav of Jerusalem told the father-in-law that he had to throw away that soup bowl. However the soup pot and everything it contained was kosher for Passover. Everything was strictly kosher, to the great joy of the father-in-law and his family.

The Words of the Sages

No Lack of Seriousness

Rabbi Tsadka Hutsin Zatzal would usually leave Baghdad for far-off villages in order to deal with the harvest of wheat for shemira matzah, verifying every detail of its production.

One year, after the harvest was completed with great effort, the bags of wheat were loaded onto donkeys, and everyone set out for Baghdad.

On the way there, the sky became filled with dark clouds.

The small group began to greatly worry, for what was going to happen if it rained, if the bags of wheat became wet? All their wheat would become chametz, and all their work will have been wasted!

When Rav Tsadka realized that they were worried, he looked up and saw the dark clouds. He then spread out his hands towards the heavens and began to pray:

“Hashem our G-d, may it be Your will that if rain must now fall, let it be such a violent rain that the dung of the donkeys will be completely soaked!”

People were shocked when they heard him say this. Was this the prayer of a tzaddik?

He calmly explained it to them: “Listen to me, my friends. I have certainly not tried to bring a curse upon you by my prayer. If a light rain falls, just simple drops of rain, we will be able to find a way to permit the consumption of the wheat that we have worked so hard to harvest. I have therefore asked the Sovereign of the universe that if rain has been decreed to fall now, He should make it fall in abundance so that there is no doubt in anyone’s heart about the kashrut of the wheat. In this way we will not demonstrate any lack of seriousness in regards to the kashrut of the matzot for the mitzvah.”

Before the tzaddik could finish speaking, the clouds dispersed and the skies became blue once again. The sun began to shine for Rav Tsadka Hutsin and his friends.

A Prayer as Holy as the Shema

Each Passover before starting the Seder, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov would venture out to see how ordinary people were conducting their Seder.

One year, the tzaddik passed by the house of a simple man to hear the sounds that were emanating from his home. When the man came to the words, “The Torah speaks about four sons: One is wise, one is wicked etc.,” he started to shout whenever he came to the word echad (one). He stressed the word because, in his innocence, he believed that it should be pronounced just as in the recitation of Shema.

Whenever the Rav recounted this story, he would say with astonishment: “This simple Jew made the four sons, even the wickedest among them, into a prayer as holy as the Shema.”

Obligated to Eat Chametz!

During the Holocaust, a group of Jews from one concentration camp decided to have a “Passover Seder” by replacing the matzah with a slice of bread. The captives secretly gathered together and began to recite the Haggadah from memory, recounting the exodus from Egypt and its miracles.

When they came to the motzei matzah, they took the bread in hand, and before eating it they recited a prayer that had been composed especially for the occasion: “Sovereign of the universe, it is revealed before You that we want with all our hearts to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah. However we have no matzah here, and not only have You not given us the ability to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah, You have also forced us to eat chametz, for otherwise we would die. Yet even if we cannot fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah, we will fulfill a mitzvah that is even greater: To live by the mitzvot. This is why we are prepared to fulfill the positive mitzvah of vechai bahem – to live by them. Blessed are You…Who brings forth bread from the earth!”

The captives ate the chametz with their eyes closed, as if it was the most precious matzah in the world. It is not difficult to imagine how the Holy One, blessed be He, looked upon them from Heaven at that point, marveling at His children and saying: “My children have defeated Me! My children have defeated Me! True, I have taken away their ability to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah, but they are fulfilling an even greater mitzvah, the mitzvah of vechai bahem.”

The Highest Level

The tzaddik Rabbi Issachar Dov of Belz sent his grandson to open the door when they came to shefoch chamatcha. The child returned and said that he had not seen Eliyahu HaNavi, but asked his grandfather if he had seen him. His grandfather did not reply. The child continued to inquire, asking if there are people who can see him.

The tzaddik replied, “Actually, there are some Jews here who see Eliyahu HaNavi. However if we do not see him and still believe, we are at an even higher level.”

He explained that in Scripture we read, “Look from the peak of Amana [i.e., faith]” (Shir HaShirim 4:8). This means that when Mashiach arrives, “believing” will no longer have any importance, for at that point everyone will see with his own eyes, and the glory of Hashem will be revealed throughout the earth.

The Jewish people will then sing this song about the great merit that was had during the time of the exile, when people could believe in Hashem. People will grow nostalgic for the time when there was still the possibility to believe.

Who is Like Your People Israel!

It was after midnight on the eve of Passover. In the streets of Berditchev, one could sense the final preparations taking place for the approaching holiday. The homes of Jews were being cleaned, washed, and scrubbed. The tranquility of the approaching holiday began to descend upon Jewish homes.

The saintly Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev went into the street and summoned a non-Jew: “Here’s some money. Go buy me some foreign-made tobacco.”

Now foreign tobacco was forbidden by the authorities. The non-Jew took the money, and after a certain time he returned to the tzaddik with some tobacco. He had hidden it well so that nobody would see, for he knew that whoever broke the law by engaging in restricted commerce was risking a very heavy fine.

The Rav thanked him, then addressed his servant and said: “Here’s some money. Go buy me some bread from a Jew. Pay him generously for any piece of bread!”

The servant looked at the tzaddik, but he did not understand. Where was he going to find bread now? Was there any chametz remaining in Jewish homes?

However he refrained from asking the Rabbi any questions.

The servant began going from house to house asking for some bread, but naturally he didn’t find any, not in any Jewish home. He returned to the Rabbi empty-handed and said, “Rabbi, today is the eve of Passover, and it’s impossible to find chametz. I found no bread in any Jewish home!”

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his hand to the heavens and said with great emotion: “Sovereign of the universe, who is like Your people Israel! The emperor forbids the purchase of foreign tobacco, and he has appointed thousands of inspectors and officers to enforce this law. He established heavy penalties, and yet enormous quantities of illegal Tobacco are bought and sold. Yet in your Torah You have written, ‘No chametz shall be seen in your possession’ [Shemot 13:7]. You have placed no inspectors or officers over us, and yet we cannot find even the smallest amount of chametz in any Jewish home!”


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