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11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Two Paths to Tangible Emunah: Tragedy and Awe

by Rabbi Michael Tzvi Lyons

Due to the growing difficulties in establishing the beginning of the month through the sighting of the new moon by witnesses, Hillel Hasheini established the rules for computing the calendar thus avoiding the need to rely on witnesses. In so doing, certain fundamental patterns became invariant, such as that the day of the week upon which the first day of Passover falls coincides with that of the Ninth of Av.

This observation is not a coincidence borne out of a spurious interaction between the multiple factors upon which the calendar is calculated, but rather hints to a deep correlation between the most tragic day of the Jewish year — the Ninth of Av — and Passover which is the most regal of the festival cycle. This association implies that Passover achieves through its magnificence and nobility that which the Ninth of Av motivates through its harsh bitterness. That is to say, the fundamental substrata of these two days are alternate approaches to an identical goal. The development of this idea is the topic of this essay.

Identity through Mourning

A Greek philosopher approached the prophet Jeremiah whilst he was engrossed in mourning over the destruction of the Temple, and posed to him the following two questions. First, why do you grieve over the destruction of stones and timber? Second, it is not the way of the wise to lament something which was. Remorse over the past is both fruitless and foolish.

Jeremiah inquired of the gentile scholar "In your discipline as a philosopher do you have any questions which remain unresolved?" The philosopher proceeded to expound several perplexing and confounding paradoxes. The prophet instantly resolved all the anomalies in a clear and lucid manner. The philosopher was astounded at Jeremiah's brilliance and perspicuity of thought. He beseeched Jeremiah to reveal the source of his exceptional wisdom. Jeremiah responded: "From these very stones which I lament over." Regarding the second question Jeremiah refrained from passing comment.

By tradition, it is known that Jeremiah did inform his students regarding the answer to the second question. While the Temple was extant even the proletariat felt its influence. The Temple's efficacy was not only that it caused Klal Yisroel to excel in intellectual profundity, but rather that it also projected a world unrestrained by space and time. A world in which Hashem's Divinity ruled supreme — unchallenged by any authority, physical or incorporeal.

Entering the Temple catapulted an individual into an environment in which his emunah became palpable. After the Temple's destruction its influence went into concealment, only to be experienced by those who mourn its demise.

The Kelm Yeshiva, founded by HaRav Simcha Zissel, became the flagship of all future yeshivas until the present day. Rav Yeruchom, the successor to his mentor R' Simcha Zissel, transmitted the scholarship and discipline of Kelm to the future generations. That Rav Yeruchom should be ascribed the accolade of being the singular transmitter of R' Simcha Zissel's scholarship is exceptional; for Rav Yeruchom's study period under the tutelage of R' Simcha Zissel was but a single year, while others who had basked in the radiance of R' Simcha Zissel for decades have been forgotten in the passage of time.

Rav Yeruchom in his latter years wrote in respect of this phenomenon, that since R' Simcha Zissel's death he never forgot a single nuance, word, or thought that he had learned or observed in the months he merited to study at R' Simcha Zissel's side. This extraordinary longevity and lucidity of memory he ascribed to the intense mourning with which he lamented his mentor's passing, the effect of which was to forge a deep bond with the deceased, so much so that he became the vehicle through which the Torah of the past could readily flow.

During the harshest years of the First World War, it was impossible to acquire — even for the greatest rabbonim — an esrog for Succos. One year it became known throughout Hungarian Jewry that the Ahavas Yisroel, the Rov of Vishnitz, had acquired an esrog for the festival. One of his congregants, a daring devotee of the Rov, had smuggled the four species in from Greece.

During the weeks prior to Succos, throngs of Hungarian Jews started to migrate to the town of Vishnitz. Jews of all walks of life, wealthy and poor alike, full of majestic dignity, queued throughout the night of Yom Tov, awaiting the advent of the dawn, in anticipation of that fleeting moment during which they would take the lulav bundle and pronounce the benediction.

With factory-like precision, throughout the day of Yom Tov each person took the four species, pronounced the blessing and then passed on the precious lulav bundle to the next in line. As the sun sank beneath the horizon signaling the end of the halachic day, several people still remained in line, not as of yet having merited the mitzvah. The private assistant of the Rov announced that the time of the mitzvah had passed; whereupon those remaining in the queue broke out into bitter, heart-rending wailing.

When this was reported to the Rov he responded, "Halevai — I wish my portion would be like theirs."

When this story was recounted to one of Jewry's current day rabbonim, his response was, "When a person is denied a mitzvah, only then does one truly see the value that the individual concerned ascribed to it."

Bitter Herbs

When one examines the array of foods arranged on the Seder plate, one observes that there is both morror and chazeres. Both are forms of bitter herbs. However the chazeres is neither mentioned nor used throughout the Seder. Since the Seder foods all convey a symbolism relevant to the evening, what symbolism is expressed by the chazeres? Furthermore, what is the actual difference between these two forms of `bitterness' in the macrocosm of life?

At the prelude to the Seder evening the Haggadah records four questions;

"Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we may eat Chometz and Matzoh; on this night only Matzoh. On all other nights we may eat any kind of vegetables; on this night morror. On all other nights we are not required to dip even once; on this night we are required to do so twice. On all other nights we may eat sitting or reclining; on this night we all recline."

The commentators explain that matzos represent servitude, morror the intense bitterness of our enslavement, dipping denotes our salvation, while reclining signifies emancipation. Of the four questions, the first two refer to the period of servitude while the latter two refer to Klal Yisroel's liberation.

As such, the third question regarding dipping poses a difficulty, for the two occasions during the order of the evening that one dips vegetables are at karpas and morror. The word karpas is an anagram for "six hundred thousand at hard work." The liquid used for dipping is saltwater symbolic of the tears that Klal Yisroel shed during their years of persecution. The second time one dips is for morror. The morror denotes the intense bitterness Klal Yisroel experienced under the tyranny of Egyptian rule, while the food the morror is dipped into, the charoses, signifies the mortar used to cement the bricks.

Hence, how is it that the dipping denotes salvation when both the foods that are dipped and that which they are dipped into connote Klal Yisroel's persecution?

Two Perspectives

The charoses presents something of an enigma, for its sweet taste implies a symbolism contrary to that indicated by its consistency and color. Taste by definition is concealed within the essence of the food, while its appearance creates the initial impression. Taste is indicative of the fundamental nature of the food, while its appearance is only a superficial representation.

The ingredients from which charoses is made — apples, nuts and so on — were not chosen arbitrarily but are specifically used because throughout the Bible these fruits are used as analogies to express Klal Yisroel's beauty before Hashem. Hence charoses really expresses a dichotomy between its superficial form and its essence. The former expresses suffering while the latter expresses Hashem's delight in Klal Yisroel. These two issues are integrally linked, for it is through suffering that Klal Yisroel becomes endeared to Hashem.

We live in a world replete with human suffering, where governments and dictators alike revel with delight at the persecution they inflict on their own people. It is a world where the proletariat gloat over the misfortunes of others.

No wonder that we tend to evaluate Divine justice with the same perverted attitude. However, Divine justice is not an expression of revenge against a renegade people or a form of schadenfreudian pleasure, but rather a means of rehabilitation. Every incremental moment of anguish and distress is orchestrated from on High and as such cleanses the essence of our fundamental being — the Nefesh. Consequently, the oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt was in fact the cause of their redemption.

Based on this, one can resolve the observations made above. The two forms of bitter herbs, morror and chazeres are symbolic of two perspectives of suffering. Chazeres, which is placed at the extremity of the Seder plate, represents a superficial human view that suffering is without cause or reason, and as such has no specific purpose. Hence the chazeres is neither mentioned nor used throughout the Seder.

However, the correct perspective is that the intensity of the Golus is the root cause of the Redemption. Hence the morror is placed in the center of the plate, symbolic of the fact that all the events symbolized throughout the Seder night grew out from a single point: the bitterness of the servitude.

In the twilight moments before Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz passed away, the Steipler visited him. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz' last days were full of acute pain. The Steipler's visit encouraged and strengthened Rav Chaim's spirit. During the conversation, the Steipler said to Rav Chaim (in reference to his intense pain): "You are extremely wealthy." Rav Chaim responded, "This is a wealth that one only appreciates in hindsight."

He accepted the Steipler's words that even minimal suffering in this world has a powerful cleansing effect regarding the next world — and all the more so a person who was overwhelmed by agony. Rav Chaim meant to reply that after his passing he would fully appreciate the Steipler's words.

The objective of the Seder night is to reach a point that the participants feel they have been liberated. The commentators explain this means the elevation of one's emunah to the point that one feels totally dependent on Hashem and not bound by any other authority. The means to achieve this illustrious stature is through deep contemplation throughout the evening of our gratitude to Hashem for all that he has endowed us with. For true gratitude can only be experienced when one feels that his benefactor provided something he lacked.

A young newlywed inquired of HaRav Shach if it would be appropriate for him to make a "kleiner" Kiddush in honor of his newborn daughter. HaRav Shach, full of astonishment, responded in an animated voice, "A small Kiddush? If you had waited fourteen years for this daughter instead of fourteen months, would you make a small Kiddush? You should express your gratitude to Hashem in a fashion fitting for one who was spared fourteen years of anguish."

Only when a person is deprived of a basic faculty does he appreciate the gift of life's intricacies which we all enjoy daily.

When a person feels dependency on Hashem, faith is a natural progression. This is the shared identity between the Ninth of Av and Passover, both days that offer cardinal lessons in making emunah a reality.

The tragedy of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash was that Klal Yisroel was expelled into a world in which they could mistakenly believe that their destiny was a result of their own endeavor. Klal Yisroel became severed from a world were emunah was tangible and real.

On both the days of Passover and the Ninth of Av, one is expected to rouse oneself from a state of quiescent belief into a realm of tangible emunah. On the Ninth of Av this is achieved through mourning the bygone era of the Temple, and on Passover through contemplating our gratitude to Hashem.

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