by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – March 7, 2013

As we approach the joyous holiday of Pesach (Passover) and we prepare for the festive seder, we are reminded of the verse in the Torah in which G–d tells the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, “And I shall take you to Me for a nation” (Sh’mot 6:7).

After many years on foreign soil, subject to mistreatment and persecution by others, G–d miraculously releases the descendants of our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and forges them into a nation to be guided to the Holy Land promised by G–d to our forefathers many years beforehand.

It is during this holiday that we celebrate our independence as a nation and as a people, with our own unique characteristics and customs — the Nation of Israel.

Being a part of a nation, G–d reminds us throughout the Torah, brings with it a responsibility towards fellow members of that nation and an obligation to care for and sympathize with them.

In fact, as we begin to recite the hagada, the description of the exodus from Egypt and G-d’s precepts commemorating that glorious event as well as an expression of thanksgiving for our liberation, we read: “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.  Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and join in celebrating the Passover festival.”  Caring for others of our nation who are hungry or in need is part and parcel of commemorating this holiday.  As we give thanks for our liberation, we are to consider fellow members of our nation who need to be liberated from their hardships too.

Along these lines, is an intriguing anecdote reported from the life of the renowned latter day Torah scholar R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.   One day before Pesach, a man came to his house to ask a question.  He asked the famous rabbi of Brisk if a person could fulfill the obligation of drinking the four glasses at the Pesach seder with milk.  R. Yosef Dov asked the man if he was ill, to which the man responded that he was healthy but wine was too expensive this year for him to afford.  The rabbi, being both wise and generous, took out 25 rubles but the man was proud and did not want to accept it.  “I did not come for charity; I came to ask a question.”  The rabbi told him to consider it a loan, only to be paid back when G-d affords him the opportunity.  After the man left, the rabbi’s wife asked why R. Yosef Dov gave the man 25 rubles when 2 or 3 rubles would be enough for wine, to which the rabbi retorted, “If he ate meat then he would not be able to drink the milk; therefore he did not have enough money for meat and all that is necessary for Pesach.”  R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik demonstrated that one should not only care for his fellow Jew but should be attuned to his fellow Jew’s heart and mind – especially for the special holiday of Pesach.

Moreover, the great medieval Torah giant Maimonides stresses (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yom Tov 6:18): “And when one eats and drinks [at the holiday meal] he is obligated to feed the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, along with other unfortunate poor.  However, one who locks the doors of his courtyard, and eats and drinks with his wife and children, and does not feed and provide drink for the poor and suffering people, this is not a celebration of G-d’s commandment, but rather a celebration of his stomach…and this type of celebration is a disgrace.”

Also, in the very first of the laws of Pesach found in the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 429:1), R. Moshe Isserles (1520 – 1572), known as the Rama, points out “the custom to buy wheat and distribute them to the poor for the purposes [needs] of Passover.”  And, R. Yisrael Meir Kagan, famous as the Chafetz Chaim, notes in his Mishna Brurah, ad locum, the grave consequences awaiting those who stand by and avoid helping those in need as the holiday of Pesach approaches.

As we give thanks for our liberation and our establishment as a nation, we must consider fellow members of our nation who need to be liberated from their hardships too.  In the spirit of R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, we must open our hearts and minds to our fellow Jews’ needs.  We dare not, as Maimonides instructs us, make our celebration a disgrace.

May we, in merit of truly caring for fellow members of our nation and opening our hearts and minds to them, have a very safe, healthy and joyous Pesach holiday.

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