Chag Samayach!

Thursday, 2 May, 2024 - 2:45 am

Pesach is an eight-day festival.

The first two days of Pesach are marked by the gloriously uplifting Seders in which celebrate our Exodus from Egypt.

Four intermediate (Chol Hamoed) days follow.

Tonight, we celebrate the seventh and eighth day of Pesach.

The highlight of these last days of Pesach is the splitting of the sea.

And ‘Seudat Mashiach’. The ‘feast of Mashiach’ that we eat during the final hours of Pesach.

Let me share some timely perspective.

Merely three days after the Jews exited Egypt triumphantly, they were chased by their former captors. By the end of day six since their escape, the enraged crack commandos of the Egyptian army were in position ready to launch an attack on their former slaves.

G-d’s holy clouds were the only things that stood between the Egyptians and the Israelites.

There was tension in the air all night. They had thought that they were liberated but they stood in danger of losing that freedom and their very lives.

What would happen?

 Just before daybreak the unimaginable happened. The miracle of the splitting of the sea.

The Israelites walked through the seabed while the waters stood solid like walls on either side.

The Egyptians followed in hot pursuit.

As the last Israelite feet left the dry seabed, the waters came cascading down on the Egyptians drowning them to death. Subsequently, their corpses were spit out onto the seashore.

After this happened, the Jewish People were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. They now knew that they were truly liberated and would not have to look over their backs and live in constant fear of the counterattack of the Egyptian. The Egyptians were vanquished and no more. After all they had seen their captors dead bodies spit out of the sea.

The Jews broke out into a joyous song called ‘Shirat Hayam’ the ‘Song sung by the Sea’. We recite this daily in our prayers.

The seventh day of Pesach thus truly constitutes the completion of the liberation that started on the first day of Pesach. The Exodus seven days earlier would not have been conclusive if not for the miracles at the splitting of the sea on the seventh day.

This is a reason to be joyous. And joyous we are!

Yet, we don’t say the complete Halel.

This following is one of the reasons why we don’t say a complete Hallel (thanksgiving prayer) on these last days of Passover.

The Talmud points out (in Sanhedrin 39,b), G-d is not gladdened with the downfall of the wicked:

Rabbi  Shmuel bar Naḥman says  that Rabbi Yonatan says: What  is the meaning of that which is written  in the passage describing the splitting of the Red Sea: “And the one came not near the other all the night”  ( Exodus  14:20)? At that time the ministering angels desired to recite a song before the Holy One, Blessed be He. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: My handiwork,  i.e., the Egyptians, are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me? 

In other words, even when G-d needs by virtue of His Divine justice, to punish the wicked enemies who rise against His beloved people Am Yisrael, He does not rejoice in the suffering of the wicked.

This important message is also transmitted at the Seder night when we pour wine out our cups when we mention the ten plagues.

Although we are celebrating our nation’s  exodus  from Egypt,  Proverbs 24:17  tells us, "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice." Thus, during the  Seder , we spill a bit of wine to demonstrate that our joy is not complete since it came at the expense of others, even if they were deserving of punishment. (from click here for full article)

An important point to always bear in mind, especially during moments of history when our enemies rise against us and face retribution.

The Jewish nation has battled many times throughout the last thousands of years. From the battles in Eretz Yisrael thousands of years ago, to the contemporary military operations to safeguard Jewish life in Israel.

The Torah instructs us unequivocally that when our enemies wish to attack us, we must preemptively neutralize them.

Here is where we encounter what seems to be a contradiction.

One the one hand, Hashem instructs us to not rejoice in our enemies downfall. On the other hand, we must be fully aware that G-d instructs us clearly and unequivocally in the mitzvah of self-defense.

Yanky Tauber sums it up well: (click here for full article)

… each and every life is of Divine — and therefore infinite — significance.

In light of the above, it is surprising to find the following law in the Torah (codified in Talmud Tractate  Sanhedrin 72a, derived from Deuteronomy 22:26): Habah l'hargecha hashkem l'hargo — "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first." (This law applies equally to someone coming to kill someone else — you're obligated to kill the murderer in order to save his intended victim.)

This law seems to contradict the principle of life's infinite value. If no life can be deemed less valuable that any other, what makes the victim's life more valuable than the murderer's life? Furthermore, this rule applies to anyone who is "coming to kill you" — he hasn't even done anything yet! Maybe he won't succeed? Maybe he'll change his mind? Nor does the law say anything about trying to run away. It says: If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.

The same Torah that tells us that G‑d placed a spark of Himself in every human being, thereby bestowing upon his or her physical existence a G‑dly, infinite worth — that same Torah also tells us that G‑d has granted  free choice to every person. Including the choice — and the power — to corrupt his or her G‑d-given vitality and turn it against itself, using it to destroy life. A person can choose to turn himself into a murderer — someone who is prepared to destroy life in order to achieve his aims. In which case he is no longer a life, but an anti-life.

To kill an anti-life is not a life-destroying act, it is a life-preserving act. It is not a violation of the commandment "Do not kill," but its affirmation. Without the law, "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first," the principle of life's infinite value is nothing more than an empty slogan, a mere idea.

Judaism is not an idea. It is a way of life — G‑d's ideas made real.

One of the most empowering interpretations I have read on this topic is from Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz of  more than 400 years ago known as ‘The Shelo’.

There are two kinds of songs one can sing to G-d.

The conventional songs of praise that we sing to Hashem, are songs of gratitude.

Thanking Hashem for something good that He has blessed us with after Hashem delivers us from our troubles, is quite elementary. It’s simple ‘mentschlichkeit’ - common decency, to give gratitude when Hashem does good to us.

It would seem quite incongruous to sing a song of praise when one has only received a blessing for salvation, but the situation is still dire.

Yet the Sheloh proposes that true believers are able to give songs of thanksgiving to Hashem even before Hashem’s blessing has been fulfilled.

The most powerful form of singing is to sing even before the favor has been done.

He reframes this previously quoted Talmudic statement:

G-d said My handiwork,  i.e., the Egyptians, are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me? 

to be an expression of disappointment on G-d’s side:

You, the Jewish people, have waited with your saying of the ‘Shira’ song till you saw the final ignominious end of the Egyptian enemy?

Why didn’t you have the faith in G-d that all would turn out alright and break out in joyous song even before the good actually arrived. Your faith should have been strong enough (especially after seeing the redemption from Egypt just a few days earlier) to erupt in jubilant song as if the final positive outcome had already arrived.

This concept, to dance even before the final positive outcome has arrived is an empowering message. And especially pertinent and uplifting for our times.

We need to step up our song and dance in anticipation of G-d’s deliverance and miracles. (Especially in light of the many miracles we are witnessing on a daily basis, the 99% interception of missiles and drones from Iran etc.).

It is not presumptuous to rejoice in G-d’s salvation before it arrives.

On the contrary it is a sign of deep faith and received by G-d as a sign of our deep trust in Him.

During these grand finale days of Pesach the motif and theme are all about looking forward to bright and glorious future.

The Haftorah on the last day of Pesach speaks about the utopian world where ‘the wolf will lie with the lamb’. Our enemies will lay down their arms and become peaceful.

It hasn’t happened yet, but G-d has promised that it is going to happen.

The Ba’al Shemtov taught that the Pesach is ushered out with a special meal. The Rebbe taught that this meal is also to include four cups of wine.

It is called ‘Seudat Mashiach’ the ‘Mashiach Meal’.

It is a joyous meal. A meal in which we affirm our belief, hope and faith in the imminent coming of Mashiach.

Is it premature to rejoice about Mashiach’s coming even before he has come.

Especially during these post October 7 (Simchat Torah) days.

Whence are we to muster joy when we have hostages still missing, the war in Israel still raging and anti-semitism rearing its ugly head world over?

This teaching of the Sheloh reveals to us that it is precisely now, when things don’t look so good, that we have to express our super faith in Hashem and in the words of ‘Moshe his servant’ – in our generation the Rebbe – who announced unequivocally that we are living in the times of Moshiach.

Anytime now Mashiach will come.

During these last days of Pesach, during these last days of the darkness of the exile, when we face unprecedented challenges, we must galvanize our emotions and inspire ourselves to be joyous and celebratory in the faith and knowledge that Mashiach is about to come.

Celebrate the Mashiach Meal, Matzah, four cups of wine and all. Set your table for a joyous meal at the end of Pesach and together may we celebrate the coming of Mashiach with joy, even before he has come.

Chag Sameach – Gut YomTov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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