Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dvar Torah for Parshas Kedoshim

     At the beginning of this week’s parshah, Hashem tells Moshe, “דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם” “Speak to the entire congregation of Yisrael and say to them, You shall be holy, since I, Hashem, your God, am holy” (19:2). So begins Parshas Kedoshim with a statement which controls every decision that we make over the course of our lives. Hashem tells us that we must be holy, meaning that whatever we do, it must be with the thought, “Is this something which makes me a holy person or not” behind it. But what exactly does this mean? What and how must we live our lives and go through the day as a holy person?
     It is difficult to understand how we can be holy spiritually when we live in a physical world. Our first thought in what it means to be holy would be someone who could cut themselves off completely from the physical. The perfect example of this would be a Nazir. A Nazir is someone who for a 30 day period does not cut his hair, drink wine, or become tamei (spiritually impure). The Torah gives an option for someone to accept upon themselves to be a Nazir, the point of which is to separate yourself form the pleasures of this world. However, interestingly enough, when the Nazir finishes his month, he must bring a קרבן חטאת, sin-offering. Obviously, though the Nazir is on an extremely high spiritual level by the time he finishes, there is something wrong with what he is doing. So what are we supposed to do? How do we achieve this status of being holy?
     The Ramban says an intriguing idea which solves this quandary. He explains that the Torah gives us mitzvos where we have to indulge in physical pleasures. For example, we have a mitzvah to eat and drink on Yom Tov. How do we justify indulging on the holiest days of the year? Think of the potential outcomes of this practice! The Ramban explains that Hashem wants us to take these purely physical activities and change them into something spiritual. Being holy doesn’t mean having to turn into something not from this world, though if you can you are truly an amazing person, it means to take what you have here in this world and change it into something spiritual.
     So that’s it, that is the secret of קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ. We all have the power to make this world a very holy place and we all have the power to make ourselves just as holy. And this is not just something which you look at and say that’s nice, this is a mitzvah in the Torah which we are required to keep! Now, during this time before Shavous when we accepted the Torah, now is the time to put this into practice. To change this world into one ready to accept the Torah, a world which is completely holy, made possible by the Holy Nation.

Shabbat Shalom!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dvar Torah for Pesach 5771

Even though this week is Shabbat Hagadol, since Pesach is on Monday night, I figured I would post the Pesach Dvar Torah early.

Out of all the chagim, Pesach is the one which means the most to us as a nation for this is the time we commemorate Hashem taking us out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) and making us his Chosen People. The Seder night is when we fully commemorate this great event. We have specific mitzvos which we don’t have at any other time, such as Matzah and Maror, which fully enhance the commemorative experience. Another mitzvah we have on the Seder night is the mitzvah to tell over the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim (Exodus). This is different from the commandment we have every day to mention the story but we don’t have to go through the whole thing. The Seder specifically is the time to expound upon the great miracles in Mitzrayim.
Fittingly, one of the most important obligations we have on Seder night is to picture ourselves as if we were the ones who left Mitzrayim. As it says in the Mishnah is Pesachim as well as in the Magid section of the Hagadah, “בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים” “In every generation, each person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt” (10:5). How is this possible? How could we possibly imagine ourselves in a position of slavery since birth, where babies were slaughtered brutally and back-breaking labor was a way of life and then being freed with the greatest display of Hashem’s presence ever seen by man (up to that point)?
The word “סדר” means “order” and as we say in gemarah, “כשמו כך הוה” “like its name, so it is”. The Seder has fifteen steps that must be followed exactly as they are given and the nusach (style) we have in the Hagadah is pretty consistent for all the different cultures as well, meaning that everyone’s Seder should go pretty much the same. But, as anyone who has been to a Seder at more than one location, or heard about a different Seder or even at your own Seder from year to year could tell you, they are NEVER exactly the same! Everyone has different activities at the Seder to make it enjoyable and meaningful. Some people play games, some act out parts of the story of Egypt, and some go into depth of the different parts of the Hagadah. How does this happen? That an event so carefully planned that everyone should be able to celebrate in the same way ends up being completely different depending on where you are!
I believe I can answer both questions with one answer. When B’nei Yisrael left Mitzrayim, over 3 million strong, do you think any two people had the same exact experience? Of course not! Everyone was coming from a different perspective based on their age, status, experiences, and even their position in line probably affected their Yetzias Mitzrayim experience. Based on this, it’s easy to understand why everyone has a different Seder. Since everyone experiences the Exodus in a different way, your Seder, the meal where you should experience personally the coming out of Mitzrayim, will obviously be different from everybody else’s. In fact, it would be more improbable for two people to have the same Seder than to have two different ones! And that explains how every person has an obligation to see himself as if he came out of Mitzrayim, it’s not that you have to put yourself in the situation that the Jews had in Mitzrayim, everyone has their own “Mitzrayim” which they must leave on Pesach. Whatever it may be, we all are slaves to something to which we shouldn’t be. That is what we are obligated to do on Pesach, look back at what happened to our forefathers in Mitzrayim, learn from the story, and apply it to our Mitzrayims nowadays which we must leave.
So this Pesach when we sit around the Seder table with our family and friends let us think of the lesson of the Seder, we must take the experience of our forefathers in Mitzrayim, see how they overcame all their obstacles, stayed on the right path and eventually were worthy of being redeemed and to become the Chosen Nation. We should follow in that same path and leave the Mitzrayims of our lives and hopefully merit this year to the coming of Mashiach and to eat the Korban Pesach together with the entire Jewish Nation in Yerushalayim.
Chag Sameach!

I wish everyone a wonderful Yom Tov and a Chag Kosher V'Sameach. The next Dvar Torah will hopefully be Shvi'i Shel Pesach or after Yom Tov.


Friday, April 8, 2011

No Dvar Torah This Week

It was a real crazy week between vacation starting, Pesach cleaning, and pulling an all-nighter at the Kotel Wednesday night, so there is no Dvar Torah this week. B'ezrat Hashem, next week will be the dvar torah for Pesach. In the meantime, have a great shabbos!