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15 Adar II 5763 - March 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Preparation Is Everything: Thirty Days Before The Chag

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

All Ready?

Crispy brown matzos resting underneath an exquisitely embroidered cover on a beautiful seder plate, freshly ground morror, vintage dry wine in crystal goblets next to leather-bound Haggadahs, shiny white kittles, and a table set with fine porcelain and sparkling silver vessels. Mothers and daughters arduously work weeks on end to get the home kosher lePesach. Fathers and sons sweat over grinding flour and baking matzos, kashering utensils, selling and destroying the chometz, and all of the other countless mitzvos that come up during the days before the chag. Finally after all the running around and all of the details have been seen to, when the seder night arrives, the entire family is in euphoria that everything is ready.

Is it?

In the midst of all the endless preparation, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that even after all of the technical aspects of the festival have been seen to, some time should be set aside to prepare ourselves as well. Yetzias Mitzrayim is one of the foundations of Jewish belief, and the time when we impart this to our children and ourselves is on Pesach night. The amount of impact that the chag has on us is directly proportional to the preparation that we put into it beforehand. How can we be sure that we will be ready for this auspicious day?

The gemora encourages a person to shoel and doresh the halachos of Pesach thirty days prior to the chag (Pesochim 6b, Shulchan Oruch 429,1). In addition to informing us of how we are obligated to act before and on Pesach, this mitzvah presents us with sublime ramifications which bore deep into the Jewish neshomoh. Learning the "Torah" of the chag, especially the halachos, fosters tremendous enthusiasm to fulfill the obligations of the day. Comprehensive knowledge of what to do, combined with a burning desire to do it, is the ultimate way to prepare ourselves for the festival (Ohr Yisroel 7).

Perfect Timing

Why did Chazal choose thirty days as the preparation period for the chag? The Gemara derives this sum from an incident that took place with Moshe Rabbeinu. On the first day of Pesach he was approached by individuals who were tomei and could not bring a korbon on Pesach. On that day (the 15th of Nisan) Hashem instructed them to bring a sacrifice on Pesach Sheini (thirty days later, on the 14th of Iyar).

However the Rishonim ask a powerful question on this proof. In that specific scenario, Moshe Rabbeinu was asked a question, and had to respond to them on that very same day. If so how can this incident be brought as evidence that in all situations everyone must learn and teach the halachos of the chag thirty days beforehand, even if they are not asked?

Perfect timing is imperative when prompting a person to prepare for something. Telling him to get ready too early is unwise, for the recipient will inevitably assume that he has plenty of time, and will not take the instructions seriously. It takes tremendous insight to know exactly when to remind him, so that he will start right away.

Moshe Rabbenu was the greatest teacher that the Jewish people have ever known. If it was advantageous to "put off" the instructions about Pesach Sheini, he could have let those people who were tomei know that they should not bring a korbon on Pesach (Rishon), and informed them about Pesach Sheini at a different opportunity. Since he told the Jewish people about these additional halachos thirty days beforehand, we can infer that this was the best possible time to remind them. From his example we can learn that a month prior to Pesach, one should already start studying the extensive halachos of Chag Hamatzos (Tosafos, Pesochim 6b).

Extra Motivation

"Moshe Rabbenu established that the Jewish people should shoel and doresh about the festival on the day of the chag, the halachos of Pesach on Pesach . . . " (Megilloh 32a). This gemora seems to contradict that which our Sages taught that one should start to learn the halachos thirty days beforehand. How can we resolve this discrepancy?

In order to answer this question it is important to realize that this mitzvah entails more than just preparing for the chag. Chazal understood that even after learning hilchos Pesach, in the midst of all of the pre- festival excitement, a person could easily get distracted and forget to actually do them. In addition to insuring that a person will prepare for the chag, they also wanted to guarantee that everyone would fulfill the halachos of the chag when the proper time arrived.

These two objectives are somewhat in conflict. If the goal is getting ready for the chag, then the earlier one starts the better one will be able to prepare for Pesach. However if the emphasis is that one will actually do what he learned, then the best time to be shoel and doresh is on the festival itself.

In order have both advantages, our Sages established two separate mitzvos: to prepare thirty days before the chag and then to review the details of the chag on the actual day of the festival, in order to ensure that the halachos will be implemented. In the words of the Mechilta (chodesh daled), "We encourage a person while he is learning, and then motivate him again when it comes time to fulfill the halochos."

Other Chagim

The Beis Yosef reconciles the seeming contradiction between the gemoras by differentiating Pesach from other festivals. He rules that the mitzvah to prepare thirty days beforehand only applies on Pesach, where there are many mitzvos which are not done on the chag itself (e.g. baking matzos and getting rid of chometz). Other yomim tovim (even Succos) do not require thirty days of preparation in advance. Therefore this mitzvah does not apply (Beis Yosef 429).

Most poskim argue on this, and maintain that the mitzvah applies to other chagim as well. However with regard to Shavuos where there are very few halachos, one can start at the beginning of Sivan (Mishna Berurah 529,1 in the name of the Gra). For Chanukah and Purim, individuals are not required to learn the halochos thirty days beforehand, but are obligated to study or hear a droshoh about the chag on the day itself (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 17,1 citing Rabbeinu Yeruchom and Tosafos, Megilloh 4a).

Some opinions are that since today our primary learning is from seforim, a rov is not obligated to speak in public about the halochos, but rather one should learn from seforim starting at least thirty days before, until he is proficient in the relevant halochos (Graz 529,3). The accepted custom is to have a droshoh before the chagim on Shabbos Hagodol and on Shabbos Shuvoh. On the day of the chag itself there should be a droshoh on the halochos or aggodos of the specific festival (Mishna Berurah 529,2).

Top Priority

What other ramifications does this thirty-day period have? Even though when learning Torah it is considered to be proper to stick to the topic at hand, nonetheless a student who asks about the halochos of the chag thirty days prior, even if that is not the main topic in the beis medrash, is still considered to be asking le'inyan (on the issue). Therefore his question should be addressed before others [Ran, Rashbo, Ritvo, Meiri Pesochim 6b]. In yeshivos and botei midroshim halochos of the chag should be given first priority as the topic for shiurim (Chok Yaakov 529,1 citing Yerushalmi Pesochim 1,1).

During the time of the Beis Hamikdosh this period served another purpose. Although four days are generally sufficient to check a sacrifice for blemishes, in the case of selecting an animal for a korbon Pesach, our Sages required thirty days. Be'ezras Hashem the Beis Hamikdosh will be rebuilt soon, and we will once again be able to eat from this sacrifice (Pri Chodosh based on Avodoh Zora 5b).

Practically speaking it is very difficult to learn all of the halochos of Pesach in thirty days, especially if one has not studied them previously. Therefore, it is preferable to get a head start and start reviewing them as early as possible before Pesach. If one is unable to do so, it is advisable to get hold of a condensed version of the halochos (e.g. Guidelines on Hilchos Pesach) to get a basic overview.

From Redemption to Redemption

"When wine goes in, secrets come out" (Eruvin 68a). In the midst of a joyous Purim seudah, the head of the household stands up on a chair to deliver words of wisdom from the depths of his heart, and everyone wonders which revelations will come out. To their surprise he says, "There is a dispute among the Rishonim what constitutes chometz nukshah . . . "

The poskim say that since Purim is thirty days before Pesach, one should start to discuss the halochos of Pesach on Purim (Mishna Berurah 529,2). Seemingly this day of celebration does not seem to be an appropriate time to start delving into a discourse regarding the extensive and intricate halochos of Pesach. Chazal must have seen some deeper connection between these two events.

The gemora (Megilla 6b) records an interesting discussion, in which it first suggests that during a leap- year Purim should be held in Adar Rishon because of the principle of ein ma'avirin al hamitzvos, "We do not let a mitzva opportunity pass by." However, the conclusion is that Purim is celebrated in Adar Sheini because of the dictum somech geulah legeulah, we adjoin the redemption of Purim to that of Pesach. Why indeed did Chazal make an exception and push off the mitzva of Purim?

Our Sages understood that in this case, a greater danger than the risk inherent in delaying a mitzva was at risk. Making Purim in Adar Rishon puts us in jeopardy of reaching a crescendo in our Divine Service and allowing it to wane with the interlude of time. To ward off this spiritual problem, Chazal deviated from the normal practice of doing mitzvos at the first opportunity and pushed off Purim until Adar Sheini. (heard from HaRav Shlomo Brevda). Even in the midst of the unrestrained festivity of the Purim seudah, we are obligated to take a few moments to internalize that this is only a beginning of a larger celebration that will culminate on Pesach.

In the merit of connecting these two redemptions, may the Jewish people see an end to their current tribulations and be privileged to witness the final redemption soon, in the days to come.

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