Pesach: Confronting the Struggle

It has finally happened.  I write to you today from our wonderful new home in Lavon, a lovely community in the Galilee just north of Karmiel.  

We have finally joined our brothers and sisters in Israel and are thrilled to be the first Shomer Shabbos family in this beautiful Yishuv, which features breathtaking views.  Views not only of the surrounding hills and valleys, but more importantly to me, of the variety and depth of commitment to many Jewish values that even "secular" Israelis have just under the surface.  Rub these "ignorant", "hostile to Torah Jews" just a little bit in the right way, and you'll find their neshama shining beautifully underneath. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was a privilege to have been part of the spiritual leadership of the Queens Jewish Community, and the decade we spent in Forest Hills was a very special chapter in our lives.  We are grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the community and formed many friendships that we hope will always remain strong.   Nevertheless, we increasingly felt the tug of Eretz Yisrael calling.  Very much aware of Hillel's wisdom that "If not now, when?, we were determined to come Home when we were still able to do something significant, to try to earn the privilege of living in the Holy Land.  There is much wonderful work being done here by so many, but there is something for everyone to contribute – we feel that the area that we can best work on is to promote Jewish Unity.

It is a perspective primarily of Kiruv Levavot (bringing hearts closer together); not so much of Kiruv Rechokim (bringing those “far away” closer)

I did not seriously look to join the Rabbinate in Israel, not only because of the daunting supply/demand ratio but because I wanted to do something different.  I hope that one of my chief passions has come through over time in my writing: a deep desire to work on the divide between religious and secular Jews, which I strongly believe can be largely bridged if approached from a perspective of mutual respect, non-judgmental tolerance, and appreciation.  It is a perspective primarily of Kiruv Levavot (bringing hearts closer together); not so much of Kiruv Rechokim (bringing those “far away” closer).  It is recognizing that the majority of our fellow non-Orthodox Jews are usually open to having good relationships with us, are willing to listen to classic Torah concepts, are proud of their Jewish heritage and are concerned with its continuity, and are more than willing to grasp a hand extended in sincere friendship.  It is noting that although there certainly have been many non-Orthodox leaders who intentionally set out to uproot classic Torah observance and promote an anti-Torah agenda, it is also true that we in the Orthodox community have been too often guilty of not presenting a face of Torah that inspired Kiddush Hashem, which has driven people away from being willing to consider joining us.  It is developing an attitude of love and tolerance and determination to positively engage with our fellow Jews.  As Rav Nachman Bulman zt”l often told me, “it is not our task to ‘make them frum’; rather, it is to model, as best we can, the beautiful mesorah that we have, and, in a spirit of friendship and brotherhood, to gently communicate that they too have their own share in it, if only they would take it for themselves.  The Almighty will do the rest”.  And so, we moved to the secular Yishuv of Lavon.

(In doing so, we have been greatly helped and encouraged by a wonderful organization called Ayelet HaShachar, founded and led by the tireless and courageous efforts of Rav Shlomo Ra’anan. (Please see their website).  They have helped place many couples in secular yishuvim and moshavim around the country, with a great deal of success in Kiruv Levavot, and helping many Jews to find their way back to the mesorah.  We certainly encourage any of our friends to consider taking part in helping this wonderful initiative.)

When we first came there, we were told by a very nice couple that we met that although we seem friendly and reasonable enough, we should know that many residents would be put off by my black knitted kippah, as “we don’t want another Bet Shemesh here”. (For those unfamiliar, Bet Shemesh has repeatedly been the scene of much ugly Chillul Hashem, where extremist, so-called religious fanatics came to a town which has a majority non-observant population and have repeatedly exhibited repugnant behavior in an effort to coerce others to give in to their demands for “greater holiness”.)  Undeterred, we came anyway, confident that we can – and must – project a different image.  Although we have only been there for a few days, we have been greatly encouraged that we are on the right path.   I travel twice a day to Karmiel for minyanim; I don’t yet know if, or what kind of minyan we will have on Shabbos.  But we have been greeted with an outpouring of friendship, helpfulness and a desire by all we have met to make our move as painless as possible, and even with an appreciation for our desire to come and meet “the other side” on their turf.  

This project of ours, it seems to me, is very appropriate to begin as we approach Pesach, (besides the fact that this is a great time to move to a clean new home!).   The main positive commandment that we have is to eat Matzah on Pesach.   It is much more than to refrain from eating Chometz, which we could fulfill by eating tomatoes and (way too many) potatoes.   The mitzvah of specifically eating Matzah – the only Torah level mitzvah of eating – is interesting in that it can only be fulfilled with ingredients that can – and will – become Chometz if that eventuality is not intensely guarded against.  

Dear ones, I don’t want you to avoid the struggle;   I want you to face the struggle

Rav Mordechai Elon pointed out that the word Matzah, and the main word for Chometz Lechem, both come from roots that have “dispute, or “war” as their meaning.  “לחם”, related to “מלחמה” is the word we use for bread, the staff of life.  The two ingredients most needed to sustain human life – water and grain – are melded together (“מולחמים”) in order to help us subsist in our struggles in life.   But as we well know, too often in that struggle we allow the material to overpower us, and rather than the food being an aide to our struggles, it becomes a carbohydrate monster that causes us to becoming corpulent and over satisfied, and ultimately it controls our desires, rather than us controlling it.  This is the result of allowing the natural processes grow, uncontrolled.

“Matzah” is related to the word for the beginning of the struggle, 

תְּבַקְשֵׁם וְלֹא תִמְצָאֵם אַנְשֵׁי מַצֻּתֶךָ

(See Yeshayahu 41:12 and Metzudos ad loc).   Matzah is produced by engaging with the ingredients that will naturally grow, become bloated, and might even be objects of struggle, and – right at the beginning of the process – asserting control and preventing that dispute from taking place.  It is vital to use Matzah Shmurah; Matzah that has been carefully guarded.   It is as if Hashem is telling us, “Dear ones, I don’t want you to avoid the struggle; to stay away from engaging in the spiritual battle of life, subsisting on tomatoes and potatoes.  I want you to face the struggle, engage with those forces that might seek to overpower you, and assert control right at the beginning, and not allow that conflict to grow out of hand.”   

We are not supposed to avoid struggles in life.   We are called upon to engage and to make sure that we put things in their proper place and in the right perspective, so that ingredients that – were they unchecked – would develop into harmful substances and situations, will instead live together in peaceful harmony and grow to their and our mutual benefit.  It is only by fully engaging in the world we live in and the variety of Jews who are largely where they are spiritually due to no fault of their own, that we can positively control the temperature of our relationships with them, and live in true freedom that is the result of tolerance, love and respect for others.

As we are so fortunate to live in this amazing time when the fifth cup of the Haggada comes more and more into view, where the unbelievable growth and progress of the great gift and opportunity  Hashem has granted us – the State of Israel – is about to celebrate its 70th year of becoming the fulfilment of  “I will bring you into the land (והבאתי) that I have lifted My Hand to give to you as an everlasting legacy”, we gird ourselves to do our part to positively engage with the struggles Hashem has presented us with, and look forward to his help in bringing Kiruv Levavot between all of our brothers and sisters and our Father in Heaven.

Chag Kosher VeSameach