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Jewish Birthers? A Lesson from the Long Form

This week we watched the next act in the circus that has become President Obama's Birth Certificate issue. Apolitically speaking..., and in the spirit of the Baal Shemtov's directive to derive a lesson from everything that we encounter in life, I was struck by the perfect timing of the latest page of the saga in its proximity to Pesach. 

The prophet Ezekiel declares Passover to be the birthday of the Jewish people as the nation of G-d. There are those that question our "natural born citzenship" as Hashem's people, along with the rights and responsibilities carried with it. "Jewish Birthers" reject our obligations to G-d and His Torah just as they doubt the events - the Exodus and Revelation at Sinai - that made us the nation of G-d. 

Throughout the year, we pull out the "short form" and other forms of evidence, such as the Shema or the fact that Jews are still here despite over 3 millenia of attempts to destroy us. Some are sufficiently convinced and for them the matter is sealed. Others insist that it is inadequate. So for them we release the "long form."

The Pesach Seder is the "Long Form" (and oh, is it long?). We have the document with all of the details. The Hagaddah, the Matzah, the Marror all serve as elements of the "Long Form" including the "attending doctor's signature." That our people have been observing the same Seder rituals and telling the same story for over 3300 years, is the "Long Form" - seemingly undeniable proof that we are indeed "natural born members of Hashem's nation." For those that deny it even after all that, well... that would be like an ancient Egyptian being tossed around in the Reed Sea and declaring his drowning to be the result of natural phenomena. "Nuff said!"

So now that the truth is out, why don't we begin living like "natural born members of Hashem's nation?" G-d demanded from Pharaoh that he "Let My people go... so that they can worship Me." The point of becoming Hashem's people is so that we would have the unparalleled opportunity to worship Him through Torah and Mitzvot. We worked so hard to prove it, now let's get back to doing the job that is rightfully ours!

Mazel Tov to Rabi Uri & Dahlia Topolosky upon the birth of a daughter. May they raise her to Torah, Chupah & Good Deeds!

Mazel Tov to Ezra Remer and his family upon his Bar Mitzvah this week.

Mazel Tov to Levi Lang and his family upon his Bar Mitzvah this week.

Mazel Tov to Moshe Lew and his family on the occasion of his beginning to don Tefillin next week in preparation for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. 

Passover Prep... for the Soul

This week someone asked me why the Parsha speaks about the Yom Kippur temple service when the events mentioned there took place just before Pesach. I gave them the serious answer. But as I thought about it, I was reminded about the adage that introduces some humor into the hard work of Pesach preparation. "Dirt is not Chametz, the wife is not a slave, the children are not the sacrificial lamb, and the husband is not the goat sent to Azazel (during the Yom Kippur service)."

We work very hard on the pre-Pesach cleaning etc. When not balanced appropriately, it can come at the expense of properly experiencing what the holiday is about. The brings to mind a fascinating phenomenon that I was a part of for many years. The Rebbe's birthday is Nissan 11, just four days before Pesach. Every year the Rebbe would hold a Farbrengen on the night of Nisssan 11, lasting many hours. Despite the fact that is was crunch time for Pesach prep, Chassidim would come from all over the world to attend this special celebration and then return home immediately for Pesach.

How could they spare the time? Those hours or days were essential to last minute finishing up Pesach prep! Yet we all understood that through this Farbrengen, Pesach would be elevated to whole new level. There were new insights! New initiatives! New niggunim (songs)! One came home ready for Pesach in an entirely new way.

The message is, that spiritual Pesach cleaning, cooking and all other matters are equally important to ensuring that we have the Pesach we all wish for ourselves. 

This year, the Farbrengen from Nissan 11, 1982 was re-engineered, subtitles and explanations were added, and it was released in DVD format. Chabad of Louisiana will be showing this film on the 4th night of Passover, Thursday, April 21 @ 7 PM at Chabad of Metairie. While the Seder will have passed, it is a transformative opportunity not to be missed. Take Pesach to whole new level by joining us for this special viewing.

If you have not yet sold your Chametz for Pesach, the deadline is Sunday. www.chabadneworleans.com/271377.  

For all of your last minute Pesach needs check out www.chabadneworleans.com/passover.

Defining Freedom

Pesach is known as Z’man Cheruteinu—the festival of our liberation or freedom. We Jews have celebrated this festival of freedom under varying circumstances. Jews under the Spanish Inquisition, had to mark their “freedom” in a secret cellar and even then many were caught and burnt publicly. Jews in Auschwitz and other concentration camps risked their lives to gather and “celebrate their freedom.” Jews that lived in perpetual fear under the Soviet boot held clandestine Seders to observe the festival of their “freedom."

Yet, whether it was a Russian Jew substituting four glasses of tea and three sugar cubes for wine and Matzah, a Jew is Auschwitz using a few scraps of potatoes and memories of home, or a 21st century Jew enjoying four cups of expensive wine and the best Shmurah Matzah available for purchase, all declare equally their state of freedom and liberation at the Seder.

To explain this apparent paradox we must define what enslavement and freedom truly are. What exactly took place on the 15th day of Nissan over 3300 years ago that dramatically transformed us into intrinsically free people?

Chassidism teaches that Mitzrayim - Egypt - is not just a geographical location but rather also a state of mind and being. Indeed the enslavement of our ancestors in Egypt was in a spiritual sense as well as physical. The children of Israel were steeped in the Egyptian culture of idolatry and immorality. They were slaves to Egyptian society as much as to the Egyptian taskmasters. Liberation from Egypt, it follows, was also freedom from the spiritual slavery.

When G-d liberated us from Egypt He brought us to Sinai, gave us the Torah & Mitzvot and made us His people, thereby effectively imbuing us with an intrinsic sense of freedom stemming from our relationship with Him. From that moment onward, the Jewish people cannot be subject to true enslavement by another nation. As the Yiddish saying goes, “der guf ken farshikt veren in Golus, ober di Neshama ken men nisht farshiken in Golus. - Our bodies can be sent into exile, but the soul can never be subjugated.” As such, no matter what type of persecution is perpetrated upon us, the freedom that dwells within the soul of the Jew cannot be taken away. It is this inherent freedom that is celebrated on Pesach irrespective of current external circumstances.

There is, however, one possibility for eliminating this freedom. The only ones with the power to do so is we ourselves.
Philosophers define freedom as the uninhibited ability to reach one’s potential. As such it means different things for different beings. For a plant, freedom is the lack of restriction on the circumstances that enhance its ability to grow. For an animal, freedom is the absence of restrictions on movement. For a human being, however, unrestricted growth and movement are not yet true freedom. For a human, freedom has much more depth. Human freedom is connected to intellectual development. When human beings restrict their intellect to the pursuit of petty animalistic indulgences, they are robbing themselves of their freedom.

As mentioned, a Jew’s freedom is connected to a relationship with G-d through the Torah that was given at Sinai and the Mitzvot contained within it. When Jews choose to live a life that is not devoted to this goal, they strip themselves of the inherent freedom that was gifted to them by G-d.

Pesach, especially for those of us that do not live in times or places of persecution, is an ideal opportunity to honestly examine how “free” we really are. Do we tap into the infinite potential of a relationship with G-d via Torah and Mitzvot, or do we waste our time on slavish pursuits? Are we prisoners of society and our desire to “fit in” and be like everyone else, when we should be concentrating on accessing our inherent freedom by allowing our souls to dictate the direction of our lives?

Let us spend this Pesach reflecting on our appreciation of the physical freedom which we are afforded and the spiritual freedom that should result. Let us commit ourselves to becoming a truly free people as evidenced by our dedication to the fulfillment of G-d’s infinite will, which is expressed in the Torah. In doing so we will experience the real freedom that became an inseparable part of our nation’s psyche over 3300 years ago. 

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