Thursday, April 20, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini (10th day of Omer)
25 Nissan 5777/ April 21, 2017 - Avos Perek 1

Did you ever notice that the Yom Tov of Pesach seems to be inextricably connected to fires? Kashering our kitchens for Pesach necessitates burning out embedded chometz taste (whether with haga’lah or libun), we burn our chometz, matzah is baked in an extremely hot fire, and the Korbon Pesach was roasted. On the second day of Pesach, the Korbon Omer was offered, consisting of roasted barley. 
The truth is that it connects beyond Pesach to Pesach Sheni (also roasted), Lag Baomer (bonfires), and Shavuos, which celebrates the awesome revelation atop Har Sinai at the time of Mattan Torah, which included fire and thunder.
The Yomim Tovim of Tishrei on the other hand, are deeply connected with water. On Rosh Hashanah, we recite Tashlich by a body of flowing water, before Yom Kippur we immerse ourselves in a mikvah, on Succos we shake the Daled Minim, which require water for their growth and represent all plant life. Throughout the holiday, we are constantly vigilant that it not rain while fulfilling the mitzvah of succah, the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah celebrated the water libations on the Mizbeiach, and at the end of Succos we bentch Geshem.
Even the parshios read during the Shabbosos surrounding those Yomim Tovim, fit with this theme. Pesach time we read the parshios of Korabnos, offered on the fires of the mizbeiach. Right after Succos, we read Parshas Bereishis which notes that nothing grow until man prayed for rain, followed by Parshas Noach which discusses the great flood.
There’s another interesting distinction: Twice a year, shortly after washing our hands at the beginning of a Yom Tov meal, we recite another beracha. On Pesach we recite borei peri ha’adamah upon the vegetable eaten as Karpas. On Rosh Hashanah we recite borei peri ha’etz upon the fruits of the simana milsa (most famously, the apple in honey).
The most obvious distinction between fire and water is that fire flames upwards, while water flows downwards.
How do these themes connect with the avodah and spiritual focus of these Yomim Tovim?

As their Afikomen present, our older children requested a trip to a Yankees game. Thanks to their Uncle, we were able to procure tickets to a game on Chol Hamoed. [Suffice it to say we had enough for two minyanim for maariv in our section alone.]
My children also informed me that part of the experience is listening to the pregame sports talk during the drive to the stadium. A caller into the sports show we were listening to was griping about the fact that Boston Red Sox fans have been gloating in past years that they have had more success than their archrival Yankees.[2]  The host replied that if you’re comparing the entire storied history of the Yankees, then the Red Sox, or any other team for that matter, can never compare. No one holds a candle to the Yankee dynasties and Baseball giants of Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, and Munson.
However, if you’re looking at the last decade, the Red Sox have had some edge over the Yankees.[3] One of the points noted was that while the Yankees have constructed a new, beautiful stadium, there was something lost from the nostalgic lore of the old Yankees Stadium. As nice as the new stadium is, and despite the fact that it carries the same name, the bottom line is that it is not the field where Ruth, DiMaggio, and Mantle belted their homeruns.
The Red Sox however, were able to preserve their home, Fenway Park. It was a tremendous expense to renovate the old park, but they were able to refurbish it in its entirety. In the words of one journalist: “It should be preserved for no better reason that that, so our children and their children can go to the park and say: That’s the mound where Babe Ruth pitched; that’s the box where Ted Williams swung his bat; that’s the foul pole Carlton Fisk homered off…

There are two ways to foster a sense of newness – by creating something brand new, or by refurbishing/recreating something that is already in existence. Both have their benefits and both have their place.
 Sometimes the best way to have a fresh start is by completely walking away from the past, and beginning from the ground up. At other times, it is better to preserve the foundation and structure that have already been created, albeit with a fresh beginning and a new start.
The Yom Tov of Pesach represents the birth of Klal Yisroel. G-d removed us from the womb of Egypt as it were, and formed a new nation.
When a fire rages it consumes and ultimately destroys whatever is in it. But after it is extinguished, the ground is extremely fertile and malleable to new growth.
Water on the other hand, does not destroy what’s in its path, but rather washes away whatever is attached to it, so that all that is left is the essential structure itself.
In terms of avodah (practical service to Hashem) fire represents passion and excitement, the emotional flaming of the heart which surges towards its creator with love and devotion. It manifests itself in a sense of zerizus, alacrity, emotion, enthusiasm, and passion to serve Hashem.
Water represents humility and nullification. Water will flow wherever it is allowed to, and will only cease to flow when it’s path is obscured. It is the symbol of anivus – self-nullification to a greater force.

Imagine a Jew who decides to leave the path of Torah, G-d forbid, and engages in a life of sin for many years. One day he is inspired, and wants to return to his roots. The first thing we tell such a person is put on tefillin, say shema, and begin to daven. In other words, jump in to a life of kedusha. Nourish your spiritual self with mitzvos and Avodas Hashem that will re-awaken your nascent soul. 
Only after he has accustomed and reacclimated himself to living a Torah lifestyle, at some later point, can he make a reckoning of his past mishaps and rectify his sins so that he can grow even more. When he has sufficient connection, and will not become depressed or dejected by his past, at that point he will be able to face his past. Doing so will not only serve to help him right his past wrongs, but more profoundly to utilize his past mistakes as a springboard for further growth. 
On Pesach when we recommence our journey as the Jewish Nation with a sense of mission into the deserts and wildernesses of life, our avodah is symbolized by a raging fire. It is the fire of excitement to do G-d’s bidding, and not hold anything back. At that point, we are too raw and spiritually immature to confront the idolatrous lifestyle from which we have emerged.
Our role then is to immerse ourselves in acts of holiness, and to build ourselves with a focus on positive action. We begin this odyssey at the Seder when we perform myriad mitzvos and sanctify everything we do. We then immediately begin counting the Omer, representing our gradual yet consistent step by step ascent towards reaccepting the Torah on Shavuos. It is a process of fiery passion and enthusiastic religious zeal.
The Yomim Tovim of Tishrei on the other hand, are a time of revitalization, a time to recommit ourselves to our own selves. By now, we have matured enough along our path of growth, to be able to look back and confront the past which we have until now been running from. With proper teshuva, our past becomes a springboard for greater closeness and growth[4]. Tishrei is about purification through nullification, a process of humility, symbolized by water.[5] 
A vegetable emerges from the ground as a new growth, representing brand new growth - a nutritious food emerging from the dirt of the earth. That is the symbol of Seder night. A new nation has emerged from the ashes and from nothingness. We have burst onto the scene and are setting out to make our mark.
A fruit however, grows on a tree which produces new fruit each growing season, after an entire winter when it was completely barren. Fruit represents renewal. That is the symbol of the holidays of Tishrei, a process of self-analyzation, when we seek to right our wrongs, and recommit ourselves to who we are and to what we can and must accomplish.
Pesach has fired us up. It is the beginning of a path that will take us to Sinai, and then beyond.

   Enjoy your Schlissel Challah -
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

[1] The following is a thought which I contemplated and developed, with siyata deshmaya, throughout the course of Pesach this year. It’s longer than the average “Musings”, so I am calling it a ‘Reflection’.
[2] For those who are unaware, Yankees fans and Red Sox fans detest each other
[3] I interject with a disclaimer and reminder that the opinions expressed here are of the radio show host, and do not necessarily represent the views of this writer…
[4] The Yomim Noraim are a time of teshuva out of fear, which mitigates the severity of sins committed. Then we progress to Succos, which is a time of teshuva out of love, which transforms sins into merits.
[5] I am grateful to my friend, Rabbi Yanky Oppen, who when I shared this thought, suggested that I see the Sefas Emes, Pesach 5646. The Sefas Emes explains that rain descends from heaven which is a symbol of G-d blessing descending into this world. Our role is to subjugate ourselves to His blessings, and that is what water symbolizes, and that is the symbol of the months of Tishrei. Nissan however, is the time of growth, symbolizing our responsibility to perform our service to Hashem, that is symbolized by the waving of the Omer.