Pesach: Fifty Strides Toward Holiness

The fifty days between Pesach and Shavuot teach us the meaning of true in dependence; after fifty years of statehood, we should evolve from a “Nation”to a “Holy Nation.”

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the state of Israel, it is important to examine what the concept of independence is. This can be accomplished by studying the holiday of Pesach, since Pesach, in a sense, is our first Independence Day. Indeed, Pesach is termed, “Chag HaCherut” – the Holiday of Freedom. For on this day we were liberated for the first time, from the yoke of foreign rule and bondage. Subsequently we were able to proceed towards the actualization of our national destiny. However, this was only a beginning. Another fifty strides were necessary -the fifty days it took to reach Mount Sinai. Only then was our independence complete.

There are two conditions which must be met in order for the Jewish People to achieve true independence, and the fulfillment of only one will not suffice.These conditions are: 1) Liberation from the rule of the gentile – whether it is liberation from his land, or from actual slavery. 2) The acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, the G-d of Israel.

What is Bondage?

The first condition can be better understood when analyzing the essential part of the story of our exodus from Egypt which we read in the Haggadah.”We were slaves to Pharo in Egypt…Had not the Holy One Blessed is He, taken our fathers out from Egypt, then we, our children and our children’s children would have remained enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” Is this statement not a bit far-fetched? How can we be sure that in a later generation, a merciful king would not have arisen and “emancipated” us? The answer is, that it is indeed likely such a thing might have occurred, but this would not have been considered liberation from bondage. For the essence of bondage is living as a minority under the rule of gentiles in their land. Certainly there are various degrees of exile and bondage. Sometimes, the Jew is humiliated. At other times, he is an actual slave. Still, other times, he is sent to the gas chambers. But it is all just a matter of degree, since in each case he is in exile, lacking independence and at the mercy of the gentile. In other words, even if there is a certain period where Jews livein an illusion of comfort in the exile, this is still “bondage”, since they are prevented from fulfilling their destiny as the Nation of G-d!

No Pesach Without Shavuot

The second condition is expressed in the fact that although Pesach is the”Time of Our Freedom”, this only made us into a nation like any other. Another fifty days were needed until we became a “Holy Nation”, and this occurred on Shavuot, when we received the Torah. In order to teach us that our purpose is to be a holy nation and not merely a free nation, G-d connected our national liberation to the giving of the Torah. This connection was made by the counting of the Omer. By counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot, we are made aware of the connection between these two holidays.

A Jew needs two legs to walk. If he only has one leg, he is a cripple. That is, if he meets only one of the aforementioned conditions, he hobbles on one leg. Unfortunately, this situation is quite prevalent. On the one hand,there are those Jews who believe that Jewish independence is entirely realized through sitting and learning Torah. For them, it does not matter ifthis learning is done in Germany, Morocco, Israel, or a ghetto in Poland. It does not dawn on them that there can be no freedom – physical or spiritual -while under the rule of gentiles.

On the other hand, there is the other kind of cripple: those who seek only physical freedom. For them, the “Holiday of Freedom” suffices. They are not interested in holiness. But when you remove the “Holy” from the “Holy Nation”, what is left? A “nation”, no different than any other. And the situation gets worse. Today, we see that those who rejected holiness in order to be a free nation, are losing their physical freedom as well. Because of their lack of faith in G-d, they have become completely dependenton the gentiles! We hear from them how they must accept the dictates of the United States, as one of them recently said, “Our entire existence depends on America.” How tragic to hear this after 50 years as a state!

Moment of Truth

Fifty years! This reminds us of the fifty days which connect Pesach to Shavuot. Just as the freedom and independence of Pesach is meaningless without it’s connection to the holiness of Shavuot – so too the independence of Israel is meaningless without the faith that only G-d can bring us salvation.

This season should serve as a warning for us. We can no longer sustain a freedom which is detached from holiness and faith in G-d. We are nearing the end of the period of “Giula BiEta” (the slow, painful redemption), and we are approaching the moment of truth. Our very souls are at stake. Will we choose: “Repentance” and “Holy Nation”, which will bring a glorious redemption; or will we remain in our sorry state of lack of faith in G-d andtrust in the gentiles, which will lead to untold suffering until the redemption finally arrives?

Vayigash: The Exile Self-Destructs For the “Comfortable” Jew

The Egyptian exile which is defined by our sages as the first exile, begins in Parshat Vayigash. Yaakov and sons make “yireda” to Egypt, and from this point onward, the arduous and torturous road from “galut” (exile) to “giula” (redemption) begins. Since the sages tell us that the first redemption from Egypt is a symbol of the final redemption, we will tackle one point concerning the Egyptian exile and derive a crucial lesson for our generation.

It is interesting that in every exile a definite pattern develops. Each exile that the Jews encountered began as a result of terrible affliction suffered by the Jews in the Land of Israel. First, it was the suffering of Yaakov and his lost son and the heavy famine prevailing in the Land of Canaan that brought on a departure to the first exile called Egypt. Afterwards, it was the second exile of the dispersion of the ten tribes until the destruction of the first Temple and the massive spilling of blood in Jerusalem. Finally, the last exile which began with the brutal war against the Romans on Jerusalem and culminated in the destruction of the second Temple and the killing of millions of Jews in Jerusalem.

What is astonishing is that in all of the above exiles, after a very short period of adaptation, Jews discovered that life in the galut wasn’t so bad. All the troubles they experienced in Eretz Yisrael suddenly ended, and they started to thrive and prosper…at least in the beginning.

This is exactly what happened in Egypt, and on this point, the great commentator, the “Kli Hayakar” elaborates. On the final verse in our parsha, “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and THEY GRIPPED ONTO IT, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly”, the “Kli Hayakar”, brings down the following on the phrase “they gripped onto it”: “The children of Israel are entirely to blame for this verse. Because the Lord decreed on them that a ‘stranger your seed will be’ (that is, temporary), and they wanted to be inhabitants (that is, permanent) in a place where it was decreed upon them to be transient … this verse comes to place blame on this settling in, since they gripped onto a land that wasn’t theirs.”

What happened here? The children of Yaakov were forced to go down to Egypt, and none of them were thrilled about the idea despite the hardships in Canaan, because they knew that Egypt is, after all, the exile. However, in a short time they had a change of heart. Joseph placed at their disposal the land of Goshen, which was the most fertile area of Egypt, and the brothers suddenly began to feel that “it’s not as bad as we thought”. One can even settle down in peace and tranquillity and learn Torah here. What is so bad about it? So they “gripped” and clung to Egypt, and by this very doing so, were automatically rejecting the Holy Land of Israel. This “seizing” or “gripping” of the exile, the settling in and feeling good there, the acquiring of the mentality that “there is life for the Jews in the Diaspora” (a mealy-mouthed word for “galut” or exile), expresses in itself a rejection or “despising of the good land” (a verse in Psalms depicting the ten spies who spoke evil report about the land of Israel and prevented “Aliyah”). In their hearts, and all the moreso in the hearts of their offspring, crept in the feeling that it is a good life here in exile and one can build Jerusalem here, and the dream of returning to Zion can wait for the next generation (if at all), but in the meantime, it remains strictly a “dream”…

This is the crime of all exiles. Our sages told us long ago about this phenomenon in a midrash on a verse in the “tochacha” of Parshat Ki-Tavowhere it is written, “you will find no resting place for the soul of your foot”. The sages comment, “if they would find a resting place, they would not come back.” In other words, if the Jews could stay in galut, they would do so without any intention of returning to Eretz Yisrael, all the while building for themselves all kinds of theories why it is “kosher” to do so.

But the gentile never allowed the Jew to remain in the galut. On the contrary, the more that the exile initially seemed to be full of promise, and the more the Jew was able to attain “equal rights” to the gentile, so, too, in direct proportion, was the tragedy of the exile that much more severe. Every exile turned into a bigger graveyard than the one before it.

This is exactly what happened to our forefathers in Egypt. The aforementioned “Kli Hayaker” continues: “And they immersed themselves to such an extent that they did not want to leave Egypt, until G-d had to take them out of there with a strong hand. And those who did not want to leave, died in the three days of darkness”. The “Kli Hayakar” touches here upon what is mentioned in Parshat “Beshallach”, where four-fifths of the children of Israel were wiped out before the departure from Egypt, because they refused to leave.

It is a divine decree that the exile, each and every one of them, has no future. This is an iron-clad law in Judaism. For this reason we find that in the poverty stricken lands which the Jews did not or could not “grip onto” as much, their exile was terminated in a more merciful and lenient fashion. This, of course, in contrast to the “lands of the fleshpots”, whose ends were woefully tragic. This article was not written to give a history lesson. We are simply coming to say that this particular exile has come to an end. The doors of many exiles have been opened, including those whose doors became symbols like Russia and Syria. Every Jew has now been given the chance to get out. We have reached the final stage in the elimination of the exile. He who refuses to seize the moment and leave quickly will find his fate as those who refused to leave Egypt.

Many may think that all this is not relevant for us who live here in Israel. After all, don’t we have our own problems here? This is un-Jewish thinking, for we are guarantors for our brothers in the exile. And despite the fact that we here, too, stand before terrible tragedy, we have a responsibility to our brothers abroad who face, G-d forbid, much greater catastrophe than what will occur in Israel. Ultimately, our destiny is wrapped up in theirs, and we must wake up to this fast, for we are now in the “End of Days” – days in which our prophets warned us can come the way of “Bi-Eta” (in its time), which is the way of awesome suffering and labor pains of redemption, worse than anything we have experienced in exile. And if this is true, how can one sit by quietly?

The Religious Jew

The “religious” Jew? Nay, say rather the Orthodox practitioner of Jewish ritual whose sojourn in an exile two millenia old has corrupted and and perverted the most basic of real Jewish values. Bearded and piously
payotic, or cleanshaven and woolly-skullcapped, they join with all the others in the ecumenical worship of the Golden Calf of our times: The Golden Exile.

Israel? Go up to the Land of Israel? Go up to the Land to which they turn in prayer three times daily – eticulously; never missing a ritual? Go up to the Land concerning which they shed hot tears every Tisha B’Av, anniversary of the national day of national mourning? Actually uproot themselves from the Exile and go dwell in the Zion and Jerusalem they piously seek every year, “next year?”

But the chandeliers and the expensive shaitel wig and the quicksand that is the good life are far more powerful than commandments.

“For you are to pass over the Jordan to go in to possess the Land which the L-rd your G-d giveth you, and you shall possess it and dwell therein…” Deuteronomy 11.

“And they scorned the desirable land…” Psalm 106

And so they invent all kinds of rationales, all cloaked in a tallit that is all blue. “Israel is also Exile…” “This is not the beginning of the redemption, merely the footsteps of the Messiah…”

Can one look at a state that rises miraculously after two millenia and watch an ingathering of exiles from a hundred lands and not see in this the beginning of the great vision and redemption? Regardless of the sins and
abominations in the land? No, that which we do not wish to do, we do not. But first, we must stamp the swine with the halachic label of kosher…

Nothing moves the “religious…” they have been inordinately twisted and corrupted by twenty centuries of abnormality. One simply cannot live as a minority for twenty centuries, two thousand years, supping at other’s
tables, pleading for a smile, a tolerant act, love, and remain normal. One cannot live in a stranger’s home and remain stable. A minority must, of necessity, inherit insecurities, complexes, fear, instability. A minority
must, of necessity, be exposed to and influenced by the majority culture that insidiously enters, corrupts, changes, lays its permanent hand on Judaism, so that the Jew assumes the Gentile value and assumes too, that it is Jewish.”

And no one can remain normal without a state, a nation, a concept of nationhood and statehood The religion that was totally intertwined with land and earth and nation and power becomes a pale vapid set of rituals. When roots have lost their hold on the land, they slowly die of malnutrition.

And so, they discover a new Zion and a New Jerusalem in the filth and impurity of the Exile. They immerse themselves in a ritualarium even as they wave high the impure creeping creature. They become Americans or
Englishmen or Frenchmen or Canadians of Mosaic piety, deeply pious piety. They stand firmly on the barricades to insure that their meat shall be more than merely kosher; that the gorgeous wig shall cover the rather plain woman as she wears her very expensive dress that overshadows her neighbor, but which properly covers the elbow as she installs her chandelier; that they shall live in the comfort of the swine and not have to risk the sufferings of the pure in Eretz Yisrael.

What matter that the rabbis decree that “a man shall rather live in the Land of Israel in a city with a majority of heathens rather than in the Exile in a city with a majority of Jews.” What matter that the rabbis proclaim that
“one who lives outside of Israel worships idols in purity…?” What matter that they intone that one who lives outside the land “is as one who has no G-d”? One knows how to explain away rabbinical injunctions when the spirit so desires…

The Jew waits. He waits to be a victim, twice over.

Isolation

Isolation. The Jew does not wish to be isolated. He fears being alone, without allies. He fears man, he trusts only in man and so – in the exquisitely Divine way of the Almighty – precisely that which he fears will be sent upon him. He fears to do that which the Almighty demands – to annex the territories and establish Jewish sovereignty over them, as part of the Holy Land of Israel. The Almighty repays him by turning them into burning caldrons of an intifada, with confused Israeli youth not knowing whether these Holy lands are indeed Jewish or “occupied”. While a world that is normal and knows that if land belongs to you then you annex it, feels free to condemn a country that does not do so as an “occupier”.

He fears to throw out the cancer raging in his midst – the Arab enemy – lest the world turn on him. He is repaid measure for measure by a grim Almighty as the world,! daily, condemns him for “oppression” of people that would not have been there had he had faith in G-d rather than fear of the Gentile.

In any event, the Jew will be isolated, and that is the greatest blessing imaginable. For so long as the Jew has even one ally, he will be convinced – in his smallness of mind – that his salvation came from that ally. It is only when he is alone – against all of his own efforts and frantic attempts – that he will, through no choice, be compelled to turn to G-d. And it is only when the Jew stands alone against a world unified in hatred against him, that the Almighty will turn, in His anger and wrath, against the nations that knew Him not, and His powerful arm that will bring salvation to the Jew will be the awesome proof to the nations that the Lord, G-d of Israel, is indeed One – the only One.

That is why isolation will be. That it is why it must be. It is the greatest of blessings, and the foolish Jew of little faith sees it only as a curse. Foolish Jew, Jew of Exile, whose soul and mind has been destroyed by that Exile, who has turned from a Jew of fa! ith into one of trembling before the man of dust

Unless. Unless we become the Jews we were meant to be. The Jews of chosenness. Of might and faith. Unless we ignore both the money and the honey of the United States and their empty threats and condemnation. Condemnation? It is dandruff to be brushed away before moving on to do the will of G-d. In any event, there is no choice. The United States will turn on Israel, slowly and subtly. The difference is that if we turn from the Gentile first, we will have the Almighty as the immediate staff and our comfort. If not, we will have neither the Gentile nor, for a terrible stage, the Almighty.

Regretting the Exile

“Four things does the Almighty regret having made: Exile, the Chaldeans (Babylon – modern day Iraq), the Ishmaelite and the Evil Inclination.” (Tractate Sukkot 52b)

It is obvious why the Almighty regrets having created the Chaldeans who burned the Holy Temple. It is more than obvious why he regrets having made the Ishmaelites … And, of course, since man’s sins stem from Evil Inclination within him, that is also an obvious reason for regret. But why does the Almighty regret having made the Exile? After all, the Exile is a punishment for Jewish sins. And having, indeed, created the Evil Inclination and the enemies who drive Jews out of their land, the Exile remains a logical punishment for the Jewish people.
The reason is, clearly, that far from chastening the Jew and bringing him to repentance, the Exile made things much worse. It did nothing less than corrupt and pervert the purity and truth of Torah, creating instead various counterfeits of “Judaism” and “Jewishness.”

From the original, Divine concept of the Jew, there have arisen two essentially fraudulent concepts, one calling itself “religion” and the other “nationalism.”

The Talmud states (Brachot 48b): “He who did not say, ‘A land that is pleasant, good and broad’ in the prayer for the land (in Grace after Meals), or ‘The Kingdom of the House of David’ in prayer “Builder of Jerusalem” (ibid.) did not fulfill his obligation. Nahum the Elder says: He must also mention the Covenant. Rabbi Yose
says: He must also mention the Torah …”

And in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 187:3): If the prayer for the land, he did not mention the Covenant and Torah, though, he only failed to mention one of them, he must go back (and repeat the blessing).”

What is the Jew? Thanks to the Exile, we have lost sense of the original, authentic, Divinely ordained and ordered concept of what is a Jew. On the one hand, there are those who have rejected the authority, let alone the Divinity, of Torah and mitzvot. For them, the Jew is a “people”, a “nation”. On the other hand, thanks to the
destructive nature of the Exile, and because events cut the Jew off from his land and from national existence, other Jews- who clove unto the Torah and the mitzvot – made Judaism into a “religion.” Both are cripples, one limping on the foot of “nationalism” and the other on the foot of “religion.”

But the Jew is not a cripple. G-d made him with two legs, and the authentic healthy Jew walks on both of them. The Jew is neither mere “nation,” nor a “religion,’ But rather a religio-nation, a holy people. The Jew is a nation and a people with ties to a specific land but which was chosen to be special and holy and cleaving unto G-d’s
Law and mitzvot. That is what the Jew is and that is what has been changed and warped, due to the Exile.

That is what the Talmud tells us when it decrees a blessing over the land, a thing that ordains nation and land, and then insists that one must include in it the Covenant and Torah. One who skips the blessing over the land has surely not fulfilled his obligation. But one who says the blessing over the land and does not mention Torah or the Covenant, fails just as much in his obligation.

One looks about the camp of Jewishness – the “nationalists” and the ‘religious” and sees why the Almighty regrets having made the Exile. It is the Exile and its immutable influence on the Jew within it, that corrupted and counterfeited authentic Judaism and Jewishness. It has created warped and false concepts of Judaism that
the Almighty never created and wholly rejects. The land, the nation, Torah. That is what the Jew blesses. That is the uncrippled Jewishness and Judaism.

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