Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pesach - Mitzrayim - Meitzorim

"In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt."

Though we may never have been in Egypt, nor experienced actual slavery, redemption can be real for us. Chassidus explains that Egypt is not only a geographical location but also a state of mind. In fact, the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is almost identical to the word "meitzarim", which means limitations. In other words, our personal exodus from Egypt involves lifting ourselves out of our natural limitations.

Each of us possess a soul, a spark of G-d. And, like G-d Himself, this spark is infinite and unbounded. On the personal level, Egypt symbolizes those influences and forces which confine and limit our spiritual potential.

The nature of this personal "Egypt", limitation, varies according to one's character. A person's "Egypt" can be defined by anything that restricts his potential for advancement, (and/or) accepting his natural limitations as permanent. Leaving Egypt means leaping over all these barriers and constraints, and bringing our infinite spiritual potential to the surface.

When a person relives the Exodus and uncovers his essential G-dly nature, he develops a deeper connection with the Torah.

Experiencing a personal exodus from Egypt thus extends far beyond the time of the Pesach celebration and applies to every moment of our lives. When the Exodus is understood this way, every dimension of Jewish conduct and every mitzvah a person performs becomes a step out of Egypt and an expression of his inner G-dly potential.

And an opportunity to realize his true, liberated, self.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Diamonds not chicken fat.

The story is told of a man who traveled to a faraway land where diamonds of every shape color and size literally littered the streets. He filled his suitcases with them to capacity. He then dragged his precious suitcases to a restaurant where he ordered the most expensive meal.

He offered the waiter a huge diamond as payment. "What is this stone doing here??" The waiter snapped at the fellow. "These have no value here! Here we value chicken fat. And if you haven't enough chicken fat, you will have to wash dishes to work off your debt!"

The man thought it was a joke. But, as he was dragged to the kitchen, it becomes apparent that here is one place where diamonds are useless.

Time passed, the man worked hard and he finally had a collection of chicken fat. He was wealthy. It was time to return home.

As his yacht neared the dock, he saw his family waiting. "Yuck" they cried. "It smells like chicken fat!"

"Yes. The yacht is filled with chicken fat," he answered with proud delight. "We are rich!!"

"But where are the diamonds??" asked the wife, horrified. "You forgot the real purpose of your trip. You were supposed to collect diamonds, not chicken fat! Do you have even one diamond with you??!"

He rummaged through his bags. And indeed he found one tiny diamond.

With that one small diamond, he managed to pay off all the debts his family incurred during his absence.

The story is a parable for the descent of the soul into the body. When the soul comes into the world, it is told, "Be righteous and do not be wicked"--follow G-d's commandments, for they are as precious as diamonds. Collect them, cherish them. Garner as many as you can during your short stay.

But often, the soul gets confused. It forgets its mission and its promise. The soul begins to collect "chicken fat," it gets involved in the mundane pursuits of this world, all the while thinking the chicken fat is what has true and lasting value.

But finally, the day comes when the soul returns from its journey. In the Heavenly Court, it is asked, "Have you a few precious diamonds, some mitzvot to show for your years on earth?"

Ashamedly, the soul searches until it finds a few things: a kind word; a prayer; some charity he gave, a blessing he recited; a Torah class attended.

And oh, how the soul wishes that it would have remembered its purpose and the reason for its descent.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Moshiach coming.

Today is Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan.

Our Sages argued as to when the Final Redemption with Moshiach will occur.

Will Moshiach come, and we will be redeemed, in the month of Nissan as our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt in Nissan, or will the Final Redemption take place in the month of Tishrei, the first of the months?

Will Moshiach come by virtue of the Jewish people's cumulative service of G-d over the last few thousand years, or will he come simply because G-d promised to redeem us?

According to Chasidic philosophy, the month of Nissan symbolizes the level of G-dliness that transcends our service. G-d took our forefathers out of Egypt on Passover despite their spiritual unworthiness.

By contrast, the month of Tishrei (Where we have Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), is a time for returning to G-d in repentance and prayer. We are pretty much aroused to increase in our service to G-d and so our spiritual status is up there. Tishrei is a month that we are basically all virtuous.

Those Sages who believed that our spiritual status is more important, said that Moshiach will come in Tishrei. And those Rabbis who believed that G-d's promise is the determining factor, said the redemption will occur in Nissan.

The actual ruling is that Moshiach will come because of G-d's promise. Which means we will be redeemed in Nissan.

But, both sides had a valid point for by the time Moshiach comes, the world will have already been transformed into an appropriate vessel for G-dliness through our service, through our virtue.

May it happen immediately. Amen.