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Pesach Greetings from Rabbi Yosef Shemtov

Pesach, which begins this year on March 30, 2010, is the holiday we commemorate the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. One of the highlights of Pesach is the Seder. The Seder is a unique service performed on the first two nights of Pesach. At the Seder we eat various special foods and we tell the story of our exodus from Egypt.

1) We drink 4 cups of wine because during Pesach we have to feel like royalty.
2) We lean to show that we are free to eat like kings.
3) We eat matzas to remember that the Jews were fed matza in Egypt because matza symbolizes poor man’s bread.
4) We eat maror (bitter herbs) to remind ourselves that the Egyptians made our lives bitter.

At the Seder even though we commemorate our redemption by drinking 4 cups of wine and by leaning, we eat matza and bitter herbs to remember our history and what we were. People who forget their past do not appreciate what they have now. Pesach is a reminder to appreciate our freedom – our ability to freely study Torah and do mitzvot.

Pesach is all about appreciation to the Almighty. This is only possible if we remind ourselves of the hardship and difficulties that our forefathers encountered in Egypt. That is the reason why we start the Seder with saying, “Why is this night different from all other nights”? On one hand, we eat bitter herbs and matza to commemorate the slavery. On the other hand, we drink wine and lean while we eat matza to show that we now live in freedom.

We start the Seder with הא לחמה עניה (this is the poor man’s bread), and then the youngest in the family asks the Four Questions. מה נשתנה – What is the difference between this night and all other nights? His question is essentially the following – are we commemorating our slavery by eating matza and bitter herbs or are we celebrating our freedom by drinking wine and leaning while eating matza?

The father answers: we were slaves in the land of Egypt but G-D took us out. In order to appreciate our freedom we have to remember our past hardship. We have to remember our history. People who do not remember their past have no future.

In conclusion, Pesach is all about appreciation to the Almighty, appreciation for our freedom, appreciation of being a chosen nation, and being able to perform G-D’s mitzvot freely. This would only be possible by remembering our past and that G-D helped the Jews in Egypt. He helps every generation. We just have to raise our hands to him and realize that he is the master of all.

On behalf of everyone at Yachad Kollel, I would like to wish you and your family a happy and meaningful Pesach.

Rabbi Yosef Shemtov

The ABC’s of Purim

The ABC’s of Purim
by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Celebrating this joyous day with Megillah, charity and food.

Purim is Judaism’s most dramatic, fun-filled holiday. When else can you dress up like a bunny rabbit and eat doughy triangles filled with prunes and poppy seeds?

Purim occurs on the 14th of Adar. (In certain walled cities like Jerusalem, “Shushan Purim” is celebrated on the 15th of Adar.)

The main event is reading the Book of Esther. Set in Persia 2,300 years ago, the “Megillah” (as it is commonly called) recounts how a seemingly unrelated series of events spun together to save the Jewish people from annihilation. The quickie version is as follows:

When King Achashverosh throws a huge six-month party and the queen refuses to follow orders, she is replaced by a new queen – Esther the Jewess. Esther’s uncle Mordechai, the leader of the Jews, uncovers a plot to assassinate the king — putting him also in a favorable position with the king. All this comes in handy when Haman, the king’s top advisor, obtains a decree to have all the Jews destroyed.

In the end, through a complex twist of events, Esther gets the decree reversed, Haman is hanged on the gallows, and Mordechai becomes prime minister.

The name Megillat Esther (Scroll of Esther) actually mean “revealing the hidden.” Unlike every other book in the Bible, Megillat Esther never mentions God’s name even once. The hidden hand of God is revealed through the maze of events. There are no coincidences.

Megillat Esther teaches us that life challenges work out for the best, because what appears as obstacles are really opportunities to develop ourselves for the better. And it all comes from God’s invisible hand that guides our fate, every step of the way.

CELEBRATING PURIM TODAY

There are four mitzvot specific to the holiday of Purim:

  • Reading the Megillah (Scroll of Esther)
  • Festivity and rejoicing (the Purim meal)
  • Sending food to friends (Mishloach Manot)
  • Giving gifts to the poor (Matanot La’evyonim)

 

The Book of Esther is read on Purim night, and again the next day. Every word must be clearly heard. We read it in the synagogue, because the larger the crowd, the greater publicity is given to the miracle of our being saved.

On Purim morning, we bustle around town visiting friends and delivering tasty treats — Mishloach Manot. Purim is the day we reach out to embrace our fellow Jews — irrespective of any religious or social differences. After all, Haman did not discriminate amongst us… that’s why it is particularly good to give gifts to those who you may have had an argument with, or someone new in the community who needs a new friend.

On Purim, it is also a special mitzvah to give gifts of money to the poor. The Jewish people are one unit — we can’t possibly enjoy the holiday if poor people don’t have enough.

Then comes the day’s grand finale — the festive meal. We eat our fill and pamper our bodies — because it is the Jewish bodies that Haman sought to destroy. Also, we are obliged to imbibe alcohol (responsibly, of course) until one doesn’t know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”

We dress up in costumes, to let our defenses down and open up to the deeper reality of ourselves and our world. All our current problems and life’s imperfections blend into good, until they become one unified expression of the Almighty’s infinite perfection.

There is truly no other holiday like Purim!