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Rabbi Mendy Herson's Blog

Thoughts from, and conversations with, Rabbi Herson

Live Free

Passover is an uplifting Holiday, a season that elevates the spirit.

During the Holiday, while we’re acutely aware that the world is in sore need (we announce at the Seder’s launch: “Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are needy come to celebrate with us”), we open ourselves to the experience of personal liberation.

Passover lifts us above our personal shackles and obstacles to find inner freedom.

The very name “Pass-over”, which flows from the Torah’s description of how the Angel of Death ‘passed over’ the Hebrews’ homes, telegraphs the Holiday’s core idea: It’s about us transcending, “Passing Over”, our personal inhibitions, fears and weaknesses, to find a healthier state of being. On Passover, we no longer identify ourselves by our stresses; we deal with them from a position of strength.

This dovetails with the Torah’s description of Passover as “a night of safety and security”. During these eight days we’re snuggled safely in the arms of our Creator; we’re beyond the world’s harsh reach.

Because, in addition to the Passover narrative’s historicity, it’s also our personal story: G-d is liberating each of us from our personal Egypts and leading us to our own Promised Land.

This theme reaches a crescendo on the eighth day, when the Torah (Haftorah) reading goes beyond the Egyptian liberation and describes the future Redemption of Moshiach. Moshiach is the ultimate in freedom, an era when all of our challenges and stresses will fall away, and our souls will be truly free to experience the beauty of G-d’s world.

Moshiach is freedom with a backbone. Freedom that can stand in the face of any challenge.

And that’s why we get a Moshiach ‘freedom infusion’ as we prepare to draw Passover to a close. As we draw the Holiday to a close, we wonder: Can this exhilarating ‘liberation mentality’ last, even when we’re in the trenches of life, dealing with our day to day problems?

Yes it can.

We all have a whiff of Moshiach in our souls, so freedom is always within our reach.

Believe it. Remember it. Access it.

Live free.

It's a Big Deal

 

 

Years ago, a wealthy Jew came to visit the Rebbe. He said that he was willing to donate a large sum of money, provided that it went toward sponsoring “a big thing” (the man used the Yiddish expression: “a groise zach” which means “a big thing” in English).

The Rebbe suggested that he sponsor the distribution of Shmurah Matzah (lit: “matzah that has been watched”, meaning matzah that has been prepared especially for Passover, under exacting supervision from the time the wheat is harvested through the end of the baking) for Jews to use at their respective Seders.

The gentleman responded that while he appreciated the suggestion, he really wanted to sponsor a ‘groise zach”; perhaps he could dedicate a wing? Or even a building?

The Rebbe answered that if the man was looking for buildings, he could surely find many communities where beautiful buildings are being built and are probably available for sponsorships.

“However, if you’re asking me”, continued the Rebbe, “what I consider to be a big deal, I think that enabling other Jews to eat Shmurah Mtzah – the Bread of Faith and Bread of Healing - as they sit by a Seder - THAT is truly a Big Deal.”

Passover is almost here, and we will sit with family and friends to celebrate a Seder. There will be Matzah on the table; how could one miss that most famous of Seder accoutrements?

Beyond the Matzah on the table, will there be Matzah on our minds, Matzah in our hearts and Matzah in our souls?

As you sit by the Seder, the Matzah offers you a special spiritual nutrient (the Mitzvah is to eat it after 8:30pm, which is nightfall).

It’s not just a dry cracker; it’s a Divine Directive.

It’s not just a family tradition; it’s a food that transmits the internal sense of connectedness, closeness and humility that we call faith.

Before you munch your Matzah, take a minute to think about it.

It’s a Big Deal.

 

 

Uprising in Egypt

Years ago, I met with one of our budding Bar-Mitzvah boys. It was September, and I knew he had just transferred from Public to Private school; so one my first questions was “How’s the new school?”

Frown.

He then proceeded to list the things he didn’t like (ambience, teachers, kids etc.); a few days in, the year ahead didn’t present a pretty picture.

Trying to be helpful, I shared my own memories of the insecurity I had felt when switching schools as a kid. He expressed his appreciation for my empathy, but preferred to get down to our business at hand: Preparation for his Bar-Mitzvah.

[As part of our preparation process for Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the youngsters study twelve selections of Jewish Wisdom: Four Scriptural, Four Talmudic and Four Chassidic.

These each convey developmentally-appropriate, Torah lessons for life; Judaic tools for their development into healthy adults.]

I asked my young friend to read the third passage, a Talmudic instruction that we each consistently view ourselves as having just gone out of [our slavery in] Egypt.

After he read it flawlessly, I asked him to read it in English.

Then I asked him a rhetorical question: Practically speaking: Why will it help me TODAY to see myself as having just left Egypt?

I then suggested the following Chassidic insight:

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim”, which linguistically means ‘limitations’, ‘barriers‘, ‘constrictions‘, etc.

I asked him, “Are not first impressions an ‘Egypt’ of sorts? When you go to school tomorrow, what if you try not to be bound by your first impressions, and try to give it a fresh look? What if you allow for a fresh second impression? You may still not like it, but that won‘t be because you‘re enslaved to your first impression.”

He shrugged and said he thought he could try that.

The next day his mother came looking for me.

She told me that she’d asked her son, as he arrived home from school, how the day had been.

He replied “it was actually a bit better”

“Why?”, she asked in surprise.

“Because I left Egypt”.

Passover is coming.

Before you leave your Egypt, you need to know what it is.

Get ready.

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