This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Passover (5761 (2))
Pesach is Moshe Rabbenu’s holiday. If it weren’t for him there would be no Passover.
Moshe was the one who announced the redemption, prepared and inspired the Jews for it, and even personally led them out of exile.
Even today the Jews can’t exist without Moshe.
That is why since that first Pesach over 3,300 years ago, ‘Am Yisroel’ (the Jewish nation) has always had great leaders, ‘Tzadikim’, who, like Moshe, have had a special connection to G-d and inspired everyone to act and feel more Jewish.
The Chassidim, beginning with the Baal Shem Tov, placed great emphasis on this idea and here is a story that demonstrates it.
One of the better-known figures in Chabad was Rabbi Mendel Futerfass. Until he passed away five years ago at the age of about ninety, he was the director of the main Yeshiva at Kfar Chabad.
He was famous for his positive attitude, deep Chassidic insights, and rich history of secret daredevil underground ‘outreach’ activities in Stalin’s Russia.
Who knows how many thousands of children received a Jewish education and how many lives were saved because of him. But eventually his good deeds got him arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to six years of harsh exile in a Siberian corrective’ labor camp.
The story is told that soon after he was imprisoned he decided that he had to be alone with the Rebbe (called ‘Yechidus’ by the Chassidim).
Of course in Siberia such a thing was ridiculously impossible…. (the Rebbe was thousands of miles away!) but not for a Chassid like Rav Mendel.
A few days before his birthday (Chassidim would enter the Rebbe’s office on their birthdays) he began preparing himself, and when the day arrived he imagined entering the Rebbe’s room, standing before him, asking several difficult questions and then leaving.
Afterwards he felt much better.
Years later, after he was released and united with his family, his wife showed him a strange letter that she had received from the Rebbe. The Rebbe had written her several letters but all were addressed to her and this one was addressed to Rav Mendel although he was in Siberia far from home at the time.
He read it and also at first didn’t understand, until he noticed that the date on the letter was the same as his birthday six years ago, the same day he had imagined his ‘Yechidus’. When he read it again he saw that it
contained answers to all the questions he asked, in the order that he had asked them. The Rebbe was with him.
Now the Pesach story.
In Siberia it was permissible for prisoners to receive parcels from home. The most important parcel of the year was the one before Pesach containing Matzos and enough food for the eight days of the holiday.
But the first Pesach he was there, although Rav Mendel’s wife sent the package months earlier, it didn’t arrive.
So Rav Mendel went the entire eight days on a diet of water and a few sugar cubes.
(True, he could have eaten, say, potatoes cooked in a not-Kosher pot in order to save his life, but he wasn’t thinking about his life, he just couldn’t bring himself to even come near something not Kosher, especially on Pesach.)
Miraculously he didn’t die, but when his package did arrive weeks later, he was so traumatized by his experience that he immediately took a piece of Matza broke it into several pieces, wrapped it in newspaper and never let it out of his possession the entire duration of his exile.
It seems that the thing that affected him the most from his ordeal was not the fact that he almost starved to death but that he couldn’t fulfill the mitzvah (commandment) of eating Matza.
I heard this story years ago but only last month when I read an essay written over a hundred years ago by the fourth Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shmuel, called ‘Mayim Rabim’, did I understand it.
There (chapt. 139) he explains that Matza is called in the Zohar (mystical book) ‘The food of Faith’ because it increases and strengthens the faith of the Jews who eat it.
Every Jew, he explains, believes in G-d. [Even to the point of the absurd. For instance, a Jewish thief (G-d forbid), before he goes to steal, prays to HaShem for success! (Ain Yaakov Brochot 63)]
The job of Matza, then, is to bring this ‘casual’ faith into real proportions; to make one’s connection to G-d more actual, deep and constant.
The essay continues: The Torah tells us that before eating Matza the Jews already believed in G-d. When Moshe first approached them in Egypt after receiving his mission at the burning bush it says (Shmot 4:21):
“And the people believed”
But that faith was weak and undeveloped, something like that of the Jewish thief we spoke of.
After they ate Matza on the night of the Exodos, however, they reached even a higher level of faith, Then it says (14:31):
“They believed in G-d …. and Moshe His servant.”
So that is why Rav Mendel specially treasured Matza; because in addition to being the Will of G-d (like all the other commandments), it also had the effect of increasing faith in HaShem and ‘Moshe His servant’, namely the Rebbe.
May this year’s Matza increase our connection to HaShem through his true Tzaddikim.
And may we all, just as then, go out of our limitations in the true final redemption by following the words of the Rebbe and bringing
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.