Why are we so strict?
Why does every crumb of chometz have to be eliminated?
About fifty-seven years ago, I found G-d. I have written about this time and again, but I want to make a point. On January 10, 1966, when I awoke in the middle of the night and our life was falling apart, I was desperate. Either I was going into a mental institution, G-d forbid, or I was going to find light in the darkness.
When tottering on the abyss, I finally opened my eyes and saw G-d in front of me.
The same thing happened, I believe, in Ancient Egypt. When the Children of Israel sunk to the forty-ninth level of tumah, they were either going to disappear as a unique entity or they were going to find the Source of Life. They were tottering on the edge of the cliff, and that can – to put it mildly – wake you up.
Once you realize that G-d exists, it is a mighty struggle to extricate yourself from the mud and arise to the service of Hashem. It is exhilarating, but it takes all your strength. As we say in Lecha Dodi, “arise and depart from amid the upheaval. Too long have you dwelled in the valley of weeping.”
I recently watched a National Geographic video of a man sinking in quicksand. Even though the rescue squad was standing by – three trained men with specialized equipment -- it was still extremely frightening. The mud was sucking his legs downward. It was actually painful to be extricated and he was a wreck from the experience.
This, my friends, is Golus. It pulls you down and locks you in. In that situation, you need extreme measures to extricate yourself. Every Friday night, we need Shabbos to pull us out of the weekday mode and bring our neshomas back to immersion in Hashem’s world.
In Ancient Egypt, we needed extreme measures to separate ourselves from the culture that threatened to eat us alive. The Torah describes what specific “specialized equipment” Hashem instituted to free us:
· Bris milah, which was an antidote to Egypt’s pervasive sexual immorality.
· Korban Pesach, in which we slaughtered and ate the lamb, thus freeing us from subservience to the Egyptian idol.
· And matzah, when we stopped being slaves to our appetites.
When you are sinking in the quicksand, you need heroic measures to pull you out.
In the account of Moshe Rabbeinu’s reaction to the sin of the Golden Calf, the Torah inserts a surprising detail: “[Moshe’s] servant, Yehoshua bin Nun, would not depart from within the tent.” According to Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, “the Torah is teaching us that … Yehoshua did not organize demonstrations or fight …. Rather, despite it being such a volatile time, he stayed focused on his learning in the tent.” (Artscroll “Rav Chaim,” p. 490)
Right now, there are disruptive demonstrations in Israel.
My friends, at this very point in history, the entire world is becoming unified in hatred of Am Yisroel, the Jewish People. All over the globe, the black flower of hatred is sprouting in unexpected places. I saw a headline in a Jewish publication about apparent anti-Semitism at a major American airport, as if we should be surprised. A distinguished Jewish professor at Harvard publicly expressed his perception that, somehow, pervasive hatred of Jews is becoming impossible to ignore all over America.
Do you think it’s confined to America?
In the days before Moshiach, Chazal tell us that, if we do not do return to Hashem, Hashem will “appoint a king over [us] whose decrees will be as harsh as [those of] Haman.” (Sanhedrin 97b) When the anti-Semites get their act together, we are going to find that, just like Hitler, ymak Shemo, today’s Jew haters are not going to distinguish between left-wing Jews and right-wing Jews. We are all going to find ourselves in one basket, and from there we will have only One Place to turn when we cry out for help!
Rabbi Kalman Krohn zt”l was riding in a taxi in Yerushalayim. The driver looked totally non-observant. Rabbi Krohn said to him, “You know, we are all brothers.” The driver was laughing. “What do you and I have in common?” Rabbi Krohn said, “It’s true. My Rebbe told me.” The driver said, “Who was your Rebbe?”
Here is Rabbi Krohn’s two-word answer: “Adolf Hitler!”
The driver started to shake and almost drove off the road!
My friends, this is our world. The tsunami is approaching. It is time to wake up and cry out to Hashem as our ancestors cried out in Ancient Egypt. Right now, we have to get rid of the chometz and summon ourselves to the supreme effort of extricating ourselves from the quicksand. “Ana Hashem hoshia na! …. Please Hashem save us now!”
May we soon stand in loving brotherhood in the Courtyards of Hashem’s Sanctuary.
L’shana ha ze b’Yerushalayim habnua! This year in Yerushalayim b’ezras Hashem!
Chazal: The rabbis of the Mishna and Gemora
Chometz: Leavening, which must be eliminated on Passover
Yehoshua bin Nun: Joshua, Moses’ successor
Ymak shemo: May his name be ground to dust