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Haftarah: Yehezkel 22:1-16

APRIL 18-19, 2008 14 NISAN 5768


"Blessed are You Hashem…Who has granted us life, and has sustained us and has brought us to this time"

Imagine walking through a prison in the olden days. You would see high walls and tight security. In the old days the prisoners would be chained with a heavy ball and chain. Wherever the prisoner wanted to go he would have to shlep this heavy load. One day the warden meets this prisoner and gets to like him. The warden would like to make life easier for him but he can't take away the ball and chain completely. He brings the prisoner into his storeroom where he has different models of the ball and chain and he tells his prisoner friend to pick one out. Obviously the prisoner would gladly pick out the smallest and lightest one there is to make it easier.

Next imagine a new bride-to-be. Her future mother-in-law takes her to the most exclusive jewelry store. She tells her future daughter-in-law, please pick out a bracelet, a necklace and a watch. Pick the nicest one you like, all made of gold. Trying to contain her excitement she chooses one after the other. Of course she will choose the most beautiful. Would she pick the lightest one? On the contrary; she picks out the heaviest one. Why is this; she will have to carry around the extra weight? The answer is that jewelry is never heavy. Regarding the misvot King Solomon in Mishlei said, "For they shall be a charm of grace for your head and gems about your throat" (1:9). He says the misvot should be in your eyes like jewelry and not chains.

We are approaching the Seder night. It is an honor for us. It can be said about this great and holy night, how fortunate are we, thank You Hashem, the Master of the Universe, Who has granted us life, and has sustained us and has brought us to this time. Happy Holiday & Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"G-d has bestowed many favors upon us." (Passover Haggadah)

Gratitude and appreciation are virtues that are not simply praiseworthy, they are essential traits. On the Seder night we are enjoined to recount the many wonders and miracles that Hashem wrought for us. Ibn Ezra contends that appreciation goes a step further. We are to remember how it used to be, how we suffered, the pain and affliction to which we were subjected, the thirst and hunger which accompanied us and the depression and hopelessness that ruled our lives. Hashem rescued us from all that. He took us out of misery, granting us the opportunity to live as free people.

Harav Mordechai Gifter, shlita, explains that one must appreciate and give gratitude where it is due. Does one, however, analyze the good that he has received? Does one ever think about what life would have been like had he not been saved? Do we ever really evaluate the good? Do we simply say, "Thank you," and continue with "business as usual?" One must remember what it had been like; think back to the days of misery and pain, feel some of the frustration and grief that used to be so much a part of his life. Then and only then will he truly understand the essence of the favor he has received. All too quickly we pay our respects to our benefactor and forget about him. If we pay more attention to our past we might more fully appreciate the present.

This, according to Harav Gifter, is the purpose of the Dayenu format of the Haggadah. We must delve deeper into the "good" that we have received, reviewing it, analyzing every aspect of it, so that we will experience greater appreciation at the present time. Let us appreciate all that we have so that we may merit to be blessed continuously. Happy Pesah. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"And Aharon shall place lots upon the two he-goats, one lot for Hashem, and one lot for Azazel" (Vayikra 16:8)

The ritual of the Yom Kippur sacrificial service has served as a paradigm of nobility and splendor. Its symbolic interpretation and resolution is veiled in secrecy and ambiguity. Especially notable is the ritual of the two he-goats. While one goat is offered as a sacrifice, its blood sprinkled in the Sanctuary, the other is sent away into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people. These two goats are to be purchased at the same time and are to be identical in appearance, size and value. Everything is the same - except their ultimate fate.

The two goats represent two identical potentials living out two diametrically opposed destinies. The animal marked for Hashem becomes an offering, its blood immediately effecting atonement and consecration. The animal marked Azazel, however, remains intact, while its companion is slaughtered. It is afterward taken to a high rock, where it stands alive, free and erect, flaunting destiny. Suddenly, it is pushed, causing it to topple backwards, ignorant of the final doom that awaits it.

Rabbi Shimshon Rapahel Hirsch z"l movingly describes this scenario. The goat that stands erect while the other one is sacrificed does not realize the advent of its own fate. It momentarily stands free and erect, proud and arrogant in being able to foil death. Little does it perceive the future that awaits it. Rav Hirsch points out the symbolic value inherent in the lives and plights of these two goats. They represent the two paths open to each of us. Through the principle of free will, we maintain the option to decide our own future destiny to be marked either to Hashem or to Azazel. The path to Hashem begins with self sacrifice. By abdicating all egotism and renouncing all self-centered existence, one becomes constantly prepared to sacrifice oneself for Hashem. What purports to be subservience and enslavement is essentially a proclamation of obedience, which results in one's entry onto a higher and more genuine form of existence. What appears to be a loss of one's nobility is in reality the highest form of service of Hashem.

The path to Azazel begins in an apparently contrasting manner. The second goat seems to be immune to the sacrificial ritual. He represents the individual who seeks to affirm his independence by rejecting all forms of sacrifice and devotion. He obstinately eludes any possibility of loss or death. He persistently rejects any claim upon him from any higher, holier authority. The oasis that appears to represent the affluent, fulfilled way of life may be the route to a wretched and tragic death. What seems to be the path to freedom is, in fact, the road away from Hashem, towards a dreadful end in the wilderness. The goat who escapes being sacrificed in Hashem's Sanctuary stands tall, arrogant and secure, looking down where his unknowing companion lay bleeding to death. He is, however, ignorant of the abrupt precipice that will open up behind him causing his own sudden death.

Each one of us has two paths in life from which to choose. We all start out the same in regard to free will. No one is coerced to take the path to Azazel. True, there are many temptations to sin, but without them, virtue and reward would have no meaning or value. How often do people look with contempt at those who have chosen the path to Hashem, only to become tragically aware of their own folly in choosing the opposing path to Azazel? The ritual of the he-goats, although cloaked in mystery and ambiguity maintains a timely message which is very clear. Fortunate is the one who understands its message and makes the redemptive choice in favor of the lot to Hashem. (Peninim on the Torah)


"For on this day you shall receive atonement to purify you for all your transgressions, before Hashem you shall be purified" (Vayikra 16:30)

The Sages (Yoma 85b) comment on this that Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between man and Hashem. But as regards transgression between man and man, Yom Kippur can only atone if a person first attains the forgiveness of those whom he has offended or harmed.

From this principle we see the importance of being careful not to cause other people harm, either financial, physical or emotional. While it is proper to forgive those who ask for our forgiveness, not everyone is sincerely ready to forgive others. There are some people who are hypersensitive and even though they would wish to forgive others, it is very difficult for them to do so, Even though they might say that they forgive, deep down they feel resentment and have not truly forgiven. Some might say, "Well if this person is so sensitive and non-forgiving, it is his problem." Yes, it is true that he has a problem and he will suffer from this, but if you have harmed him, you will still not be forgiven without his forgiveness. The best way to ensure that you will be forgiven is to be especially careful not to cause pain or suffering to others. Our main reason for not hurting others should be out of compassion and caring. But at least we should be careful not to harm others out of our own self-interest. (Growth through Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: Yom Kippur.

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