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born again

Written by d fine

Most are aware of certain themes of different festivals. We associate Shavuos with receiving of the Torah, Purim with Emunah, etc. The problem is that we often do not connect up the yomim tovim as one cycle/process; we see a Pesach, a Shavuos, and a Sukkos as three individual units, as opposed to also realising that they form part of an ordered single cycle /pattern. And in failing to see this whole, we have little appreciation for the pattern and order of yomim tovim as a whole. Rav Pinkus pointed out a way to view the ordered cycle here, which we shall cite and then expand upon, with specific reference to Pesach. Rav Pinkus said that these three biblical yomim tovim follow the pattern of life. First comes Pesach (the Jewish year starts with the month of Nissan), which represents birth – for Pesach saw the birth of the Jewish nation

when we were taken out of Egypt via miracles; we were made free as a nation and became formally HaShem’s People for the world to see. Next is Shavuos, which is our barmitzvah; we are called up to the Torah to receive it and take upon ourselves to commit to it. And last is Sukkos, which is our wedding [with HaShem] – we sit for seven days in a sukkah in HaShem’s Presence just like the bride and groom do not leave each other’s side for the seven days of sheva brachos. And in shaking our four species we are confident that our judgment of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur was a positive one; that the groom (HaShem) has reaffirmed the marriage with his bride (us). Those are the three parts to the one order; birth, barmitzvah, wedding. And we are to go through the same process each year, since each stage needs to be continuously re-strengthened, for each stage is also dependent on the successful development of the previous stage. Let’s focus on Pesach, and point out some illustrations of this parallel between Pesach and birth. Firstly, Rav Pinkus points out that throughout the year there exists a concept of bitul; where a multitude can render a small minority halachically inexistent. For example, if a small drop of milk falls into a chicken soup which was over sixty times larger than the drop of milk, then the chicken soup is fine to eat, because the multitude of soup did bitul (nullified) to the small drop of milk. However, with chametz on Pesach there is no concept of bitul. This means that if a matzah contains only one part chametz out of a thousand, the multitude of non-chametz does not nullify the small part of chametz, and this matzah is forbidden. Rav Pinkus relates this to Pesach representing birth; just like one does not feed a newborn baby anything toxic, no matter how small the quantity is, so too on Pesach [when we are newborns] we are careful to avoid even the smallest bit of chametz. Furthermore, chazal describe to the Exodus as a birth process. This does not only refer to the fact that we were extracted from a controlling force and given our own life (just like a birth), but also to a major concept of the redemption of Pesach – maschil begnus umesayem bishvach. This means, firstly, that the Exodus started with pain of slavery and ended with praise and glory of redemption. But on a deeper level it means that things can look like they are going extremely badly to the brink of complete collapse and failure, and then suddenly things take a turn for the good. And the good did not come despite the bad, but rather it was a product of the bad. Thus, yetzias mitzrayim is compared to a birth in that just like a birth is very painful yet it is those very same pains that create the joy of the birth, so too the bad and painful slavery brought about the redemption. The same occurred in the Joseph story, when the very ‘ruler’ who caused the brink of the brothers’ failure in claiming Binyamin, was in fact their brother and the source of their survival in Egypt. (R’ Tatz) This is the meaning of the pasuk odecha ki anisani vatehi li liyeshua (‘I praise You for You have afflicted me and have caused saviour for me’) – we praise HaShem for the fact that He afflicted us, for we can see now that this hardship caused the salvation. (R’ Ezriel) The Maharal expands on this point in pointing out that growth follows a lack/absence, and the extent of that absence/lack defines the extent of the growth. In other words, spiritual life is full of ups and downs; the extent of the ‘down’ will fuel the extent of the ‘up’ that follows. The parable that illustrates this best is the elastic band; the more you stretch the elastic band back away from its intended destination, the further it will spring forward to its destination when you let go. And so too do the spiritual falls fuel growth in a correlated manner. This is why HaShem took us out in a hurry from Egypt; the normal explanation is because any longer in Egypt would have seen us sink to the level of the Egyptians and been unworthy of redemption. But why did HaShem leave us in Egypt long enough to sink so close to that spiritual no-way-back level to take us out in a hurry; why not take us out a bit slower, before we came close to that level of no return? The answer is the point of the Maharal above; we were taken out so late when we were at such a low spiritual level because we needed this almost unprecedented low to fuel a tremendous spiritual rise when we were redeemed, for the extent of the spiritual ‘low’ dictates the extent of the spiritual ‘high.’ Again, the point is that it is the pain (physical or spiritual) that causes the redemption, just like in the process of birth, which is what Pesach represents. Similarly, my friend pointed out that in the Tisha B’Av kinnos (number 45; eli tziyon) we tell the city of Zion to wail ‘like a woman suffering from birth travail,’ for we are expressing the above idea that just like the pains of labour produce the joy of a child, so too do the pains of exile ultimately produce future redemption. And it is interesting to note that Pesach and Tisha B’Av always fall on the same day of the week – this means that the depths and pains of tragedy of Tisha B’Av are linked to the joyous redemption of Pesach; for the pains and tragedies ultimately bring about the redemption. The final parallel between Pesach and the process of birth that we shall mention is that just like to a baby everything is new, exciting, and limitless, so too were we freed from all conceptions of limit on Pesach. Thus, the phrase yetzias mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) can be read as yetzias meitzarim; the breaking out of borders/limits and leaving them behind, for Pesach was the time when we realised that we realised that we were not physically limited by the slavery of the Egyptians, and more importantly that we were not enslaved by their religious convictions either. This is why the first mitzvah we were given before redemption began was Kiddush hachodesh (sanctifying the new month), for chodesh (month) is from the root chiddush (new) – meaning that we were given the ability to create something new; to no longer seem limited by physical restrictions and the natural order of things. In a similar vein the Sfas Emes points out the irony of our sitting down and recounting the supernatural miracles of the Exouds which completely turned the natural world upside down, yet we call this a seder; meaning ‘order;’ the miracles were anything but the natural order? The point, he says, is to realise that our natural order is the supernatural – to rise above nature in connecting with He who created and runs the world. We’ll finish with a story; a university student studying war studies asked his professor why they did not study any of Israel’s modern wars, specifically the six day war? The professor’s response was that ‘we have no way of explaining Israel’s victory in the six day war naturally; we thus cannot study it.’ If the professor sees our ability to be able to rise above the natural order, its probably time that we see it too, Have a great Pesach,

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