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Parshat Acharei (5771)
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion "Achari Mot" which begins by describing the Temple Service on Yom Kippur (Forgiveness Day) and then gives a list of forbidden sexual unions.
Nothing occurs by accident: 'Torah' means 'teaching' and Shabbat spiritually prepares for the coming week. So we must say that this information prepares us for the holiday of Passover; which we will celebrate in two days.
In Egypt the Jews were like a fetus in its mother's womb; almost completely unconscious of their true identity. And the Exodus was likened to a miraculous spiritual ‘birth’; the Jews came to total consciousness.
But on the other hand, the real miracle is the existence of the fetus within the womb BEFORE birth… birth is nothing more than REVEALING the hidden baby.
So too, the Jews just BEFORE they left Egypt were basically whole: G-d had destroyed and totally defeated the Egyptians with the ten plagues. Going OUT was, seemingly, of secondary importance; it only revealed what was already there.
So why do we make such a holiday about leaving Egypt? And how does this week’s Torah portion, which deals with Yom Kippur and forbidden relationships, prepare us for it?
To understand this here is a story.
It was the last (eighth) day of Passover in Brooklyn New York 1952; two years after the passing of the Sixth Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe (Chabad is a Chassidic Jewish movement that began in Russia in the late 1700s and Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson was sixth and last Chabad Rebbe to live in that country. He risked his life and those of his followers to keep the flame of Judaism burning in the hearts of Jews despite Communist oppression. He was imprisoned, sentenced to death, miraculously released and evicted from Russia in 1929.)
His son-in- law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Shneerson, was now speaking at a large Chassid gathering called a ‘Farbringen’.
Between speeches when Chassidim were singing a joyous melody a Chassid by the name of Rabbi Beryl Junik, approached the Rebbe and yelled over the noise
"Rebbe, please give a piece of Matza for my brother"
The Rebbe immediately understood Beryl's intention. His brother was in Russian prison. He had been caught four years earlier, for the second time, trying to escape from Stalin's Russia with forged papers. The first time he was imprisoned for a year but this time they showed no mercy; he was sentenced to death and then, for some unknown reason, his sentence changed to 25 years in prison and five more in Siberia.
Beryl didn't even know if his brother was still alive; the odds were a thousand to one that he was; tens of millions of people died there. But hoping against all odds Beryl was now standing in Brooklyn, thousands of miles away, asking for a miracle.
The Rebbe handed him a large piece and said, "This is for your brother."
Beryl could hardly speak; his brother must be alive!!
But after a few hours, when it dawned on him what the Rebbe said his excitement faded: How could he give Matza to his brother?! The only way would be to send it. To telephone Russia was difficult; to send a letter there was almost impossible but to send Matza, especially to a prisoner, would be ridiculous.
Beryl waited a few weeks till the next time the Rebbe spoke publicly, again approached him and asked quickly. "Rebbe, I can’t send it. What should I do?"
The Rebbe answered. "You can give it to him when he arrives here. And by 'here' I don't necessarily mean The United States. I mean when he leaves Russia."
Beryl was overjoyed. After the Farbringen he rushed home to tell his father and family the good news. His brother would be free! But a year passed, then another and no news. The family was getting nervous his father was almost going crazy. Beryl decided to ask for clarification and more instructions. He arranged to have Yechidut (private audience) with the Rebbe certain that the Rebbe would calm his father down.
The day of Yechidut arrived. He entered the Rebbe's office, closed the door behind him. The Rebbe was reading, his desk was stacked with letters and other papers. The room was well lit and deafeningly silent. The Rebbe looked up.
"Rebbe" Beryl said almost in tears, "When you said that my brother would get out of Siberia is that gave us great encouragement. But that was two years ago. My father is very worried. Can the Rebbe please give his promise that my brother will leave Russia?"
The Rebbe looked at him strangely and answered. "Why do you demand such things? My father-in-law overcame bigger obstacles than this and he will overcome this one as well!" With these words the Rebbe burst out crying.
A few weeks later the answer came; Beryl received the news that his brother had been 'unexplainably' released after serving ‘only’ two years in prison and five in Siberia!
But although he was out of captivity he was not yet free to leave Russia. And so it continued for many years. Despite his many requests for a visa to leave the country, the Russian government refused.
But the words of the Rebbe still echoed in Beryl's ears, "You can give it to him when he arrives here. And by 'here' I don't necessarily mean The United States. I mean when he leaves Russia."
Sixteen years later, in 1971, Beryl got a surprise telephone call; it was his brother. The Russian government had 'graciously' and miraculously granted him an exit permit! He bought a ticket immediately and would arrive in Canada tomorrow!
He arrived on Chol HaMoed Pesach almost exactly nineteen years to the day after Beryl first asked the Rebbe and needless to say Beryl and the 19 year old Matza were waiting for him in the airport when he arrived. He and his brother celebrated 'Passover' again; this time commemorating a Jew's exodus from Russia.
This answers our questions.
True, the fetus is complete before birth just as Berel’s brother was complete before he left Russia. But there its potential is hidden. And that is the meaning of true 'freedom' namely revealing all potential.
When Beryl's brother ACTUALLY left Russia and the fetus actually leaves the womb, as when the Jews left Egypt, they were able to reveal their potential to encounter and improve the world.
(And so it is to the opposite: the horrors perpetrated by cultured Germany and ‘peoples’ Communism, inquisitions of the merciful Church and anti-Semitism of the ‘un-biased’ U.N. are a few examples of how potentially beautiful ideas can result in murder and destruction when revealed.
Because the test and discovery of truth begins when potentials meet the real, actual, world. IThe Shulchan Aruch begins with "Don't be ashamed when people scoff at your good deeds")
That is what we celebrate on Passover; revelation! In this case the revelation of good, meaning and blessing to all mankind.
And just as it couldn’t have happened back then without Moses so to in our generation (and every generation) there is a ‘Moses’ like the Rebbe in our story, who can reveal the good that is hidden in the world. That will be the job of Moshiach and that is the true meaning of leaving Egypt.
And this week's Torah portion helps us prepare for this by explaining Yom Kippur and forbidden sexual acts.
Yom Kippur is the day that G-d REVEALS His infinitely deep connection to the Jewish people; no matter what they do. He is willing to ‘go out’ of His severe judgment and REVEAL His forgiveness.
And sexual prohibitions show what WE must do. Namely that leaving ‘Egypt’ means going out of our lower impulses and revealing, in DEED, what G-d really wants.
May G-d help us to open our eyes to SEE and DO in a REVEALED way all the hidden good, blessing, meaning in joy hidden within us. And perhaps the best way to do this is by learning the teachings of Chabad called Chassidut (See your local Chabad House for details)
It all depends on us. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and take us out of exile THIS PASSOVER..
Wishing all our readers a Kosher and Happy Pesach with ……
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