Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Pesach 5770- Four new Pesach questions

As we approach Pesach, we all go into frenzies of cleaning up. We clear our houses, erase any trace of chametz at work, in our cars or in any place we commonly eat or store anything. Physically we spend a lot of time cleaning up- but how much time do we spend on the spiritual spring cleaning?

Our sages liken chametz to representing pride, of self importance “inflating” ourselves to appear greater to others. “Geivah” is a negative charater trait we need to clean up and eradicate from our lives, and the eradication of chamtz from our lives is symbolic of this. So it seems strange that Pesach is the time that we are commanded to rid ourselves of chametz. Why do I say it is strange? At the time, we could hardly have been feeling too self important or prideful; we were slaves, escaping from bondage; slaves that for 210 years had been oppressed, had their children killed, forced to work to build cities even while still needing to do work to cater for our own needs.

However, maybe the picture is not quite complete; not all Jews were slaves. The tribe of Levi continued to study Torah and at no time did they go work as slaves, though they were caught up in the genocidal decrees of Pharoah. There also appears to hae been a large group of Bnei Yisrael that assimilated into Egyptian culture, a group larger than the core that stuck to the beliefs of their fathers. A midrash stats that during the plague of darkness many of these asismilated Jews died, their deaths being hidden from the Eyptians in the darkness in order not to lessen the effect of the plague on them. These assimalted Jews were the ones that did not make the Korban Pesach, that would have seen their firstborn children die; and the midrash states that these Jews, 4/5ths of the jewish nation, never left Egypt- rather their assimilation took the ultimate course and they dissapeared from the world in time.

What was the mistake of these people? What led them to this putting of physical comfort and identification with a hostile group over their own people? Here we see the relevance of the symbology of chametz to Pesach. These were the peopel that had built themselves up, whose self image and self importance made them elevate that above spirituality and an identification with their own people. These were the “Richard Goldstones” of the ancient world, people more concerned with their acceptance and appearance to the non-Jewish world than wanting to be a member of their community. These were the “messianic Jews” of the ancient world- more concerned with trying to adapt their ways to fit into an outside culture rather than maintaining the integrity of their own- and like the “messianic jews” of toady, these members of Bnei Yisrael sanctified themselves accoding to the rites and rituals of the surrounding culture, ignoring what Jews actually believe and were oing. If they had been watching their brothers, if they had identified with Bnei Yisrael and not the outside culture- they, too, would have had a lamb to sacrifice and its blood to smear on the doorposts.

This year, let the spiritual cleaning of Pesach include four new Pesach questions:
Who do I identify with, my fellow Jews or the outside world?
Who do I stand with, my own people or those who seek to bring Jews down?
Where do my loyalties lie- with the Torah or with acceptance by a modern culture increasingly hostile towards displays of religion?
What stand will I take- to keep Judaism Jewish- ot to let it be diluted and fade into the mists of time like all the other religions which felt they had to change wih times and adopt the ways of the outside world?

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Chagim, Torah | , , , , | 1 Comment

Parshas Shemini 5769- And you will be Holy

IN this weeks parsha the laws relating to Kashrut are given.  The laws start out with the statement “Speak to Moses and to Aaron”  and then in the next verse goes on to say “Speak to the childrenof Israel to say”.  Rashi states that the first verse was to show the merit of Aaron and his sons who remained silent and did not blame G-d for the death of Ndab  and Abiayu- thet they all merited to teach these laws to Bnei Yisrael.  The next verse is to show that it is not just the Kohanim that need ot obey these laws- but all of Bnei Yisrael.

With the Kosher laws, the most common question is:  Why?  Why restrict ourselves in such a fashion?  Rashi gives an answer based on these first two verses.  HE compares it to a physician that visits two patients- one who is incurable and one who can get well.  To the incurable patient he forbids nothing; after all, what would be the point, he may as well enjoy what he can while he can.  To the patient that can get well, he forbids certain things- saying frink this, eat that.  The same applies to Kashrut- to the non-Jew with the seven Noachide laws, the aim of the laws of Kashrut would be meaningless- they are akin to the patient that cannot get well in the sense that they should enjoy the fruits of this world, as their place in the world to come will be limited.  To Bnei Yisrael, with their Holy mission, their future place in the world to come has far more potential- thus like the patient who can recover they are told how to limit themselves so they will “get better” and improve themselves.

This is further reinforced by the latter statement “כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי:” For I am the Lord Who has brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God. Thus, you shall be holy, because I am holy.”  We keep kosher not because it is healthy for us physically- but for our spiritual health!  The sickness in this case is not physical, but the impurities of this world as it comes into our body.  Essentially G-d is telling us “You are what you eat.”   Eat as I told you, and you will be spiritually healthy; neglect to do so and you are the patient who refuses to follow the advice of their doctor and gets sicker.

As I write this, we are all preparing for Pesach.  The chometz is sold, the houses cleaned.  We are all ready to do the search for chametz tonight.  And, again, we see the link between spirituality and food.  If our normal diet is not restricted enough- along comes Pesach and restricts us even further!  Out with the chometz, all the leaven- and many tasty foods along the way.  Spiritualy we are told that chometz represents hubris, pride- the swelling of our egos that leads to sin.  As we are being redeemed from Egypt, this is not the time for pride, but to realise how much we owe to Hashem, how much we are reliant upon him.  Thus, once again we are told how to change our diet to let this awareness filter through to our souls.  And this commandment is backed up by the statement that failure to perform it will be punishable by kares- spiritual excission, the worst possible punishment that any soul can experience!  Overkill for having a slice of bread or cake?  Not when you look at the implications- we are what we eat.  The laws of Kashrut are to make us holy, the lack of chametz to teach us humility and service to G-d.  When we ignore thta, when we eat chametz on Pesach- we reject that Holiness, we bury ourselves in the mundane and profane- even more, we place ourselves alongside Hashem.  No longer are we saying that it is solely with the mighty hand and outstretched arm of Hashem that we were redeemed from slavery, but that we had some part in it!  We reject the message of that first Korban Pesach- the explicit negation of idoltary and worship of other gods by placing ourselves alongside Hashem.

A Chag Kosher v’Sameach to all reading this

Note:  As always I welcome criticisms, comments, corrections or additions.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | Chagim, Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments