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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
By Rabbi Israel Rubin
Why the big fuss over the "Four Questions" on Passover night? Is it just a cute Seder opener? Is it meant only for the children's sake, to keep the kids awake and make them feel important? Or is it rather to make parents proud and give Bubby and Zaidy nachas when their little ones recite the "Mah Nishtana"?
In the Jewish tradition of answering one question with another, permit me to add yet another question to the aforementioned four. Why doesn't the Hagada bother to answer all of its questions? The Hagada explains the reasons for eating matza, bitter herbs and reclining at the Seder. But what's the reason for dipping twice during the Seder?
That's a good question and the answer is...just so you should ask! In all seriousness, the reason the rabbis instituted the custom of dipping a vegetable before the meal is specifically to make us wonder! It's there to pique and arouse the child's curiosity so that he/she should start asking questions.
The "Mah Nishtana" not only raises questions about the Seder-it also answers a basic question: "Is Judaism a blind dogma?"
The Four Questions teach us that asking questions isn't only a Passover ritual, but a healthy aspect of year round Jewish living. Not only does Judaism permit us to ask, it even encourages us. The best way to learn is by asking for, as our Sages tell us, "The shy cannot learn." Judaism doesn't feel threatened by questions, because it has the answers.
Even while faithfully following G-d's mitzvot, the Torah wants us to learn and understand. Not that we pretend to know better than G-d, for the limited human mind can't fully grasp Divine infinity. Yet, Judaism doesn't want us to be stifled and act out of ignorance, but to grow and learn. Like the sign says in the store: "If you don't see what you're looking for, please ask!"
The Talmud thrives on questions and answers, back and forth. Questions make us dig beneath the surface to discover the deeper meanings hidden within. Those who study the Torah are not fazed, do not give up or quit, if they don't understand at first. They constantly probe and question, mining the rich layers of golden brilliance on various levels to reach the essence of Torah.
Questions are so essential to Talmudic study that the sages valued and appreciated good questions even more than the answers. Over the ages, Rabbinic commentaries and Responsa blossomed as students continued their never-ending quest for deeper Torah knowledge.
Rabbi Israel Rubin is director of Chabad of the Capital District-Albany, N.Y.
Passover is not only the first of the three major Jewish festivals, but the foundation and root of all of them. The Exodus from Egypt prepared the Jewish people for receiving the Torah on Shavuot. Sukkot, too, is connected to Passover, in that it commemorates the booths (sukkot) that the Children of Israel inhabited in the wilderness.
The main significance of Passover is that it is "the season of our freedom," the time when the Jewish people went out of slavery and became an independent nation. The Torah describes what happened as follows: "G-d has ventured to go and take or Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and by wonders... according to all that the L-rd your G-d did for you in Egypt before your eyes." The keys words are "a nation from the midst of another nation," which express the true uniqueness of the event.
What does it mean that the Jews were "a nation in the midst of another nation"? On the one hand it implies that the Children of Israel were already a "people," in the sense that they spoke their own language, lived in their own land (Goshen), and were careful to wear distinctive Jewish dress. At the same time, they were subservient and dependent upon the Egyptians.
Our Sages likened this situation to a fetus in its mother's womb. The fetus is a separate entity from the mother, with its own head, hands, legs and other limbs. Yet it is not a truly independent being, as it is forced to go wherever the mother goes, derives its sustenance from whatever she eats, etc. In truth, the fetus is completely dependent on the mother.
This accurately describes the Jews' circumstances in Egypt: While recognizable as a separate people, they were completely dependent on the Egyptians - so much so that it appeared as if they, too, were tainted by the Egyptians' idolatry.
The "umbilical cord" was severed when the Jews were commanded to slaughter and eat the Pascal lamb, an animal that the Egyptians worshipped. The courage and self-sacrifice it took to do this was the first step in the Jewish people's liberation from Egypt and its mentality.
This contains an eternal lesson: A person may think that he is free and independent because he has his own thoughts and desires. Upon reflection, however, he may discover that he is connected by an invisible "umbilical cord" to his surroundings and that in reality, he is a slave to whatever non-Jewish mores and conventions happen to be in vogue. Worse still is that he thinks that this is the true meaning of "freedom."
The holiday of Passover endows us with the strength to attain true freedom. The first step is to "slaughter" any "idols" that might be worshipped even subconsciously, and rid oneself of dependency on "what the world thinks." For the Jewish people are servants of G-d and no one else!
Adapted from the Rebbe's Hagada, 5751 edition
Elijah's Three Visits
by Dr. Yaakov Brawer
A year after the Lubavitcher Rebbe jump-started our Jewish involvement we experienced a visit by Elijah the Prophet on Passover.
Inspired by our re-discovered Judaism, we filled Elijah's cup, and my six year old went to open the front door, an old-fashioned, ponderous wooden structure secured with a heavy iron latch.
But before my son could take a step, the door suddenly unlatched and swung wide open. No one, at least no one visible, was there, and my terrified son ran back.
I went to the door. It was a calm night without a breeze. Needless to say, I was most impressed. A devout Catholic neighbor told us the next morning, that during the night she heard our front door open and that she was overcome by an awesome feeling.
The following Passover, we fully expected that Elijah would visit us once again. We conducted the Seder, Elijah's cup was filled, and I sent my (now) seven year old to open the front door.
Our home was now on the second floor, and the front door was downstairs. I heard the door open, followed by screams of terror as my son scrambled back up the steps. Perhaps, I wondered, Elijah had actually made an appearance! After all, it made sense. Elijah had come last year, when I was not yet worthy to behold his presence. Now, after a full year of Jewish growth, perhaps I had reached perfection to see Elijah!
I went down to greet the prophet, but what I saw looked very different. At the entrance was not Elijah's angelic figure, but two big grotesque and menacing dogs on the front porch. No wonder my kids were scared; they cross the street if they see a miniature poodle. I shut the door and climbed the stairs dejectedly. How was I to explain to my family that after a year of studying Torah, I deserved to be visited on Passover night by stray dogs? But these weren't ordinary dogs.
The next day in shul, a friend asked if I could take a guest for the dinner. A friend of his had a son who was away studying law at school, where he became interested in Judaism. He had come home to visit, and this friend thought it would be helpful if I spoke with him.
As we walked home, my guest exclaimed: "I don't believe it! This can't be real." My guest told me that his pet dogs ran out last night. Searching for hours, he found them on someone's porch.
That someone was me! Providence apparently guided those monster "pets" to my house.
The strange experience impressed me. Elijah didn't come in person, but at least he showed his presence in a wondrous way. My guest and I became friends, and in time, he found his place in Judaism, married a fine girl, and now has a beautiful family.
Elijah's less dramatic visit the following year has repeated itself each year ever since. Elijah's cup is filled, and now my grandchildren open the door. The prayer is recited and that's it.
It would be improper to refer to it as a "no show." In truth, this third visit is the most meaningful.
Last year, my son (the six - seven year old in the previous accounts) related a chasidic story that was a real revelation.
The Kotsker Rebbe, known for his sharp witted teachings, once told his followers that Elijah would reveal himself at his Seder. The Rebbe's room was electric with anticipation, as everyone's face was drawn to the door.
Alas, the door opened, but no one was there.
The followers were crushed. Didn't the Rebbe say they would see Elijah?
The Kotsker Rebbe, his face radiating with holy joy, felt their disappointment. "Fools!" he thundered, "do you think that Elijah comes in through the door? Elijah comes in through the heart."
Miracles provide inspiration that direct our attention to spiritual truths.
The ultimate miracle, however, is not the abrogation of nature, but the transformation of nature into the Divine. Every small, inner step to spirituality is a step toward Redemption. Our Torah and mitzvot help open the door of our heart to Elijah and all he represents.
This Pesach, when Elijah's cup is filled and the front door is opened, let's peek into our heart, and we will see the prophet smiling back at us.
All times are for NY Metro Area. Consult your Chabad-Lubavitch Center for local times (or have a look at our special passover guide - with times for around the globe - at: www.LchaimWeekly.org/holiday/pesach/).
Guide to the Omer
- Latest time for eating chametz 10:44 a.m. on Saturday, 14 Nisan/April 7.
- Last vestiges of chametz must be destroyed (can be flushed) by 11:44 a.m.
- Nisan/April 7 - 1st night of Passover light AFTER 8:08 p.m. from a pre-existing flame
- Nisan/April 8 - 2nd night of Passover light AFTER 8:10 p.m. from a pre-existing flame.
- Nisan/April 13 light candles for Shabbat and seventh day of Passover at 7:13 p.m.
- Nisan/April 14 light candles for last day of Passover at 8:16 p.m.
- Passover ends on Sunday, Nisan 22/April 15 at 8:18 p.m.
A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer by Rabbi Simon Jacobson (author of Toward a Meaningful Life) takes the reader on a forty-nine step journey through the human personality, refining areas of the emotions as the journey progresses. For each day of the seven-week Sefira ("counting") period between Passover and Shavuot the book contains exercises for positive change and spiritual growth. Published by the Meaningful Life Center, www.meaningfullife.com (718) 774-6448
The Mail is Slow But...
This issue of L'Chaim is for the Passover holiday, specifically the dates of Nisan 13/April 6 and Nisan 20/April 13. The next issue (#665) is for Nisan 27/April 20.
The stories in "It Happened Once" issue #663 were reprinted from To Know and To Care by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English.
11th of Nissan, 5713 
To my Brethren Everywhere
G-d Bless You All
The days of the Festival of Our Freedom are approaching, when we shall again recall to our memory that great event at the dawn of our history, when our people was liberated from Egyptian bondage in order to receive the Torah as free men.
Memory and imagination are the ability to associate oneself with an event in the past, and in so doing to relive or experience those feelings and mental states which were experienced at the time of the event. For only physically is the human being bound and fettered by time and space; mentally there are no spatial or temporal barriers, and the greater the supremacy of the spiritual forces over the physical, the closer one can associate oneself with a past event and more fully experience its message and inspiration.
Of the efficacy of remembrance our Sages stated, in commenting on the verse: "And these days shall be remembered and done" (Esther 9:28), that no sooner are those days remembered than their cause is done On High. In other words, the same Divine influences and benevolences that brought about those miraculous events of old, are stirred again by the process of recollection and remembrance.
This is one of the reasons why we have been enjoined to remember the liberation from Egypt in every generation, every day; it is, moreover, made incumbent upon the Jew to visualize himself as though he personally had been liberated on that day from Egypt, ransomed and freed completely. For every day the Jew must practice Yetzias Mitzrayim [the Exodus from Egypt] ("Mitzrayim" in the sense of "Metzorim" [limitations]) through escape from the material and physical distractions, obstacles and limitations imposed upon his spiritual self by the "physical body and animalistic tendencies."
The counterpart of the Liberation from Egypt thus is the release of the Divine Soul from its corporeal imprisonment, and it must be experienced every day, constantly, in order to enjoy true freedom - freedom from enslavement, freedom from pain - in both the material as well as the spiritual sense.
When the Jew achieves such inner freedom - an accomplishment possible only with the help of G-d, who freed our people from Mitzrayim, and through a life conditioned by the Torah and Mitzvos, he is in this way freed from both spiritual anguish - the tremendous inner conflict referred to, as well as from enslavement and pain of a material nature. Then, and only then, can he enjoy true freedom, a feeling of complete harmony and peace of mind, which is the prelude to freedom and peace on a wider scale.
With the blessing of a kosher and happy Passover, and may we soon enjoy true freedom that will come to us with our Complete and True Redem-ption through our Righteous Messiah,
20 Nisan 5761
Prohibition 54: excluding descendents of Esau
By this prohibition we are forbidden to exclude the descendents of Esau from our community after they have converted to Judaism, that is, to refuse to intermarry with them (beyond the second generation). It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 23:8): "You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Saturday night, Jews around the world will sit down to celebrate the first Passover seder. According to tradition, an unseen guest will also grace the table, together with our relatives and friends: Elijah the Prophet.
During his lifetime, Elijah refined his physical body to such an extent that it accompanied him "in a tempest up to heaven" when he passed away. Since then, Elijah visits every Jewish home during the Passover seder and also attends every brit mila (circumcision) ceremony that is performed. Although we cannot see his physical body, his spiritual presence takes part in our celebrations at these special times.
Elijah the Prophet will also be the one to herald the Redemption, as the Torah states, "For behold, I will send Elijah the Prophet to you, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd." At that time he will again appear in his physical body, which, even now, exists on the spiritual plane known as "Yetzira."
As Jews, we anxiously await Moshiach's coming every day. We look forward to his arrival every minute of every day, for Moshiach may arrive at any moment.
But what about Elijah the Prophet? How can we realistically expect Moshiach to come today if Elijah did not come yesterday to announce his imminent arrival?
One of the answers to this question is that Elijah the Prophet is supposed to precede Moshiach only if the Redemption comes about "in its time" - in accordance with natural law. If, however, the Redemption comes about in a manner of "I will hasten it" - in a miraculous way, transcending the laws of nature, it is quite possible that Moshiach can actually arrive first.
So regardless of who will make the first appearance, let us all ponder the Rebbe's words as we celebrate this festival of freedom: "According to all indications, our era is close to the 'End of Days'... It is absolutely certain, with no doubt whatsoever, that the time for Redemption has arrived. The only thing remaining for us to do is to actually greet our Righteous Moshiach, so that he may fulfill his mission and redeem the entire Jewish people from exile."
A kosher and happy Passover!
Passover: the "spring festival"
The Exodus from Egypt occurred on the 15th of the month of Nisan, as the Torah states (Ex. 13:4): "This day you came out in the month of spring." In the springtime, when all the trees and flowers are blossoming in abundance, nature is at its most beautiful. The Egyptian religion was essentially a nature-worshipping cult. G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt in that particular season to demonstrate that the "forces of nature" have no independent existence, and are entirely subject to G-d's control.
The "festival of matzot"; the "festival of Pesach"
On Passover the Jewish people praise G-d, and G-d praises the Jewish people. In the Torah the holiday is referred to as the "festival of matzot," in commemoration of the Jews' willingness to go off into the desert without waiting for their dough to rise. We, however, refer to it as "Pesach," literally "He passed over," in remembrance of His having passed over our homes during the slaying of the firstborn.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
The Hebrew word "seder" means order or arrangement, alluding to the fact that everything that has ever happened to the Jewish people, from the Exodus until today, has unfolded according to Divine plan. Nothing occurs by accident, even if we don't always understand why an event must take place.
The Seventh Day of Passover: the splitting of the Red Sea
During the festive meal of the Seventh Day of Passover 5603 (1843), the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Chabad Rebbe), who had recently returned from a mission to Petersburg to try to convince the Russian government to annul its anti-Jewish decrees, declared: "The Seventh Day of Passover is the Rosh Hashana of self-sacrifice. When Moses conveyed G-d's command - 'Speak to the Children of Israel that they should go forward' - Nachshon ben Aminadav immediately jumped into the sea. This was a continuation of the self-sacrifice shown by our forefather Abraham. On the Seventh Day of Passover, each and every Jew can and must resolve to have self-sacrifice for Torah and mitzvot and the service of the Creator throughout the year."
(Sefer HaSichot 5703)
It was the night of Passover. The candles were lit, the house shone, and the holiday table was set. Everyone in the family was dressed in his finest clothes. The children couldn't wait for the seder to begin, but their father seemed a bit sad.
And what, in fact, was bothering him? That he had only found two guests to invite, instead of the usual dozen. The seder just wouldn't be the same.
The father was a wealthy Jew who gave a tremendous amount of tzedaka (charity). His business employed a great many people, and he was always trying to find work for more. His home was open to the poor and needy, and every Shabbat and holiday it was filled with guests.
This year, however, the weather had been terrible, and the roads were virtually empty. For this reason, there had been precious few strangers to invite.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Hoping it might be a guest the man ran to open it. "I've lost my way in the snow," the stranger apologized. "I beg you, as a fellow Jew: Please allow me to participate in your Passover seder."
"You are extremely welcome!" the wealthy Jew replied joyfully. "We'd be delighted to have you join us at the seder table." The stranger's shabby clothing was completely drenched. The poor fellow's teeth were chattering.
The father quickly ordered one of his sons to bring a change of clothing, but the stranger insisted it wasn't necessary. "What for?" he asked. "The clothes I'm wearing are good enough. Besides, I'm sure they'll be dry by the time we finish praying the evening service."
"Whatever you wish," the man said. Everyone wondered why the stranger was so reluctant to part with his dirty clothes.
The stranger put his knapsack on the floor and went off to the synagogue with his host. When they came home, the children noticed that their father was treating this guest with unusual deference. The stranger was seated at the head of the table, and he kept smiling at him as if they were old friends.
"'Magid,' " the father announced, and everyone began to recite the Hagada. Everyone, that is, except for the stranger, who didn't open his mouth. In fact, had anyone been watching closely, he would have seen that the man wasn't even turning the pages. Occasionally it even seemed as if he was sleeping...
When it was time for the meal the stranger suddenly perked up. His table manners were atrocious. He stuffed too much food into his mouth, grabbed things with his hands, and repeatedly asked for additional helpings. But the host continued to treat him respectfully and gave him whatever he asked for.
"What a glutton!" everyone else at the table thought. No one could understand why he was being treated so deferentially.
After the third cup of wine was poured and they were about to recite the grace after meals, the father asked for everyone's attention. "Children," he said, "tonight it is a mitzva to tell the story of the Exodus. It is also an appropriate time to recount the miracles that one has experienced personally..."
He then proceeded to recount an event that had happened years before, when he had set out on a business trip with two other Jews. After several hours a snowstorm had suddenly materialized, their wagon and two horses had been stranded in the middle of nowhere. By then it was completely dark.
"We were running out of hope," the man recalled, "when suddenly we saw a light in the distance. We were overjoyed when we discovered it came from a house, but our joy did not last long. We had stumbled upon a thieves' den. They were as pleased to see us as a hungry animal about to devour its prey.
"My money and gold watch and chain were immediately taken. Then the robbers decided that I must be killed. I pleaded for my life, but to no avail.
"At that moment a man walked in and asked what all the commotion was about. When he saw me tied up on the floor he said, 'Leave him alone! If he dies, many others will die with him - all the workers he employs and all the poor people he supports. I used to work for him, and I can tell you firsthand that he is a good man. Just let him be. Do it for my sake."
"The next morning we were allowed to leave. The man who saved my life accompanied us back to the main road. And if you want to know his identity, he is sitting right here by my side..."
The children looked at the chair next to their father - but it was empty! Without anyone noticing the stranger had left the table and disappeared. They conducted a thorough search but he was gone. And for some reason, he had been in such a hurry that he had forgotten to take his knapsack.
After the holiday they opened it up, and found a gold watch and chain and some money.
The freedom of Passover resembles the freedom that will be experienced in the Era of the Redemption. All redemptions share a common factor. In particular, the redemption from Egypt which is commemorated on Passover was the first redemption and thus, includes within it the source for all subsequent redemptions, including the ultimate redemption.
(The Rebbe, Passover 5751-1991)