Beginners Guide to the Passover Seder

The purpose of this guide is to highlight the structure, Mitzvos and some insights to the Passover Seder. The halachos and measurements were mostly culled from the Kol Dodi Haggadah by Rabbi David Feinstein.

Mitzvos of the night
Biblical Mitzvos are mitzvos that are found in the Torah (five books of Moses)
Rabbinic Mitzvos are mitzvos that our Sages enacted. There is a Biblical Mitzvoh that the Rabbis can enact Rabbinic Mitzvos and we follow them just as if they were Biblical Mitzvos

In the times of the Talmud and before (before the year 500 C.E), there was a Sanhedrin composed of 70 of the leading Rabbis of the time. Every Rabbi had to be ordained by a Rabbi who had been previously ordained with the chain going back to Moses and the giving of the Torah by G-d at Mount Sinai. To be ordained, the Rabbi had to know all the laws of the Torah. After the period of the Talmud, this ordination process ended, mostly due to the dispersion and persecution of the Jewish People.

The Biblical Mitzvos on Passover are:
— Eating Matzah – “In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread”.
— Relating the Story of the Exodus from Egypt – “And you should relate to your son (the story of Pesach) on this day”.

The Rabbinic Mitzvos on Passover are:
— Drinking four cups of wine
— Eating Bitter Herbs
— Reciting the Hallel – Songs of Praise

Seder Plate
— Three Matzahs – two normally required for Yom Tov and Shabbos in remembrance of the two portions of Manna that fell before Yom Tovim and Shabbosim in the wilderness. The Middle Matzah is for the Biblical Commandment of Eating Matzah.
— Karpas – Dipping foods and the eating of greens before a meal was the sign of wealthy men in the past. Another reason we eat it tonight is that it is not a normal procedure and children will notice the difference and ask questions.
— Maror – Two types. Romaine Lettuce and Horseradish; Romaine Lettuce – bitter taste symbolizes our bondage in Egypt. The Romaine lettuce initially tastes sweet and then turns bitter like the life of our forefathers in Egypt who were first paid workers and then oppressed slaves. Horseradish – sharp taste symbolizes our bondage in Egypt. When we eat the Maror (by itself and in a sandwich) you can use either one.
— Charoses – symbolizes mortar used to make bricks. Also counteracts the taste of the Maror.
— Shankbone – recalls the Pesach Offering. The Pesach Offering was in remembrance of the lamb that was put aside and then eaten on the night of Passover. In the times of the Temples, a major part of the holiday was the eating of the Pesach Offering. Since the destruction of the Second Temple, we no longer bring offerings and the Shankbone represents the Pesach Offering but is not eaten at the Seder.
— Egg – recalls the Festival Offering. On all Festivals there would be a special offering. As mentioned above, since the destruction of the Second Temple we no longer make offerings so the egg represents the Festival Offering. The egg was chosen since it is a mourner’s food and symbolizes our mourning for the Temple and our inability to offer the Pesach and Festival Offerings.

Reclining
We are required to act as if we ourselves had just been freed from Egyptian Bondage. Therefore, when we dine on the night of Passover, we eat and drink while leaning – in the manner of free men and royalty. We lean when we drink the four cups, eat Karpas, and eat Matzah. Women don’t lean since it was not the practice for most women to lean while eating.
Four Cups of Wine
Symbolizes the 4 terms of redemption mentioned in Torah.
— 1st Cup – Kiddush -I will take you out from the burdens of Egypt.
— 2nd Cup – over the Story -I will save you from their servitude.
— 3rd Cup – over Grace after meals -I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
— 4th Cup – over Psalms of Praise -I will take you for Me for a people.
We drink at least 1.7 ounces while leaning to left (women don’t recline). Beverage preference; wine, wine with grape juice, wine with water, grape juice, grape juice with water, raisin wine. People should pour the cups for each other to feel like royalty. We drink it in less than 9 minutes, preferably within 2 minutes.

*The first cup of wine is poured.

1) Kaddesh – Sanctify the day with the recitation of Kiddush.
Leader of the Seder recites Brocha over Wine, Brocha over Kiddush and a Brocha thanking G-d for bringing us to this time.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Kiddush Brocha – See the Hagaddah
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Shehecheyonu V’kiymonu V’higi-onu Lazman Hazeh
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this time (season).
* Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
* Everyone drinks first cup of wine; men lean to the left.
This is the cup of wine over the mitzvah of reciting Kiddush.

2) Urechatz, – Wash the hands before eating Karpas.
In the times of the Temple, when people were able to observe the laws of spiritual purity in full they washed before eating a vegetable dipped in a liquid that is still moist to wash away spiritual impurity. According to many opinions in our times, we don’t do this since we are unable to reach this level of purity. At the Seder, we wash because it reminds of the times of the Temple and it expresses the hope that we will soon be required to follow it again, with the coming of Mashiach. It also represents a royal custom in keeping with the special dignity with which we dine tonight. It also arouses the curiosity of the children so they should ask questions.
*Pour water over right hand twice and then over left hand twice. Do not make a Brocha. Dry your hands.

3) Karpas – Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water.
In olden days, banquets were started with such appetizers. The custom was preserved to make the children ask questions and to serve as a sign of freedom.
The dipping of the food is also a sign of comfort and indulgence.
The salt water represents the tears of the Jewish People in their suffering.
The vegetable is dipped in salt water and everyone takes a piece. (Don’t eat it yet.)
*The leader says the Brocha or you can make your own Brocha:
This Brocha is intended to also include the Maror that we will eat later and the person making the Brocha should have that in mind when making the Brocha.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ho-adomah
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who creates fruits of the earth.
*Everyone eats the green vegetable. Eat a small amount so that there is no requirement to say an after Brocha.

4) Yachatz. – Break the middle Matzah. Put away larger half for Afikoman.
We are about to recite the story of our Exodus and the Torah tells us to do this when Matzah is before us. The Matzah is often referred to as the bread of poverty and affliction and a poor man does not feast over a whole loaf since he is never sure he will have food for the next meal.
We hide the Afikoman to insure that it will not be mixed up with the other Matzahs and inadvertently eaten and not to shame it, so to speak, since it will not be eaten till the end of the meal.
Hiding it keeps the children awake by encouraging them to try and steal it.
The leader breaks the middle Matzah and puts away the larger half for the Afikoman.

5) Maggid – Tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
The central mitzvah of the night is telling about the Exodus from Egypt.
We are supposed to remember the Exodus from Egypt everyday, but at the Seder we must tell the full story from bondage to deliverance, in the form of question and answer with as much elaboration as possible.
Bread of Affliction – Draws attention to the bread of poverty over which the Hagadah is to be told.
This paragraph does not appear in the earliest sources but was composed after the destruction of the Second Temple. In exile, we can not fulfill the Torah commandments of Pesach and Maror so that Matzah is left as the preeminent obligation of the evening. But Matzah is special since it symbolizes both freedom and bondage, with the hasty departure of our forefathers from Egypt, it became a symbol of freedom. Originally, however it was their food when they were slaves and therefore it is a symbol of bondage. We stress the bondage aspect of the Matzah at this point so that it will trigger the recollection of the events in Egypt, and help us to project ourselves into the situation of our forefathers so that we can better feel the relief and joy of deliverance. This is the goal of the Seder, to fell like we personally were redeemed from Egypt.

*Second Cup of Wine is poured to stimulate the asking of questions.

*Four Questions are asked by youngest child, if there are no children an adult asks, if a person is alone he asks the questions to himself. Only someone who is bothered by a question is really interested in the answer. We are particularly eager to pass on the message of Pesach because the assurance of our national continuity lies within this passing on from one generation to the next.
There are four questions, two about Biblical commands (Matzah and Maror) and two about Rabbinic commands (dipping and reclining) to show the equal validity of both types of commands. Another reason for these four questions is to highlight the paradox of the evening in that it reflects both a sense of enslavement (Matzah, saltwater, Moror and Charoses) and freedom (beautiful table selling, while kittel. wine, reclining and dipping).

According to the Malbim the structure of the narrative portion of the Haggadah is based on the verse in the Torah from which the obligation to tell the story is derived:
And you shall relate to your child on that day, saying “It is because of this that Hashem acted for me when 1 came forth out of Egypt.”

This source verse is broken up into six parts corresponding to the six sections of the story in the Haggadah.
— And you shall relate to your child
— on that day
— saying
— It is because of this
— Hashem acted for me
— when I came forth out of Egypt.

And you shall relate to your child…The first eight paragraphs correspond to this verse and teach us about this obligation to tell the story
— “We were enslaved unto Pharaoh and G-d freed us”– tells us we should relate this to our children who would also still be enslaved had G-d not taken us out.
— “It once happened that Rabbi Eliezar..” –shows that our greatest sages told the story, since the main function is to recount it for our children.
— “Rabbi Elazar, son of Azaryah, said…” –shows the duty to do so at all times.
— “Praised be the Ever-Present, praised be He…” –shows how every type of child is to be instructed at the Seder.
— “What does the wise son say…” –shows how to teach the wise son
— “What does the wicked son say…” –shows how to teach the wicked son
— “What does the naive son say….” –shows how to teach the naive son
— “And regarding the one who does not know how to ask a question…” –shows how to teach the son who can’t ask a question

–“on that Day…” –The next paragraph tells us when the obligation to tell the story applies
— “One might think that the obligation to talk…” –explains when the special duty applies.

–“saying…” — The next paragraphs contain the actual saying of the story of the Exodus
— “In the beginning our fathers were worshippers of idols…” –shows the deeper roots of the exile and the Exodus as the way to spiritual redemption.
— “Blessed is he who keeps His promise…” –shows that G-d kept His promise to Abraham that we will be enslaved and redeemed
— “It has stood firm…in every generation there are those who rise against us..” –shows that G-d continually redeems us
— “Go and ascertain what Lavan the Aramite intended to do…” –describes the beginning of the Exodus when Jacob went down to Egypt
— “And he went down…And he sojourned there…With few people…And he became there a nation…” –Great, mighty…And formidable…describes how we became a great nation in Egypt
— “And the Egyptians made evil of us…” –And the tormented us…And laid hard labor upon us…describes how the Egyptians enslaved us
— “And we cried out unto G-d… And G-d heard us…And He saw our distress… And our travail… And our oppression…” — describes how G-d heard our pleas
— “And G-d took us out of Egypt…With a strong hand…And with and outstretched arm…And with great terror…And with signs…And with wonders…” –describes how G-d redeemed us
— “Blood, and fire and smoke…An alternative explanation…These are the ten plagues…Rabbi Yosi the Galiliean says…Rabbi Eliezer says…Rabbi Akiva says…” –describes the miracles and wonders G-d did for us during the redemption
— ‘How indebted are we…How multiple, then is our debt to G-d…” –describes additional accounts of G-d’s benevolence which were not yet mentioned

–“It is because of this…” –can be read this is because of…Rabban Gamliel reads it this way…this refers to Pesach, Matzah and Maror
— “Rabban Gamliel used to say…” –explains the concrete Mitzvos ordained for the Seder: Pesach, Matzah and Maror.
— Pesach… Matzah…Maror…explains the reason for these Mitzvos

–“Hashem acted for me…” –The next paragraphs describe how we should consider it as if Hashem took us out of Egypt
— “In every generation, one is obliged to regard himself…” –emphasizes that, in celebrating the Seder, we must see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt.

–“when 1 came forth out of Egypt.” — The next paragraphs are the introduction and recitation of Hallel songs of praise, similar to the songs of praise that were recited when we left Egypt.
–“Therefore it is our duty to thank, praise…” — since Hashem took us out from Egypt, we praise Hashem for his kindness ending the Haggadah with a Bracha.
–“Praise G-d…” — When Israel went out of Egypt…is the beginning of Hallel which describe the going out from Egypt

This is the first part of Hallel, which are Psalms of Praise, and declarations of our faith in Hashem.
We will say the second part of Hallel after the Seder. Hallel is not normally said at night. It is normally said in the Morning Prayer service on Yom Tovim and Rosh Chodeshim (the first of the Jewish Months). Daylight is normally the time when we see G-d’s kindness in action and sing His praises. Night usually stands for trepidation and calls for faith rather than jubilation. The night of Pesach is different from all other nights of the year. In the 132nd Psalm it says that on Pesach G-d ‘lit up the night like the day’ through his great self-revelation (with the last plague and our redemption) so it is appropriate that we should say Hallel at night
The first part of Hallel deals with the deliverance from Egypt and therefore belongs to the part of the Seder preceding the meal.
The second part looks ahead to the Days of the Messiah and our ultimate redemption, which is the theme of the Seder after the meal.
Also, by bracketing the Seder meal between hymns of praise of G-d, we mark it as a Divine service, rather than an ordinary supper.

*Leader of Seder recites blessing of Boray Pri Hagofen.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
*Everyone drinks the second cup of wine, men leaning to the left.
*This is the cup of wine over the mitzvah of telling over the Haggadah.

6) Rachtzah – Wash the hands prior to the meal.
Whenever we eat bread (or Matzah) at a meal we wash our hands.
*We wash by pouring twice over the right hand and then twice over the left hand.
*Before we dry our hands we say the Brocha, then we dry our hands.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melcch Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov V’tzivonu Al N’tilas Yodoyim.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.
*We do not talk until we eat the Matzah.

7) Motzi – Recite the blessing, Who brings forth, over Matzah as a food.
Before we eat any food we say a Brocha, but before we eat bread (or Matzah) at a meal we say the Brocha ‘Hamotzi’ which covers all foods we will eat at the meal.
At meals on Shabbos and Yom Tovim (Holidays) we always use two loaves of bread (or Matzah) to commemorate the double portion of Mannah that fell before Shabbosim and Yom Tovim when the Jews were in the Wilderness.
The stringent amount of Matzah is a piece measuring about 6” by 7” (2/3rds of a round Matzah). The lenient measurement is 4” by 7”. Measure out the proper amounts for all participants at this point.
*The leader of the Seder says the Brocha while holding the two Matzahs and the broken Matzah between them.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Hamotzi Lechem Min Ho-oretz.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you finish eating the Matzah. Do not start eating until the Matzah brocha.

8) Matzah – Recite the blessing and Eat the Matzah.
The Matzah represents both our bondage (bread of poverty) and our freedom (hasty departure from Egypt). We say an additional Brocha over the Mitzvoh on this night to eat Matzah.
*The leader of the Seder says the Brocha while holding the upper Matzah and the broken Matzah.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Matzah.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the eating of Matzah.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you finish eating the Matzah.
Everyone eats the required amount of Matzah, men lean to the left. Take a piece from the upper two Matzahs.

9) Maror – The Maror is dipped in Charoscs and eaten.
The Maror represents the bitterness of our enslavement. The charoses represents the mortar with which we built bricks. The Maror is dipped in charoses but the majority is shaken off so as not to mask the taste of the Maror.
The amount of Romaine Lettuce required for this eating is an 8” by 10” piece if you are eating the full leaf and 3” by 5” if only eating the stalks. If using Horseradish, the amount is 1 ounce of a grated Horseradish, equal to a full plastic shot glass.
*The leader says the Brocha or you can make your own Brocha:
This Brocha is intended to include the Maror that we will eat in a sandwich.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Maror.
Blessed Are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the eating of Maror.
* Everyone eats the Maror dipped in Charoses. Do not lean for this Mitzvah since the Maror symbolizes bondage and not freedom

10) Korech – Eat the sandwich of Matzah and Maror.
The reason we eat the sandwich is because the great sage Hillel (Who said: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’) took the view that the Pesach offering, Matzah and Maror must be eaten in a sandwich rather than separately. The rest of the Sages ruled otherwise but the Talmud, which was written after the destruction of the Temple, does not rule on who we follow. This is because after the destruction of the Temple, the Pesach Offering was no longer made and the Maror is now a Rabbinic command instead of a Biblical command. Matzah is still a Biblical command. To preserve a reminder of Hillel’s practice during Temple times we eat Matzah and Maror together even though we already ate them separately.
The amount of Matzah for this eating is a piece measuring about 4” by 7”. The amount of Romaine Lettuce required for this eating is an 8” by 10” piece if you are eating the full leaf and 3” by 5” if only eating the stalks. If using Horseradish, the amount is 1 ounce of a grated Horseradish, equal to a full plastic shot glass. Measure out the amounts and include a piece from the bottom Matzah
We will use part of the bottom Matzah for this Mitzvah. The Maror is dipped in charoses but the majority is shaken off.
*The leader (or everyone) recites the paragraph- In remembrance of the Temple…
*Everyone eats the sandwich of Matzah and Maror; men lean to the left.

11) Shulchan Orech – The Festival meal is served.
*Everyone eats the Festival Meal.
It is a custom to start with a hard boiled egg because it is a symbol of mourning. It has no opening or mouth, just as a mourner is struck silent by his fate; at the same time it offers encouragement: it signifies the turning of the wheel of destiny which hopefully will bring joy instead of sadness. The absence of the Pesach Offering evokes a sense of mourning for the destroyed Temple, which hopefully will be rebuilt in our time. Roasted meat is not served, since the Pesach Offering was roasted.
The meal must end by Halachic Midnight in time for the Afikoman. One should not overeat. We must have some appetite leftover for the Afikoman.

12) Tzafun – Eat the Afikoman which had been hidden all during the Seder.
There are two opinions about the Afikoman. One is that it is a memorial to the Pesach Offering which was eaten at the end of the meal. The other view is that the Afikoman represents the Matzah that was eaten with the Pesach offering and it is this Matzah which represents the actual Mitzvah of eating Matzah.
The eating of the Afikoman completes the eating of the Middle Matzah which represents the “Bread of Affliction” and therefore symbolizes our ultimate redemption from all affliction and oppression. This in effect introduces the second part of the Seder which is dedicated to the redemption to come, that of Mashiach.
The stringent amount of Matzah for this Mitzvah is a piece measuring about 6” by 7” (2/3rds of a round Matzah). The lenient measurement is 4” by 7”. Measure out the proper amounts for all participants at this point.
*Everyone eats the Afikoman; men lean to the left.
We don’t eat after the Afikoman except for water, tea, or the like.

*Third Cup of Wine is poured.

13) Barech – Recite Birchas Hamazon, the blessings after the meal.
It is a Biblical commandment to give thanks to G-d after we eat a meal. There are several blessings, the first is thanks to G-d for giving food to all and was composed by Moses; the second is for the gift of land and was composed by Joshua; the third is to Jerusalem and Israel which gives the land special goodness and was composed by Kings David and Solomon. The text of the third was changed after the destruction of the Temple. The Sages added a fourth blessing when the Romans permitted the burial of the victims of the Bar Kochba rebellion in the third century. It teaches us to be grateful, even in bitter times and for favors that might not evoke rejoicing.
*Everyone should read the Blessings out loud in a low voice.
*Leader of Seder recites blessing of Boray Pri Hagofen.
Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Everyone answers – Amen.
Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
*Everyone drinks third cup of wine; men lean to the left. This is the cup of wine over the Birchas Hamazon.

*Fourth Cup of Wine is poured. The extra cup for Elijah is poured.

14) Hallel – Recite the Hallel – Psalms of praise and declarations of our faith in Hashem
As mentioned above (at the end of Maggid) we now recite the second part of Hallel. This part of Hallel deals with our ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach.
*Everyone recites Hallel out loud. At the part “Thank Hashem for He is good” we recite it responsively. At the part of “Hashem save Us”… we recite it responsively.
*Leader of Seder recites blessing of Boray Pri Hagofen. Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Everyone answers – Amen. Do not talk until you drink at least a half a cup.
*Everyone drinks fourth cup of wine; men lean to the left.
This is the cup of wine over the Hallel.

15) Nirtzah – Pray that G-d Accept our observance and speedily send the Messiah.
We ask G-d, that just as we were worthy to perform the Pesach service this year so may we be worthy to perform it in the future.

Sing the songs of the Seder.

The Five Minute Seder

Some people want to have a very fast seder. This guide is for them.

A few years ago a non-observant friend asked if I could put together a five minute seder. I pared down the Beyond BT Guide to the Seder and produced the instructions below. Pass it on to anyone for whom it might be helpful.

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1) Kaddesh – Sanctify the day with the recitation of Kiddush
*Leader says Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen and 2 other blessings whose text can be found in the Hagadah
*Drink the 1st cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

2) Urechatz, – *Wash your hands before eating Karpas.

3) Karpas – *Eat a vegetable dipped in salt water.
*Leader says Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ho-adomah –
*Everybody eats the vegetable Lean to your left while eating.

4) Yachatz. -* Break the middle Matzah. Hide the larger half for Afikoman.

5) Maggid – *Tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt
Here is a summary of the story. (Alternatively go around the room reading in English from a translated Haggadah.)

The main mitzvah of the night is telling about the Exodus from Egypt.
*Pour the 2nd Cup of Wine
*Four Questions are asked

*The answer to the four questions is given.

It’s broken up into 6 parts based on the verse in the Torah which describes the mitzvah of telling the story at the Seder:
“And you shall relate to your child on that day saying: it is because of this Hashem acted for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”

a)– And you shall relate to your child – four types of chidren/people with different belief levels

b)– on that day – explains when we should tell the story (the answer is on Passover night)

c)– saying – the actual story:
Our ancestors were idol worshippers;—– through Abraham;—– Egyptian Enslavement;—– We cry out;—– G-d hears our cries
G-d saves us with the 10 plagues;—– We express our thanks for G-d saving us
Dip your finger in the wine for the 10 plagues
1) Water, which turned to blood and killed all fish and other aquatic life
2) Frogs
3) Lice
4) Wild animals
5) Disease on livestock
6) Incurable boils
7) Hail and thunder
8) Locusts
9) Darkness
10) Death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. To be saved, the Israelites had to place the blood of a lamb on the front door of their houses.

d) — It is because of this — “Rabban Gamliel explains why use the Passover offering, Matzah and Maror.
The Passover lamb, represented in our times by the roasted bone, recalls the blood on the doorposts and the terror and anticipation of the night of the plague of the first born.

Matzah is what we ate in the morning when Israel was rushed out of Egypt with no time to let their dough rise.

Maror captures the bitterness of the enslavement.

e) — Hashem acted for me…” – “In every generation, we should see ourselves as having gone out from Egypt.

f) – when I came forth out of Egypt.” –We recite 2 songs of praise to G-d similar to the songs recited when we left Egypt.

*Leader of Seder recites Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 2nd cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

6) Rachtzah – *Wash the hands prior to eating Matzah and the meal.
*After washing and before drying say
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melcch Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov V’tzivonu Al N’tilas Yodoyim.

7) Motzi – *Recite the Hamotzi blessing over eating Matzah before a Meal
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Hamotzi Lechem Min Ho-oretz.

8) Matzah – *Recite the blessing over eating Matzah
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Matzah.

*Eat the Matzah. Lean to your left while eating.

9) Maror – *The Maror is dipped in Charoscs
*Say Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Asher Kidshonu B’mitzvosov Vtzivonu Al Achilas Maror.
*Eat the Maror.

10) Korech – *Eat a sandwich of Matzah and Maror.
*Eat the Sandwich.

11) Shulchan Orech – *Eat the festival meal

Find the Afikoman.

12) Tzafun – *Eat the Afikoman which had been hidden all during the Seder.
*Pour the 3rd cup of wine

13) Barech – Recite Birchas Hamazon, the blessings after the meal
*Leader of Seder recites blessing Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 3rd cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

*Pour the 4th cup of wine;
*Pour the cup for Elijah

14) Hallel – Recite the praises of G-d
*Leader of Seder recites Boruch Atoh Ado-noy Elo-haynu Melech Ho-olom Boray P’ri Ha-Gofen.
*Drink the 4th cup of wine. Lean to your left while drinking.

15) Nirtzah – Pray that G-d accepts our praise speedily sends the Messiah.
Sing the songs of the Haggadah

photo credit: dcJohn via photopin cc

The 60 Second Guide to Purim

The Essence of Purim
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato writes in “The Way of G-d”:
“The significance of Chanukah and Purim is to bring forth the particular Light that shone at the time of their original miracles as a result of the rectification that they accomplished.

…Purim involved Israel being saved from destruction during the Babylonian exile. As a result of this they reconfirmed their acceptance of the Torah, this time taking it upon themselves forever. Our Sages teach us that “they accepted the Torah once again in the days of Achashverosh”.

The Particular Light That Shone at That Time
The physical world functions through spiritual input from G-d. This spiritual input has a constant component known as “nature” as well as an infrequent component which occurs as needed in the course of history. The infrequent input, which we call “miracle”, illuminates the understanding that even when G-d’s presence is not obvious, He’s still running the show.

During the Babylonian Exile
Megillas Esther, the story of Purim, which we read at night and during the day, takes place about 70 years after the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the Jews from Israel. It records the roots of modern anti-Semitism as Haman, the prime Minister of Persia, convinces King Achashverosh to decree a holocaust, the destruction of the entire Jewish People.

A Hidden Miracle Saves Us From Destruction
The Megillah records how the Jewish leaders, Mordechai and his cousin Esther, work to prevent the holocaust and the Jewish People turn towards G-d in communal prayer and fasting. A series of seeming coincidences facilitates the victory of Mordechai and Esther over Haman and the Jews avoid destruction. G-d’s name is not recorded in the entire Megillah, teaching us that He’s always the guiding force, even when His presence is not apparent.

Reconfirming The Acceptance of The Torah
Although the Jewish People accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt, the obvious presence of G-d at that time indicates that the acceptance was based on fear and awe. The re-acceptance of the Torah during the time of Purim, when G-d’s presence was hidden, remedied the original fear-based acceptance. This re-acceptance, accompanied by a commitment of intense study and observance of Torah, gives the Jewish People the spiritual fortitude to stay connected to G-d during the exile that we continue to face until this very day.

Celebrating Through Jewish Unity
In addition to hearing the Megillah, there are three other mitzvos of Purim: having a joyous meal, giving charity to at least two poor people and giving a gift of food to at least one person. These mitzvos focus us on helping others and uniting with our fellow Jews. Unity is a necessity as we continue our mission of leading the world to a spiritually focused existence through a constant awareness and connection to G-d in our thought, speech and actions.

Are We Too Focused on Doing Mitzvos?

I was talking to a few people this week about a scenario where a person can put on tallis and tefillin, daven three times that day with a minyan, do all the required mitzvos, say at least 100 brochos, and not think about Hashem once. Nobody blinked and on introspection most admitted that on a particularly distracted day – that person could be them. Why is that?

The reason is that in our chinuch, whether as FFBs or BTs, we are focused on doing the mitzvos, getting it done – but not on the reason why.

The Mesillas Yesharim sets us straight on this matter. He teaches that our purpose in life is to become more aware of Hashem, to get closer to Hashem, to deeply connect to Him, to make His presence a reality in our day to day lives. And we do that by performing mitzvos. Mitzvos are the means, not the ends.

We do so many mitzvos. What a shame it would be if they didn’t accomplish what they were meant for – which is connecting us deeper and deeper to Hashem.

Here are three daily opportunities to address this problem:

1) Before you say a Brocha with Asher Kid’shanu B’mitzvosuv (while washing your hands, putting on Tallis and Tefillin, etc.) think about the fact that you are performing this mitzvah because Hashem commanded you.

2) Before you daven Shemoneh Esrai, think about the fact that you are about to praise Hashem, make requests of Hashem, and thank Hashem for His daily kindness.

3) Before you say Hashem’s name in any brocha, but especially in Shema, think about the fact that Hashem is your master and the source of all existence – and particularly your existence.

Every mitzvah is an opportunity to connect to Hashem – why not use them as intended.

Getting More Out of Our Brochos

A friend recently asked “Why do we often say Brochos quickly?”. The Mesillas Yesharim helps to explain why, and provides a practical path to the remedy.

In the introduction, the Ramchal points out that serving Hashem is not a natural and automatic process, like eating and sleeping. Therefore, we have to first learn what it means to serve Hashem. Then we need to make a serious concerted effort to improve and reach adequate levels of service, since this is the reason why we were created.

The basis of our service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev: “And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you? Only…
– to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in His ways,
– to love Him,
– to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal writes about each of these components, beginning with the loftiest, summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like we would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king;
2) walking in His ways – refining character traits and reducing self-centeredness, leading to improved relationships;
3) love – in our heart, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents;
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with a focus on serving and connecting to Hashem, with devotion, not by rote; and
5) observance of all the mitzvos – with all their fine points and conditions.

The reason why we say Brochos quickly is that we are focused on the what of the mitzvah, which is just saying it. However, to serve Hashem properly, we need to also focus on the why – consciously connecting to Hashem through the mitzvos, and the how — doing the mitzvos wholeheartedly, with love, without self-centeredness, and with fear.

Improving our service is a process.
A good place to begin this process is by saying one Brocha each day with more focus.
This is what we can focus on when we say a Brocha:
“Baruch” makes us aware that Hashem is the source of all blessing.
“Atah” focuses us on the fact that we’re talking directly to Hashem.
“Hashem” in it’s Yud Kei Vav Kei form, signifies that Hashem always existed and is the source of our existence.
“Elokeinu” says that He is the ultimate authority over all physical and spiritual creations.
“Melech” brings that authority to a more concrete Kingship.
“HaOlam” recognizes that His Kingship extends to the entire universe.

We should share many simchos and continue to travel together on the path of improving our Service of Hashem.

In honor of the upcoming wedding of my daughter.

Beyond Beinoni

What’s so bad about being a Beinoni, at least I’m not a Rasha? What’s wrong with some Steak, Scotch, and Sushi as long as I daven, learn, and do chesed? America is the home of Lifestyle Judaism, where we can have our cake and Torah too – so why rock the boat? The short answer is that our purpose in this world is to develop a constant connection to Hashem and to unite all our actions, and in fact the entire world, in line with that connection. If our Torah observance is not resulting in continually improving connection, then we need to introspect.

The Rambam states (Hilchos Teshuva 3.3) that the Beinoni needs to do Teshuva – we need to change. Since lasting change needs to be done over time, we don’t have to give up all our permitted creature comforts. What we do need to do is work on our Avodas Hashem, so we can begin the process of uniting our actions in line with our connection to Hashem.

The Ramchal in Mesillas Yesharim gives us an extremely practical path of improving our Avodas Hashem and it starts with focusing more regularly on our purpose in life. The Ramchal explains that the essence of our existence is fulfilling mitzvos, serving God and withstanding trials, and worldly pleasures are only means to provide us contentment in order to free our heart for service of God. So we don’t have to give up our pleasures, we just need to bring them in line with our purpose.

We have until Hoshana Rabba to show that we are seriously committed to improving our Torah, Tefillah, Mitzvos and Gemillas Chasadim. May we all find success in demonstrating our committment and thereby merit being sealed in the Book of Life.

Rosh Hoshana: Committing to the Plan

Rosh Hoshana is almost here and the focus of the day is on the creation of the world and on Hashem as our Melech (or King). How is this different than the creation we recognize every Shabbos? Secondly, how are we to understand this concept of Malchus (or Kingship), and how is it different from the Malchus we accept twice a day when we say Shema?

Shabbos is focused on the initial creation of the world. We recognize Hashem as the creator of the physical world and the fact that creation was completed on the seventh day. Rosh Hoshana is focused on the creation of the plan for the world. According to the Ramchal in Derech Hashem, G-d’s plan is to create a world where His presence would be hidden to some degree, and we need to strive to clearly recognize His presence and absolute control of the world. The primary obstacles we need to overcome are our physical desires and self-centeredness.

On Rosh Hoshana we recognize the plan, clarify the plan, and renew our wholehearted committment to the plan. A key component is the recognition of the Planner Himself, because in the plan of the creation, the King and our recognition of Him is intrinsic. The Kingship we accept on Rosh Hoshana is the recognition of the force behind the plan and his absolutely central role in all aspects of the plan. In the Shema we commit to the service that comes in the wake of the acceptance of the plan.

Every year when we recognize and recommit, we have the opportunity to redefine our role. The King stands ready to assist us in fulfilling the role which we can shape to some degree. This assistance takes the form of judgment.

Imagine a CEO who always did right by you. He tells you that next week you’ll have your yearly review, where your role will be assessed, your commitment measured, and you’ll receive constructive criticism on how to achieve your personal success. Any smart person would welcome that meeting, and prepare by exhibiting awareness of their deficiencies coupled with improvement strategies.

This is the self judgment of Rosh Hoshana, recognizing what we need to do to fulfill our role properly. When we perform this self-judgment properly, the King accepts our self-assessment. Put in its proper perspective, this judgment can be filled with joy as we anticipate with excitement our renewed commit to a deep and meaningful life.

Rabbi Dessler says that the first day of Rosh Hoshana is judgment for those fully committed to having a key role, while the second day is for those who will assist those who are fully committed. The first day is the performance review for the executives, with the second day is for the worker bees. This is an opportunity for all of us to join the executive class.

Although Rosh Hoshana is one of the ten days of Teshuva, we don’t perform the key ingredient of viduy (confession) on that day. One of the reasons is that to really do Teshuva properly (with regret and commitment to the future), we need to be very clear on the overall plan and our chosen role. On Rosh Hoshana we define the parameters of our Teshuva through our re-committment. On the following days through Yom Kippur we start actualizing our role by working on our deficiencies through the full process of Teshuva.

It’s an awesome day with great potential for a bright new beginning. May we all merit to take full advantage of the opportunities it brings.

Clearly Defining Service of Hashem

There is a verse in this week’s Parsha, that the Mesillas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, says is the basis of our Avodas Hashem, our service of Hashem.

As we probably know, the Mesillas Yesharim, was written by R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzato, also known as “the Ramchal”, and is one of the two most studied character development books of all time (the other being the Duties of the Heart).

The reason why Mesillas Yesharim is so popular is because the Ramchal teaches us:
– What it means to serve Hashem (Ramchal’s Introduction).
– Why we should devote our entire lives to serving Hashem (Chapter 1 – Man’s Mission in the World).
– How to methodologically improve our service of Hashem (Chapters 2 through 26)

The verse that the Ramchal says is the basis of our Service of Hashem, is Deutoronomy 10:12 in Parshas Eikev:
“And now, Israel, what does Hashem, your God, ask of you?
– Only to fear (be in awe of) Hashem, your God,
– to go in all His ways,
– and to love Him,
– and to serve Hashem, your God, with all your heart and all your soul,
– to observe the commandments of Hashem and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit. “

The Ramchal continues and says:
“Here, has been included all the components of complete Divine service that are pleasing to Hashem, blessed be He and they are: fear (awe) of Hashem, walking in His ways, love, wholeheartedness, and observance of all the commandments.

The Ramchal then writes a paragraph on each of these five components, which can be summarized as follows:
1) fear (awe) of Hashem – like you would fear (be in awe of) a great and awesome king,
2) walking in His ways – refining our character traits, leading to strengthening of Torah and improved friendships,
3) love – ingraining in our hearts a love of Hashem, and being inspired to please Him, like we would want to please our parents,
4) wholeheartedness – doing mitzvos with pure motives, focused on serving Hashem, not by rote, with heartfelt devotion,
5) and observance of all the mitzvos – observing the entire body of mitzvos, with all their fine points and conditions.

The Ramchal then says, “I have found that our Sages of blessed memory have categorized these elements in a different, more detailed formulation, in which they are arranged according to the order necessary for their proper acquisition.”

This is based on the Beraisa by Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair in the Gemora which says that Torah leads to Watchfulness, Zeal, Cleanliness, Separation, Purity, Saintliness, Humility, Fear of Sin, Holiness, Divine Inspiration, Revival of the Dead. The Mesillas Yesharim is based on this Beraisa.

I always wondered about the order of pasuk and why the Ramchal is so focused on it as the basis for Divine service, while the Gemora and the commentators are focused mainly on the fear (awe) part of the pasuk. I believe that the Ramchal sees that the Pasuk is in the reverse order of the Beraisa, with
5) observance of all the mitzvos – take us from the beginning through Cleanliness
4) wholeheartedness – takes us through Purity
3) love – takes us through Saintliness
2) walking in His ways – takes us through Humility
1) fear (awe) of God – takes us through Fear of Sin.

I believe that this is why the Ramchal is all over this pasuk, because it has the same structure as the Beraisa delineating the components and levels of Divine Service.

This is a fantastic opportunity to review the first chapter of Mesillas Yesharim, which can be found here.

Moishe Bane is Striving to Put Spirituality Back on the Orthodox Map

One of my personal highlights of the Jewish Heritage Center dinner is my opportunity to spend a few minutes talking to the Dinner Chairman, Moishe Bane. Moishe was a member of my Shul before he moved to Lawrence. I purchased his house when he moved, and still live in it today. We’ve remained in contact over the years and I always get an update on his latest exciting projects and his insights into the workings of the Orthodox Communities of America.

In the April 20, 2017 issue of Mishpacha, Eytan Kobre tells us about Moishe’s agenda as the new president of the OU:

When a newly appointed head of a major Jewish organization chooses the promotion of spiritual growth and serious strides in Torah learning and mitzvah observance as major organizational priorities, that’s a cause for celebration. And that’s precisely what Moishe Bane has done as the new president of the Orthodox Union (OU).

In his President’s Message in the latest issue of the OU’s Jewish Action quarterly magazine, Mr. Bane asks some very honest, searching questions of himself, his constituents, and all of us. After describing the frenetic nature of contemporary life, which, between work and other responsibilities, leaves precious little time for those people and things that are most precious to us, he asks:


With these, and many other, unavoidable responsibilities and demands, I often wonder how there can possibly be time for one to focus on religious growth. And when making choices for our children, are we preparing them for lifelong spiritual growth — or just casual observance? Is spirituality even on my radar screen, or do I satisfy my time allocation to Judaism by davening, even if it is often way too fast and with far too little focus? Can I buy my way into religious adequacy by writing a bigger check to the local day school or chessed organization? And what about learning Torah? Can I check that box, even if I so often merely scan the words and watch the time, waiting for the shiur to conclude or the page of Talmud to be completed?

…I know life is all about my soul, its nurturing and growth. I know Judaism is all about developing a relationship with G-d. But where is the time? And even when I find some time, how do I make the time meaningful and actually develop this relationship? If I have difficulties getting into the groove of religious growth, is it any wonder that, when teaching Judaism to my children, I am not placing lifelong spiritual growth on their radar screens?

He proposes that the OU complement its long-standing efforts to enhance observant Jewish life through its activities in kashrus, advocacy, and other spheres, and should “now also encourage and assist us, American Orthodox Jews, in pursuing more vigorous growth in our religious lives.” As a past national lay chairman of NCSY, he witnessed the “excitement, creativity and dynamic Torah-oriented programming” it invested in its outreach programs for Jewish teens, and expresses the belief that “if Judaism were as inspiring to us as it is to those NCSY students, we would find the time to focus on religious growth.”

Among his aspirations are that his organization give Jews “guidance on how to study Torah, the most essential tool in pursuing religious growth, in a manner that is meaningful and engaging… tools to convert our daily prayers from a meaningless mouthing of words into an actual, genuine conversation with G-d,” and help in transforming Shabbos into “a deeply and intensely religious experience.” And one more crucial one: “Finally, we need guidance on how to mine the deep and magnificent beauty of Torah and our mesorah, to help those of us who perceive halachah as a restrictive array of rules and dictates appreciate it as a personal treasure of empowerment and elevation.”

These are challenging times, with individuals and institutions that have formally organized to promote beliefs and practices in the name of Orthodoxy that are entirely foreign to it, which would be unrecognizable to those who lived and died by the Judaism of the ages. They are wooing Jews who know not any better, and surely there is a need to speak out against these developments and to counteract them directly.

But the things Moishe Bane is looking to do and put the OU’s signature on, the religious nutritional therapy he is recommending in order to nurture the internal, spiritual growth of individuals and communities alike, is another, very positive form of response. When Jews discover and partake of the unparalleled experiential riches of genuine Yiddishkeit, other, counterfeit movements simply cannot compete and their allure vanishes.

Shavuos – Not Just Another Uber Driver

The Talmud relates [Pesachim 68b] that Rav Yosef would make a tremendous party on Shavuos. He would say, “If not for this special day (on which the Torah was given), look how many Yosefs there are in the market place”. Rabbi Frand explains “If not for the fact that I as a Jew have that precious gift of Torah, I would literally be ‘just another Joe'”.

On a recent Uber trip, one of my kids got into a discussion with the driver about Judaism. The driver was amazed that a Torah Observant Jew can’t eat whatever (s)he wants, can’t wear whatever (s)he wants, can’t say whatever (s)he and can’t do whatever (s)he wants. The driver remarked that he does basically anything that he wants.

What the driver missed, and what we often take for granted, is that just basic Torah observance, Shabbos, kashrus, etc, makes us great. Chazal teach that Hashem created man with a yetzer hara for desire, egocentricity and laziness and only by following the antidote of Torah and its commandments, can we rise above our base nature and become great human beings, with the possibility of connecting to people and connecting to Hashem with all our actions. When we heed the directives and follow the mitzvos of the Torah we unify the world and create a reality in which “Hashem will be One and His Name will be One”.

The Mesillas Yesharim is structured around the beraisa of R. Pinchas ben Yair which states:
“Torah leads to Watchfulness; Zeal; Cleanliness; Separation; Purity; Saintliness; Humility; Fear of Sin; Holiness; Divine Inspiration; the Revival of the Dead.”

It starts with Torah and every step is infused with different aspects of the Torah: the warnings of the Torah, the mitzvos of the Torah, the learning of the Torah, the middos of the Torah and more.

Shavuos is the time for us to raise our commitment to Torah and to growing well beyond an Uber driver in the marketplace. Chag Someach!

The Essence of Our Existence and the Six Constant Mitzvos

In the first chapter of the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal writes:

“We thus derive that the essence of a man’s existence in this world is solely the fulfilling of mitzvos, the serving of God and the withstanding of trials, and that the world’s pleasures should serve only the purpose of aiding and assisting him, by way of providing him with the contentment and peace of mind requisite for the freeing of his heart for the service which devolves upon him.”

The Chofetz Chaim in the beginning of his Biyur Halacha commentary on the first Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch writes:

“I Place Hashem Before Me Always – Is A Crucial Principle Of The Torah.” The person who wants to fulfill “I place Hashem…” properly, must make himself zealous to fulfill what is written in the name of Sefer HaChinuch. And because this is so greatly precious, many Torah authorities copied this in their books. The Chinuch mentioned this in the introduction and in several sections. This refers to six mitzvos that are obligatory continuously. These will never stop or part from a person, even for a single moment, all of his days. At every time and moment that a person thinks into these, he fulfills active commandments, and there is no limit to the amount of reward given for the mitzvos. ”

The Chofetz Chaim gives a short commentary on these six mitzvos and here is an excerpt specifying the mitzvos and the Pasukim from which they are derived:

1. To believe that there is one G-d in existence Who made to exist everything which exists…And this is an active commandment, as the Torah says, “I am the L-rd your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”
2. We are to never believe in any other god beside Him, as the Torah says, “You will not have any other gods besides Me.”
3. To attribute oneness to Him, as the Torah says, “Hear, Israel, the L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is one.”
4. To love the Omnipresent, may He be blessed, as the Torah writes, “And you will love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart…”.
5. To have fear of Hashem, may He be blessed, before oneself in order to remain free of sin. On this the Torah says, “Fear the L-rd your G-d.”
6. Not to stray after the impulses of the heart. The substantiation for this is the Torah verse, “And do not go straying after your hearts and after your eyes.”

(For a full translation of the Chofetz Chaim’s commentary on the six constant mitzvos, please see Rabbi Jeff Forsythe’s translation here.)

Hashem in his kindness gave us Six Constant Mitzvos, six constant opportunities to connect to Him and take a step towards fulfilling our purpose in life. It just takes a quick thought when we’re sitting, standing, walking, driving or about to perform a mitzvah. As the Chofetz Chaim says “there is no limit to the amount of reward”.

The Three Major Themes of Pesach

These are the three major themes of Pesach:

Emunah/Belief
The Ramban says at the end of Parsha Bo that the miracles of Yetzias Mitzraim established three fundamental principles of belief: the existence of God, Hashgacha Pratis and Prophecy. These principles are the foundation of performing mitzvos and seeing the Godliness in everything.

Hodaah/Thankfulness
We thank Hashem for Yetzias Mitzraim, Matan Torah and making us His nation. As the Ramchal points out in Mesillas Yesharim in Zerius, we can show our thanks to Hashem by doing His mitzvos. This is why we meticulously perform the mitzvos on the seder night.

Cheirus/Freedom
Materialistic pursuits such as desire, ego-gratification, and worldly distraction imprisons our soul and prevents us from focusing on Hashem and His mitzvos. The anti-materialistic diet of Matzah powers the first stage of breaking free from the shackles of materialism.

Beyond Observance

For many of us, observance fills an important need. We have food and other permitted pleasures to fulfill our physical desires. Our family, friends, and sports buzzer-beaters are there for our emotional needs. Business, politics, and science challenges us intellectually. And Religious Observance gives us that important spiritual dimension.

This four dimensional perspective was popularized by Covey in the 7 Habits, and as long as we learn Torah, fulfill the mitzvos and think about God on occasion, many would argue that there is nothing wrong with such an approach.

But the Torah offers us so much more. We can move towards human greatness and be in control of our desires, our ego, and our wandering attention. We can develop deep loving relationships with hundreds of people. We can develop a constant connection to God which brings amazing spiritual pleasure and helps us successfully navigate the trials and tribulations of the world. And we can develop our immortal souls which will exist for all of eternity.

Every one of us has the ability to go Beyond Observance towards the greatest pleasures the world has to offer. The Ramchal provides us with the path. I am working with a number of friends on making this a reality and the progress everybody is making is extremely exciting. It’s not an overnight quick fix. It’s Hashem’s guide to achieve our purpose in this world. The key is to follow the plan. I’ll keep you updated.

Purim, the BT and Unity

I still remember my first Purim as a BT. I didn’t drink, reasoning that I didn’t come to Torah observance to party. However I did get to witness a few unbelievable Purim Shpiels at Ohr Somayach in Monsey as Rabbi Lam was a central participant.

After many years I have a much greater appreciation of Purim and its connection to the BT. Purim at its core is about Jewish Unity and Teshuva. Faced with annihilation that entire Jewish people banded together to rediscover their true purpose and reconnect with Hashem and His Torah. As Baalei Teshuva we certainly have first hand experience of the intense Teshuva experience and the power it creates.

On the Unity side, the mitzvos of the day, illustrate this theme. The reading of the Megillah is a public proclamation of Hashem’s guidance over the affairs of the Jewish People. It is often noted that Purim night is the most crowded event at Shul, with the possible exception of Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur.

The Purim Seudah is a unifying experience as are all Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. Shaloch Manos and Matanos L’Evyonim are both mitzvos designed to created closer bonds between Jews. Some Poskim hold that the drinking on Purim at the Seudah serves to bring us together, as sometimes it is necessary to loosen up to make closer connections.

Baalei Teshuva long for authentic Jewish connections, which is why communal integration is one of our major issues. And as Jews who have been on both sides of the observant/non-observant divide, we have the potential to spur the community to further unification. But first we need to feel in the depths of our hearts that we are all part of one Jewish People. If we can feel that deep connection, many of the divisions caused by judgementalism would fade, as we tend to judge ourselves favorably. Deeper connections would also spur us to collectively work on the crisis’s of Jewish Assimilation, Financial Pressures, Kids at Risk and Shidduchim. Often we see these as somebody else’s problem, but as integral parts of the Jewish people we need to view them as all of our problem.

Today as we engage in the very communal act of a public fast heading into Purim, perhaps we can focus on the essential mitzvos of these days, working on caring deeply about our fellow Jews and collectively returning to Hashem.

I’m Not on That Level

There are five words that really hamper our Avodas Hashem and they are: “I’m not on that level”. The first problem with that statement is that it’s true. We’re not on that level!

We’re certainly not on the level of Chassidus (Saintliness), always looking to go beyond what the halacha requires because we have an always present deep love and connection to Hashem. We’re not on the level of Nekiyus (Cleanliness), which involves meticulous observance of all mitzvos, all the time, including such tough ones as wasting time, getting angry and being careful in all our speech. We’re probably not even at the lower level of Zehirus (Watchfulness), being careful not to sin, since we’re probably not in the habit of always thinking before we act, nor reviewing our actions on a daily basis. If we were to honestly rate our overall performance, “I’m not on that level” is quite accurate.

The major problem with “I’m not on the level” is that it can be used as a justification to remain at our current level. Hashem wants us to continually advance in our observance. The Mesillas Yesharim makes it quite clear in the introduction that low levels of service are not acceptable. We need to continually up our game. That’s why we were created and it is a doable achievement.

Improving our Service of Hashem goes much further than obligation. A life driven by spirituality is the most fulfilling life possible because: 1) we are controlling and leveraging our bodily drives like eating and using them to stay healthy and have God commanded pleasure on Shabbos and Yom Tov, 2) we have the opportunity to connect to people in every interaction, 3) we can connect to God in all that we do and thereby fulfill our purpose in this world with our every action.

Yes, we’re not on that level. But whatever level we are on, we can take it to the next level and continually strive to live a life of more purpose, meaning, happiness and purposeful pleasure. We are quite fortunate that the Mesillas Yesharim speaks out everything mentioned here and he gives us an extremely practical playbook on how to keep on increasing our level.

The Biggest Problem in Judaism

What’s the biggest problem in Judaism. A lot of things come to mind, the Yeshiva System, the Shidduch System, the Chinuch System, the Left, the Right, the Middle, the Open, the Closed, the Leadership, the lack of Leadership, etc.

However, I think the biggest problem in Judaism is clearly stated in the pasuk in Devarim:
And now, Israel, what does Hashem ask of you, that you
1) fear Him, 2) walk in His ways, 3) love Him, 4) serve Him with all your heart and all your soul and 5) observe all the mitzvos.

That’s what’s expected of us!

On top of that we have an animal soul that’s impulsive, loves physical pleasure, and detests exertion. We have a yetzer hara that makes us ego-centric leading to selfishness, anger, envy and honor seeking. And we live in a world loaded with intellectual, emotional and physical distractions like politics, business, sports, shopping, gadgets, social media, and entertainment.

And even when we are able to overcome the physical, emotional and intellectual deterrents and create some connection to Hashem through fear, middos development, love, wholehearted service, and meticulous mitzvos observance – the majority of the payoff will not even be received in this world, but in the world to come.

This challenge is a tall order and it’s not really emphasized to FFB/BT children or BT adults, because it would just discourage them. So Yeshivos focus on the information and thought development of Torah study, and Kiruv and non-Yeshivish environments offers Torah as the best of all possible lifestyles. So it should be no surprise that many people want to move to a town where they can sit back a little and enjoy the Torah lifestyle.

That is the Biggest Problem in Judaism – a lot is expected of us and it’s really hard given our nature and environment. However, this is a problem that Hashem created. And if He created this problem, we know that He created a solution. We’ll take a look at the solution in a week or so.

Making Judaism Great Again

If I had to describe the presidential election in one word it would be “disillusioned”, which means to be disappointed in something that one discovers to be less good than one had believed. Many Americans are disillusioned with America. Diminishing economic opportunities coupled with an increasingly unstable world turned the “American Dream” into a fantasy for many. Donald Trump was a vote against the status quo and most people underestimated how disillusioned the America people actually are.

Many Jews are disillusioned with Judaism. The non-Orthodox are moving out in droves as they intermarry and retain little or no connection with Judaism. The Baalei Teshuva are disillusioned with the unfulfilled promises and second class citizenry in which they find themselves. The greater Orthodox community is disillusioned with the tuition-induced economic pressures, the under-performance of our Yeshivos, and the great difficulty in finding shidduchim for our children.

The solution to our disillusionment is much different then the American Electorate in that we don’t need a change in leadership – we need a change in mindset. We need to internalize the fact that the goal of Judaism is to create a deep connection to Hashem by learning Torah, performing mitzvos, improving our character traits, praying, and doing acts of kindness. Committing to this path with our friends and relatives will truly make Judaism Great Again for all of us.

Noach was a good man

Noach was a good man
a good man, a good man
Noach was a good man
….In his time
– A Cheder Song

Noach is described as a Tzaddik, but the first Rashi on the Parsha casts a shadow on his righteousness.

The major points against Noach are
– Rashi brings down the Chazal that says that perhaps only “in his generation” was he righteous, but in Avraham’s generation he wouldn’t have been righteous. The other opinion in the Chazal says that he was unquestioningly righteous
– There are suggestions that he didn’t rebuke others sufficiently
– There is an indication that he lacked emunah on whether the Flood actually would happen and only entered the Ark when the waters began

So what are we to make of Noach, why such contradictory messages?

Perhaps the Ramban gives us a clue when he describes Noach as completely righteous in judgment, meaning that he did not get involved in any of the negative acts of his generation. He did not violate any negative commands and we can assume he did the appropriate positive commands, which technically classifies Noach as a Tzaddik.

But there is much more to accomplish. A person has an obligation to positively influence those that he can. He must try to increase his levels of chesed. He needs to constantly strengthen his Emunah. A person has to increase the positive acts he does.

Perhaps that is the lesson of Noach. Yes, it’s extremely important not to damage by transgressing negative commandments, but it is also extremely import to build yourself and the world through the positive acts of chesed and increasing emunah. If you fail on those grounds you might technically be a tzaddik, but you are slightly deficient.

Rabbi Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu says the Noach was a complete Tzaddik but didn’t reach the level of Chassid (the Mesillas Yesharim type of Chassid).

I spoke to a local Rav and he said that Noach was an unqualified righteous person:
– For the “in his generation” question, he learns like the Chasam Sofer that if Noach was only at the same level in Avraham’s generation then he would have been not been considered righteous
– The Medrash is clear that Noach did give his generation rebuke
– The lack of emunah when he only went into the Ark when it started to rain, was that he didn’t believe totally that Hashem would not have mercy on world and forestall the flood.

Rabbi Nebenzhal has a good analysis of the above issue here.

As mentioned previously, Rabbi Rietti was kind enough to allow us to post the outline here, but you can purchase the entire outline of the Chumash for the low price of $11.95 for yourself and your family.

Noach
#6 Building Noach’s Ark
#7 The Flood
#8 Mt. Ararat
#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
#10 The Descendants of Shem, Cham & Yafet
#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Noach

#6 Building Noach’s Ark
* Praise of Noach
* The Three Sons of Noach
* World corruption
* “Behold! I will destroy them utterly!”
* Build an ark
* Compartments
* 300 X 50 X 30 cubits
* Skylight – Slanted Roof – 3 Stories
* 1 Male – 1 Female of every animal – Store Food

#7 The Flood
* 7 pairs of kosher animals
* 2 pairs of non-kosher animals
* 7 pairs of birds
* Noach 600 years old when flood began (2nd month, 17th day)
* 40 days & 40 nights – 15 cubits above the highest mountain
* Total destruction
* 150 days

#8 Mt. Ararat
* 150 days till water receded
* 7th Month, 17th day, the Ark rested on Mt. Ararat
* 10th Month, 1st day mountain tops become visible
* Raven
* Dove #1, #2, #3
* 1st Tishrei Noach opened gate of Ark
* 2nd Month, 27th day, land was totally dry (exactly 365 days after the flood began).
* ‘Leave the Ark!’
Noach built an Altar
* G-d appeased & promises never to flood the earth again
* Four seasons

#9 Rainbow – Noach Drunk
* Blessing to Noach “Be fruitful and Multiply!”
* All living creatures will fear you
* You can eat meat but not flesh from living animal
* Violation of suicide
* Death penalty for murder
* Command to be fruitful and multiply
* G-d promises never to flood entire world again
* Rainbow is sign of this promise
* Noach planted a vineyard
* Drunk
* Canaan cursed: slave of slaves to his brothers
* Blessed Shem and Yafet
* Noach died 950

#10 The Descendants of Noach
* Descendants of Yafet and Cham (Nimrod grandson of Cham & 1st world despot)
* Descendents of Canaan
* Descendants of Shem

#11 Tower of Bavel – 10 Generations of Shem
* One Language
* The Tower
* HaShem scattered them
* 10 Generations of Shem
* 11th Gen. Shem 600
* 12th Gen. Arpachshad 438
* 13th Gen. Shelach 433
* 14th Gen. Ever 464
* 15th Gen. Peleg 239
* 16th Gen. Re’oo 239
* 17th Gen. Serug 230
* 18th Gen. Nachor 248
* 19th Gen. Terach 205 – Avram-Nachor-Haran
* Haran – Lot – Milka & Yiska (Sarai). Haran dies in Ur Kasdim
* Avram marries Sarai
* Nachor marries Milka
* 20th Gen. Avram
* Terach leaves Ur Kasdim with Avram, grandson Lot & Sarai
* Terach dies in Charan

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal) From Derech Hashem.

The significance of Yom Kippur is that God set aside one day for Israel, when their repentance is readily accepted and their aveiros (sins) can easily be erased.

Kapora actually erases aveiros, which is way beyond what Selicha (forgiveness) and Mechila (pardon) accomplish. Yom Kippur is the one day set aside for this Kapora and the Ramchal points out that they can easily be erased on this day.

This rectifies all the spiritual damage caused by these aveiros, and removes the darkness that strengthened itself as a result of them.

Every time we do an aveira (sin) much spiritual damage is caused and darkness (which includes the concealment of G-d) is strengthened. But the Kapora of Yom Kippur corrects the spiritual damage and removes the resulting darkness resulting from our sins.

Individuals who do teshuva (repent) on this day can therefore return to the levels of holiness and closeness to God from which they were cast as a result of their sins, for it is on this day that a Light shines forth that can complete this entire concept.

To accomplish this erasing of Aveiros we need to do teshuva. Yom Kippur has a special Light (spiritual energy) which enables us to return to the level we were at before we did our Aveiros.

Rabbi Dessler points out that the Teshuva of Yom Kippur is of a different nature and is much more achievable than the Teshuva of any other day. In the Rambam’s Hichos Teshuva, the formulation for Teshuva for Yom Kippur is noticeably different from the formulation for every other day besides Yom Kippur. Perhaps the Ramchal is alluding to this difference when he said above that our aveiros “can easily be erased on this day”.

In order to receive this Light, Israel must keep all the commandments associated with this day.

To access this spiritual cleansing we need to do the mitzvos of the day.

This is particularly true of the fast, since this causes each individual to be greatly divorced from the physical and elevated, to some degree, toward the aspect of the melachim (angels).

The fast is a Torah level mitzvot as opposed to a Rabbinic enactment. By abstaining from our main daily physical activity, eating, our spiritual side is more pronounced and this increase in spiritual character moves us in the direction of the purer spiritual creations, like the melachim (angels).

Other details of this day depend on the particulars of this rectification.

It’s a good day to follow all the mitzvos to the best degree possible.

Elul is the Time to Start on the Little Things

At the beginning of Shaarei Teshuva (The Gates of Teshuva), Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that if we make our efforts in Teshuva, then Hashem will assist us in return, even to the extent of reaching the highest level of loving Him. But we have to make our efforts. Rabbi Welcher says that Elul is the time to start making efforts on the little things as we work up to dealing with some of our bigger issues.

Kavanna is a Big “Little Thing”

Where does kavanna fit in? On the one hand, we all know how difficult it is to daven a full Shomoneh Esrai with good kavanna, but on the other hand saying one brocha or doing one mitzvah with the proper kavanna is something that all of us can achieve. Being focused on Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh this year has shown me the importance of kavanna and awakened me to the fact they we can spend our whole lives involved in Torah, Mitzvos, Tefillah and Chesed, but if we are not focused on Hashem during our day to day lives, then we are not properly building our souls and achieving our purpose in this world and the next. The obvious place to start building is when we’re involved in Hashem focused activities like davening and mitzvos.

Kavanna during Mitzvos
There are three basic thoughts to have in mind before performing a mitzvah:
1) Hashem is the one who commanded this mitzvah;
2) I am the subject of that command; and
3) Through the act that I am about to perform, I am fulfilling Hashem’s command.
It’s that simple, the Commander (Hashem), the commanded (me), the fulfillment (the mitvah). So, perhaps we can focus ourselves before we do a mitzvah and have these three things in mind.

Kavanna during Prayer
Shacharis davening consists of four basic components, while Mincha and Maariv and brachos contain some subset of those components which are:
1) Thanking Hashem for the physical goodness He gives to us (Berachos/Korbanos)
2) Praising Hashem for His general awesomeness (Pesukei D’Zimra)
3) Intellectually accepting and appreciating the Kingship and Oneness of Hashem (Shema)
4) Standing before Hashem with spiritual awareness that He is the source of everything
Obviously there’s a lot to talk about here and I highly recommend Aryeh Kaplan’s Jewish Mediation as a primary source for understanding kavanna and prayer.

Kavanna during Shacharis
Let’s go through a typical Shacharis and pick some potential Kavanna points.
1) When putting on Tallis and Tefillin, have in mind the three points of Kavanna during mitzvos described above
2) When saying morning Brachos, be thankful that Hashem has given you the opportunity to say these Brochos
3) During Korbonos, say at least Parshas HaTamid and Ketores with extra focus concentrating on the simple meaning of the words
4) During Pesukei D’Zimra in Ashrei say this line with focus: Poseach Es YoDecha… – You open your hand and satisfy every living thing’s desires”. A basic understanding is that although Hashem runs the world through orderly natural laws (as symbolized by the aleph-beis structure of Ashrei), He is constantly active in running the world.
5) During Shema, before the first verse have in mind that you are accepting Hashem’s Kingship and oneship with the implication of following a Torah way of life. According to some you should have in mind that you would actually give up your life for Hashem, if necessary.
6) Before Shmoneh Esrai have in mind that you are about to stand before Hashem and pray to him, that He is awesome, and that we are relatively small compared to Him, the source of everything.

These are just some ideas. Certainly we can do one a week, or one a day, or possibly more. Whatever works for you, but let’s make the effort and earn the merit to grow closer to Hashem at this time.