Now that Purim is behind us, the countdown to Pesach has officially begun, complete with its angst, anxiety, stress, and exhaustion. Sadly, many people associate Pesach with backbreaking work, exorbitant expenses, endless preparation, and bread deprivation. It is not unusual to hear moans, groans, and krechts coming from both men and women when mentioning the upcoming holiday. Many describe themselves as rolling into Pesach ‘like a shmatta,’ unable to enjoy the festive atmosphere, meaningful Sedarim, or even quality time with friends and family. The consequences of this attitude, don’t just impact us, they negatively influence our children and those around us.
The Haggadah quotes the rasha, the wicked son who challenges – what is all of this work to you? Why does he specifically choose the seder as the time to question and challenge? The seder is filled with good wine, good food and good conversation. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the rasha to issue his challenge on Yom Kippur, when we are fasting and abstaining from pleasure? In his new Hagaddah, Rav Avraham Elimelech Biderman answers (thank you R’ Naftali Lavenda for pointing it out to me) that the work the turned off child is referring to, is not the seder, it is all of the preparation and lead up to Pesach. After hearing his parents complain about the cleaning and hard work, after being yelled at neurotically not to bring chametz anywhere in the house, after overhearing the moaning about the cost of making Pesach, he comes to the table and challenges, why would I want all of this avodah, this work that YOU do and don’t stop complaining about?
This is not the way the Torah or our Rabbis intended it. I believe that the bulk of the stress, aches, and pains that result from Pesach preparation is self-induced and utterly unnecessary. True, there is a high cost of matzah, wine, and Kosher-for-Pesach groceries that cannot be avoided and are challenging particularly during these difficult economic times. However, the overly labor-intensive house preparations and extensive,arguably overly complicated menus and recipes can all be avoided.
For some reason, Pesach has gotten away from us with the purely voluntary now becoming mandated standards and what should be the primary goals becoming almost entirely neglected and dismissed. Undoubtedly, halacha demands that we seek and destroy all chametz in our possession. Definitions of “chametz,” “seek,” and “in our possession” are all very clear and require a preparation of a home that should take only a few hours total. Areas and places where chametz is never brought don’t need to be cleaned or checked (Shulchan Aruch o.c. 433:3). Appliances that will not be accessed or used need not be cleaned or checked; they simply need to be put away and sealed. Any food that is not categorized as edible (a dog would not eat it) is not considered chametz (Shulchan Aruch 442:2). There is no need to check for crumbs that are less than a k’zias if they are dirty or soiled and wouldn’t be edible by a human (Mishna Berura 442:33).
Practically speaking, any cabinet, closet or room that will not be entered on Pesach, can simply be closed with a piece of tape across the door and any chametz contents in it sold. Any kitchen cabinet, drawer, or cupboard that will not be used on Pesach need not be cleaned at all; it just needs to be taped shut. Any appliance, food processor, sandwich maker, mixer, bread machine, etc. that will not be used, need not be cleaned whatsoever. They just need to be put away for Pesach in a sealed space.
Nevertheless, at some point in recent Jewish history, Pesach preparation was substituted with spring-cleaning. If one is moving a refrigerator, oven, or any other heavy appliance, he is spring cleaning, not preparing for Pesach. If one is climbing on a ladder to clean a ceiling fan, taking a toothpick to a toaster or food processor, scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, emptying and wiping all dressers, closets, linen pantries, crawl spaces, or shaking out books that haven’t been opened in years, she is spring cleaning, not preparing for Pesach.
Halacha demands that we go room to room confirming there is no chametz that is larger than 30 grams and edible. That can realistically be accomplished in a few hours at most in almost all of our homes. If you are spending days, weeks, or over a month cleaning, if you are worn down, exhausted and your back aches, blame your proclivity for spring cleaning, don’t dare blame God or His wonderful holiday of Pesach.
Make no mistake, this substitution of spring-cleaning instead of Pesach preparation comes at a great cost and it will likely hurt our community’s attitude towards Pesach in the future. Rather than enter Pesach excited, enthusiastic, and energized to spend time with family and share divrei Torah at our Sedarim, we are increasingly becoming resentful and negative about being observant and burdened by Pesach. Rather than happy people eating bitter herbs to celebrate freedom, we are becoming bitter people exchanging our freedom for unnecessary burdens in anticipation of Pesach.
Pesach, more than any other holiday or time of year, is designed to communicate our values, priorities and lifestyles to the next generation. Pesach, and the days leading up to it, should leave our children with sights, smells, flavors, traditions, and experiences they will draw from and seek to emulate in their own homes for the rest of their lives. It should provide memories and recollections that will inspire and charge the next generation in their Judaism and commitment to the beauty of a Torah lifestyle.
Bedikas chametz, complete with its hide-and-seek nature, should be fun, exciting, and adventurous. Instead, for many it has become a chore that we unburden ourselves from as quickly as possible. Burning chametz, rolling matzah balls by hand, chopping charoses, grinding marror, setting the regal seder table, reenacting the Pesach story at our seders, welcoming visiting family, are among the activities that can be carried out with joy, enthusiasm, nostalgia, and meaning.
Depleting ourselves of energy and joy by engaging in spring cleaning rather than Pesach preparation is not only depriving us of the simcha, joy, we are capable of feeling, but it is indelibly impressing on our children negative memories and associations that will likely haunt them and shape their own attitude toward Pesach preparation and observance.
By exerting all of our energy into that which is unnecessary, we have little left to do the things that make Pesach preparation fun and create the memories that our children and grandchildren will draw from throughout their lives. Today, you can buy bedikas chametz kits complete with numbered pieces of bread, packaged finely chopped charoses and even a jar of kosher for Pesach salt water.
With all respect to the companies that have commercialized those mitzvos, I implore you, don’t cave. I vividly remember how we prepared and hid the bread for bedikas chametz and that is how I taught my children to do it. I can easily picture my siblings and me competing over who got to chop the charoses and how my mother and grandmother lovingly added all the ingredients in their special recipe and it is that experience we try to create for our children today. Is adding salt to water so laborious that we can’t put in even that effort to prepare for our seder table?
As we enter the final countdown to Pesach this year, I beg you to ask yourself the question – which sounds will ring in your children’s ears in the future when they think back to Pesach in their home? Will it be moans, groans, bitterness and complaints or will they remember the joyous sounds of an energized family eagerly preparing for a meaningful Yom Tov?
The Shulchan Aruch (529:2) tells us, “Chayav adom liheyos sameach v’tov leiv b’moed. A person is obligated to be joyous and happy on the holiday.” The Mishna Berura is quick to add that being happy on the holiday is a Biblical mandate and applies equally to men and women.
Let’s not allow spring cleaning or unnecessary stringencies to get in the way of fulfilling our duty to God, our children and ourselves of being happy, joyous, energetic, and enthusiastic.
Over the next few weeks as we prepare for Pesach, let’s remember what is essential and what is unnecessary, what is an obligation and what isn’t even a mitzvah and most importantly, what will make our children love Pesach and what will cause them to resent it.
Michael Jordan, a man associated with success in his field as much as anyone alive, famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.” The six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, and certified athletic legend… attributes all his success to his failures.
Did you ever wonder what happened to the broken luchos? Were they kept? Were they thrown out? Where are the broken tablets today?
When Moshe descends to find the people passionately and enthusiastically worshiping the Eigel, he instinctively and intuitively throws down the luchos and smashes them into pieces. Note that Hashem didn’t instruct Moshe to break the luchos, he did it on his own. These luchos were no small matter; they were the handiwork of the Almighty. They were a miraculous expression of divine intervention; for example, the letters samech and mem had insides that supernaturally remained suspended in air.
God fashioned these tablets and Moshe—in one motion, in a fit of rage—destroys them. I can only imagine the millisecond of silence when Moshe realizes exactly what he has done and is waiting to see how God will react. However, we have a tradition that Hashem tells Moshe yasher ko’ach she’shibarta. Indeed, this is the origin of the expression “yasher ko’ach.” God gives his consent. But what happens next? Did he get a broom and sweep them up? Does he step over the shattered pieces to descend further to rebuke the people? The Torah never tells us what happened to the luchos but the Gemara does.
The Gemara in Berachos and Bava Basra says “luchos v’shivrei luchos munachin ba’aron,” in fact, the broken, shattered pieces were gathered, collected, and carefully placed in the aron to sit right next to the whole, complete, second set of tablets.
Why were the broken tablets kept? Why not discard them? After all, they serve no purpose and have been replaced by new ones? The real estate of the ark is precious, why take up room with this seemingly superfluous item?
In 1962, four nervous young musicians played their first record audition for the executives of the Decca Recording company. The executives were not impressed. While turning down this group of musicians, one executive said, “We don’t like their sound. Groups with guitars are on the way out.” That group was called The Beatles. In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry fired a singer after one performance. He told him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” He didn’t go back to driving a truck; instead, Elvis Presley went on to become the most popular singer in America.
What is the message of the chet ha’eigel? Why does it play such a prominent role for us in the Torah and even in ritual life? Why is this the passage we read on fast days? The Gemara in Avodah Zarah tells us explicitly that the story occurred and is studied to teach of the possibility and power of teshuva. While we mostly focus and concentrate on how and why they could have worshiped an eigel, I think instead it is worth examining how the Jews recovered from such a massive, collective failure. The lesson of the eigel is not that they made a mistake, that they failed. The lesson is seen through their will, determination and resolve to pick up the pieces, literally and figuratively, and to succeed.
Indeed, Shelomo Hamelech tells us in Mishlei that sheva yipol tzadik v’kam, seven times a tzadik falls and gets up. The commentaries explain that the tzadik analyzes and studies his failures and failings and when he gets up he emerges a tzadik by correcting his mistakes. The essence of the tzaddik’s rising again is directly by way of his seven falls, whereas a rasha just falls deeper and deeper.
Luchos v’shivrei luchos munachim ba’aron. The broken pieces are saved to remind us that our failures and mistakes are not to be discarded, eliminated, and forgotten from our memories. We can only succeed when we remember the broken experiences and use the lessons learned as springboards to success.
When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried over 2,000 experiments before he got it to work. A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times. He responded, “I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.” Our failures, our broken luchos, are steps to a process of success.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner wrote a beautiful letter to a student who was very discouraged:
A failing many of us suffer from is that when we consider the aspects of perfection of our sages, we focus on the ultimate level of their attainments, while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their Creator in full-blown form. Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, z.t.l., considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer hara (evil inclination)? There are many such examples, to which a discerning individual such as yourself can certainly apply the rule. The English expression, ‘Lose a battle and win a war’ applies. Certainly you have stumbled, and will stumble and in many battles you will fall lame. I promise you, though, that after those losing campaigns you will emerge from the war with the laurels of victory upon your head. Lose battles but win wars.
Our challenge in life is not to be perfect. That is unattainable and, according to Shlomo Hamelech, it is in some way undesirable, for one cannot become a tzadik without falling. The challenge is to carry both sets of luchos with us, to take pride in our successes and seek to repeat them and to recall and learn from our failures and be determined to transcend them.
Recently, Russian hackers broke into my email and have threatened to share these particularly sensitive emails unless I meet their demands. I refuse to be blackmailed and so to take away their leverage, I am preempting them and sharing the emails with you myself with some information redacted. I am obviously very embarrassed and regret that I used my own personal server instead of the Shul’s more secure one.
First of all, great job with your recent video – really entertaining.
Listen, I need your help with something. Recently, there have been rumblings in the community that I am going to the right and dragging the Shul with me. I could really use your help in correcting that impression. What do you think about creating a controversy in which you make me look really progressive and modern. You would attack me for something outrageous and call on the community to fire me for not being frum enough. The people will rally around me and drop this distraction about going to the right. It could really work.
I have attached our adult education brochure so you can see if there is anything in there you can work with. Nobody else will be believable for cursing me out and calling me names. I am really counting on you, please don’t let me down.
In great friendship,
So great hear from you. How is the family? When can we play machana’im again, there is no way you win next time.
I look at brochure and not much to work with. The only thing I think of is to attack you for this speaker Matthew Kelly. I look into him and clearly there is nothing wrong but since he is Catholic, I might be able to get away with claiming he is a missionary and attacking you for bringing him in. It is a stretch but just might work. What you says?
By the way, did you hear, I recently gave out my 1 billionth CD. People say can’t be because there aren’t that many Jews in the world, but they are just evil jealous criminals who don’t know what they talking about.
Send my regards to Pheeeeelip, and let me know what you think.
Regards from Rabbi Dweck from London, he says he misses hearing from you.
I am not sure the Kelly plan can work. Anyone who does basic research will see he is a motivational speaker and that there is nothing wrong in hosting him, but if we have no choice, I say let’s go for it. For it to work, I need you to really go for it. Call me a wicked clown, worse than Korach and as many outrageous things as you can. You know, the usual.
From: ———- imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
To: R’ Efrem Goldberg firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: January 6, 2017
Subject: re: re: re: Need your he
Sorry took me so long to get back to you, I ran out of sweaters and needed to shop for more.
I gave lecture about you, let me know what you think –
Also, please send me your wife email address so I can instruct some followers to drive her crazy, then your community will really feel bad for you.
The video is a good start but I know you have more in you. How about say anyone who would bring an idol worshipper like Matthew Kelly should be executed if there were a Sanhedrin. They should be thrown to the garbage, not today but yesterday.
I know it sounds extreme, but if anyone can pull it off its you and I really need you.
By the way, I never asked you, are you related to my neighbors Isaac and Veronica?
From: ——- imakemostBaaleiteshuva@gmail.com
To: R’ Efrem Goldberg email@example.com
Date: January 8, 2017
Subject: re: re: re: re: re: Need your help
No, unfortunately, no relation, but they great people.
How is this video, I gave it all I got, it should do the trick –
P.S. Did I ever tell you that your beard is really cute and I love the way you carry gemara under your arm?
You won’t believe it, it’s working. It was brilliant to have the whole controversy be from outsiders and not our members at all. Our whole BRS community has been reaching out telling me how bad they feel for us and how much they support us. That talk about being on the right is over. They are even insisting on another mini- sabbatical right away and are sending my family to a hotel for Pesach to “recover” from what you “did” to me. Can you believe it? Thank you so much for confirming just how great and special our BRS community is.
What can I possibly do to adequately thank you? What is your favorite flavor of chummus, I am going to hook you up.
With great appreciation, your criminal, clown friend
On a serious note, Yocheved and I are deeply appreciative to the community for always coming together with love, support and a commitment to respect, dignity and derech eretz.
A Freilichen Purim,
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Milton Friedman, the great Nobel Prize-winning economist and professor at the University of Chicago, had a very simple suggestion for how to identify a person or institution’s priorities. Many people eloquently describe their beliefs, values, and principles and talk about what is most important to them. Friedman advised to ignore what they say. If you want to truly know what someone’s priorities are it is simple – Look at someone’s budget and you know what is important to him. See how someone prioritizes their money and you will know her priorities.
Our Parsha that begins with the capital campaign for the Mishkan follows Parshas Mishpatim, which ends with the famous words “na’aseh v’nishma.” Isn’t it a bit anticlimactic to go from the high of na’aseh v’nishma immediately to an appeal?
The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that not only is it not strange, it is absolutely critical. Whenever a person is spiritually awakened, whenever we have a moment that our neshama is alive and aroused, we must concretize the inspiration in a practical action or deed. We must help that fleeting feeling find tangible expression and physical manifestation.
Being moved and inspired by Matan Torah to say na’aseh v’nishma is nice, it is impressive, and it is commendable, but it is only meaningful and lasting when it is immediately followed by a yikchu li terumah. As Milton Friedman taught, Hashem heard about our priorities and values with our lips, but immediately put to the test whether our actions and our budget would match. V’yikchu li terumah. Are you ready to put your money where your mouth is?
The Beis HaLevi like so many others asks the famous question: Why does it say v’yikchu, they should take, when it should say v’yitnu, they should give? He explains that when you buy something material, when you make a purchase, you may appreciate what you bought or it may have been a complete waste. Sometimes the money we expend adds value to our lives and sometimes we don’t truly get anything for it in return and it is gone forever.
What applies to money we spend on ourselves is completely inapplicable to money we spend for others or on others. When we give for others, or to others, we not only don’t lose, but we gain much more in return. The pasuk in Tehillim 49 that we say in a shiva home says, ki lo b’moso yikach ha’kol, for in death you cannot take it all.” The Malbim asks, cannot take it all?! Implying you can take some of it with you? Isn’t the reason that a kittel doesn’t have pockets is to emphasize that you can’t take any with you?
The Malbim explains that in fact, there is something you can take with you. The money that you give to tzedaka and the money you use to help others remains with you and you take it and its impact with you forever.
This insight is familiar to most of us. We have been taught that by giving, we are truly getting. But, science has now shown that not only do we receive spiritually when we give, but we receive physical benefits as well.
In their book “Happy Money,” researchers Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton summarize the research on the science of spending, explaining how spending money on others enhances one’s own happiness. Happiness does not result from a focus inward, but it results from the deep satisfaction and profound gratification of helping others.
At the end of Hilchos Megillah (2:17), the Rambam makes an incredible comment. He asks, if a person has limited funds and has to choose between having a more lavish and luxurious Purim meal, or more extravagant and impressive mishloach manos, or giving more matanos l’evyonim, money to the poor, what should he do and why?
The Rambam codifies that the resources should be dedicated to helping the indigent and poor because Purim is about simcha and there is no greater happiness than bringing joy to others, especially the underprivileged. If your meal is smaller, or your mishloach manos less elaborate, because you’ve appropriated some of that money for helping poor people, you have fulfilled the mitzvah of simchas Purim to the fullest.
The words of the Rambam remain profoundly appropriate for us this year. How can we spend significant funds to create a theme for each mishloach manos package or make dozens of packages with expensive items when there are people around us who literally don’t have food to eat?
It is in the context of the above stated halacha that I appeal to you and to all of the members of our community to scale back both on the type of mishloach manos we make, and on the amount of people to whom we give. I strongly encourage you to do the following three things:
- Fulfill the basic mitzvah by giving to one person.
- Participate in the Sisterhood’s project and help every family in our community receive at least one package.
- In lieu of mishloach manos, contribute to the Tomchei Shabbos program. There are dozens of people who are fed weekly by this discreet, confidential program. Our monthly budget to give food items and Kosher Market gift cards is over $10,000 a month and unfortunately only growing. We desperately need your help. Please contact Linda at 561-394-0394 to purchase cards that can be distributed instead of mishloach manos. The cards can be individualized and state that in lieu of mishloach manos, a gift has been made in your honor to FOR Tomchei Shabbos.
Not only does being generous with others with your time and money bring you happiness, it brings you greater health. A team at the University of British Columbia recruited adults ages 65 to 85 who had high blood pressure, the leading risk factor for death worldwide. They gave each person a total of 120 Canadian dollars to spend over the course of three weeks, and measured their blood pressure before and after.
Every week, the participants got a pill bottle fitted with a special cap that recorded the date and time it was opened. Inside each bottle were two $20 bills. The bottles came labeled with instructions about how to spend the money. Some participants always got bottles telling them to spend the money on themselves, while the remaining participants were required to spend the money on others.
Those who spent the cash on themselves purchased anything from wool sweaters and massages to tickets. Meanwhile, people in the spending group bought muffins for firefighters, cookies for neighbors, and toys and clothing for their grandchildren.
When participants reported back to the lab, nearly all of them said they liked getting bottles of money. Using a device that automatically measured their blood pressure, researchers saw a clear difference between the spending groups. People who spent money on themselves showed no change whatsoever, whereas people assigned to use the money in generous ways showed a significant reduction in blood pressure.
The researchers found to their astonishment that this change was similar in magnitude to what is typically observed when people start engaging in regular aerobic exercise.
But it is even easier than that. Recent findings by the psychologists Tristen Inagaki and Naomi Eisenberger show that simply writing a supportive note to a friend can lower blood pressure.
The Vilna Gaon famously comments that the word venasnu, and they shall give, is a palindrome, it is spelled the same way forwards and backwards. The act of giving is intrinsically linked with receiving benefits.
We are now into the month of Adar and rapidly approaching Purim. If we want to attain simcha, happiness, lower our blood pressure and receive great spiritual fulfillment, it is time to put our actions where are words are. The more we give of our time, energy and resources, the more we will in fact receive in return.