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20 Adar II 5768 - March 27, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
In the Shepherds' Tents — Pesach in Volozhin

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

They bake matzos mitzva on Erev Pesach in Volozhin. A festive atmosphere prevails. The entire baking process takes only about half an hour, and only the choshuva people are involved. Maran the Netziv himself, suffused with joy, glowing with holiness, pours the water into the basin and the elite yeshiva students do the kneading, rolling out of the dough, and the baking.

That half-hour of being involved in the matzo baking seems as if they are verily bringing the Pesach sacrifice in the Beis Hamikdosh. One hands to his neighbor, and the latter passes on to the next in line, and so on down the line, everyone rejoicing together while singing praises and thanks to Hashem, the Redeemer of Israel, from the bottom of their hearts.

* On the Seder night, everyone, with no exception, was invited to participate in the Seder at the home of the Netziv ztvk'l. They would forgo the trip home to be with their parents at this yom tov for the sake of attending the Seder by the Netziv. One can only attempt to envision the scene of hundreds of people seated around tables and Maran the Netziv conducting the Seder, which would extend for six or seven hours.

The Netziv would read the Haggadah and explain it. These comments were later published in the Imrei Shefer Haggadah. But as fine and wonderful as that Haggadah is, it cannot begin to compare with the mighty impact made by the Seder itself when those pearls were expressed by his holy mouth.

At two or three in the morning on the first Seder night, and at four on the following night, it was finally concluded. And then the participants would break out in dance. A select group would encircle the Netziv amidst song and rhymes. Those verses of the Seder night excelled in a show of tremendous knowledge through the intertwining of teachings of Chazal, midroshim and verses from Shir Hashirim.

At the conclusion of the second Seder, all would leave the table and go to recite the vosikin prayers. (from Lamoed — Jerusalem 5706)

In Volozhin At its Prime

The Seder which was held in Yeshiva Maltesh was especially famous. It was splendid and grand. All the yeshiva students were invited to the Rosh Yeshiva's house and when they got to the end, to Chassal Siddur Pesach, they would sing it with the traditional melody which was purported to have been sung by R' Chaim of Volozhin.

R' Z.S. himself had a beautiful voice. He was a musical genius and composed many tunes which became famous throughout the yeshiva world. To this day, some are still being sung and appreciated. On yomim tovim, when the Rosh Yeshiva's house and the yeshiva itself were thronged with crowds, they would sing the tunes which he had composed. Most famous is the melody of the piyut which is said between Pesach and Shavuos, Yonah, Ya'alas Chen... He composed the tune to this when he was very young, and when he sang it before the Beis Halevi, R' Yosef Dov Ber was moved to tears. Also famous was his rendition of R' Shlomo Ibn Gvirol's poem- prayer, Achula shekulo, lomo sivki... The tune he composed for the Yomim Noraim prayer, "Shimcho mei'olom oveir al pesha," was sung with extreme devotion, and the Mashgiach Ruchani would beg the students to sing it over and over. Between the repetitions, he would interweave deep Mussar ideas. (Chidushei HaGaon R' Z.S.)

Mei'ein Olom Habo

The Mashgiach of Lomzha, HaGaon R' Moshe Rosenstein zt'l, used to say: If someone wishes to know what his portion will be in Olom Habo, he should look into his own soul and see if he feels holiness in this world. That is, if he feels holiness on Shabbos, on yom tov, about Eretz Yisroel. If someone experiences the bliss of mei'ein Olom Habo in this world, it is a sign that his soul is pure and cleansed from sin. That selfsame feeling he experiences in this world is a foretaste of what will be in the World to Come.

Those who were close to him, including his students, who saw how he would immerse himself in sanctity of Shabbos and yom tov, knew what it meant to "Prepare yourself to stand before the Presence of your G-d, O Israel." And whoever did not hear him recite the Hallel on festivals with sweet melody and an outpouring of the soul, could not say that he had ever known the true flavor of Hallel or prayer, at all. He was altogether suffused with holiness and soulfulness.

His joy and exuberance were most marked during the Festivals. He would dance and prance joyfully with the yeshiva students and they could not help but witness the exaltation and exultation of his soul during these times. During the Simchas Beis Hashoeva, he was in the practice of saying: "Even though we lack, and cannot hope to attain, that degree of ruach hakodesh which was experienced during the genuine Simchas Beis Hashoeva, still, we can hope to draw down some of that Divine Inspiration in these times, too." (Ahavas Meishorim)

From Chanukah, He Would Already Think About Pesach

I heard from Morenu HaGaon R' M. D. Soloveitchik shlita that in the winter of 5700, from Chanukah onward, Maran R' Yitzchok Zev ztvk'l would already be thinking about the upcoming Pesach, and about how he would go about baking hand- matzos — for in Vilna everyone ate machine matzos whereas R' Yitzchok Zev would eat only hand- baked matzos. Maran did not want to discuss this with the R' Chaim Ozer so as not to detract from his honor, but waited patiently until the proper time came.

It was in the middle of Shvat that R' Yitzchok Zev had to visit R' Chaim Ozer for a particular matter that needed attention. It did not dawn on him to broach the subject of matzos but suddenly, in the midst of their conversation, R' Chaim Ozer turned to him and said, "Pesach is soon upon us. The time has come to start thinking about matzos, and you only eat hand-baked matzos, whereas here in Vilna, we all eat machine matzos. You will have to see to this yourself." He then advised him to seek out an old bakery situated at the end of a certain street which had stood in disuse for many years. "Go there," he advised, "and examine its possibilities. See if you can clean it up and prepare it sufficiently for matzo baking."

Maran, who had been concerned about his matzos for a long time already, was very happy to hear this piece of advice, and in the end everything worked out very well. (Gibor Lador)

"And After Your Commandments Does My Soul Rush

The Admor R' Chaim Meir Hagar zt'l of Vishnitz would await the Seder night with fervent expectancy. A long time before Pesach, he would already speak longingly about the Seder night and the mitzvos surrounding it. From as early as Lag B'omer, when he went to visit the gravesite of Rashbi in Meiron, he would pray and mention himself, "Chaim Meir ben Hinda — would that in the merit of the holy Tana R' Shimon Bar Yochai that I be deemed worthy of fulfilling the commandment of matzo properly, and that I be privileged in the coming year to eat of the zevochim and pesochim sacrifices whose blood shall be sprinkled upon the walls of Your altar to Your pleasure."

As the festival drew nearer and nearer, so did his longing and yearning increase and wax. Once, after having recited the blessing over the new moon of Nisan, he turned to one of his entourage and said, "There are only 168 hours left until the eating of the kezayis matzo." And when he finished holding his tish on Shabbos Hagodol, he expressed himself, "In another seventy-two hours I will, please G-d, be eating the kezayis matzo."

Once on Erev Pesach, after having baked the matzos for the Seder, he suddenly became very pensive, "A trembling seizes me. The holy Seder is approaching and I have not prepared myself sufficiently for it." A moment later, he added calmly, "In one thing, however, I have prepared myself. I distributed money to the poor; I saw to it that they, too, have a lichtige Seder!"

He would question those who came to him before the festival, "How are you spiritually prepared for Pesach? Where are you `holding'? Have you already kashered all your spiritual vessels? Have you truly scraped off all the rust?"

When, in 5710, Erev Pesach fell on Shabbos, he sat alert and waiting all that Shabbos in anticipation of the Seder. On motzei Shabbos, when they set the table for the Seder in full haste, R' Chaim Meir's spirit blazed within him and he exclaimed, "My skin is burning from tension and you take your time?" The young boys tried to work even faster but in the end, before they had a chance to finish, the Admor sat himself down at the table and began holding the Seder. (Ner HaChaim)

Don't Stop Midway

On Shvi'i Shel Pesach, the chassidim of the Beis Yisroel of Ger would dance around the beis medrash, singing, as was the custom, "Hama'avir bonov bein gizrei Yam Suf... shivchu vehodu liShmo." The Beis Yisroel listened to the singing and said in surprise, "Why did you stop here?" He meant to indicate that they should have included the following verse in their singing: "And His Kingship did they willingly assume upon them!" (Pe'er Yisroel)

A Longing to Fulfill the Mitzva of Morror

In Kislev of 5723, the Vishnitzer Rebbe R' Chaim Meir zt'l, suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. His doctors said that the only thing that could help him recuperate was strict bedrest. The Rebbe was hospitalized for five weeks, after which he went to recuperate by his son-in-law, R' Moshe Ernster shlita, where he continued to lie and rest. Slowly, his strength returned to him and he felt the weak side of his body gradually coming back to him. By Purim he was well enough to return home in an improved condition.

Pesach was approaching, and the Rebbe was determined to hold the Seder with his chassidim. He was provided with specially made grape juice instead of wine and his family tried to convince him to substitute lettuce for the harsh horseradish for morror. But in this thing he was adamant: he was determined to eat horseradish, which Chazal term as `sweet'. He wished to keep this mitzva in the proper fashion.

His family and followers began arguing with him, but to no avail. He was not even prepared to obey the strict instructions of his physician, Dr. Frei, who forbade him in no uncertain terms to eat horseradish since he insisted that it was dangerous for his brain. The doctor finally referred him to a specialist. In order to receive medical permission to eat it, the Rebbe would have to tell the specialist face to face that the horseradish was not bitter for him; on the contrary, it was inexpressibly sweet for him and would surely do him no harm.

And so it was. The specialist was happy to meet the Rebbe and found him in good physical condition. Seated in an armchair, the Rebbe proceeded to explain to him the significance of the mitzva of morror, and how sweet it was to fulfill this commandment since he had been waiting to do so for a whole year. The Rebbe became so emotional in his explanation that he was on the verge of tears. He seemed to be truly preparing himself for the Seder night, for which he longed with all his heart and soul.

The specialist could not help but being deeply moved and affected. He saw before him a holy man who burned with holy desire, who could not wait for that special moment, which he had been anticipating for so long. And despite the doctor's being far removed from Jewish practice, he listened spellbound, without interrupting with questions.

When the Rebbe had finished presenting his plea and had calmed down somewhat from the emotional effort, the doctor began to reply with great deference. "Allow me, honored rabbi, to say something. I understand your strong yearning to fulfill that commandment. But who, better than you, can understand that not everything which one wants to do — one may do, especially in the state of health which you find yourself. You are after a serious illness and I don't want to go into the details of what is liable to happen to you..."

This explanation was acceptable to the Rebbe for it spoke his language and the Rebbe accepted it with resignation. He wished him a Happy Holiday and made peace with the situation. And no longer did he express a wish to eat real morror that year... (Ezkero Yomim)

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