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Torah Attitude: Passover: Kosher for Passover and all year round
When doing our shopping for Passover we take extra care to make sure that each and every product is made under reliable supervision. The Talmud teaches that any mitzvah that the Jews accepted happily is still observed in happiness and with a festive meal. The Talmud says further that any mitzvah for which the Jews were ready to give up their lives at a time of persecution is still strictly observed. The Jews happily and willingly accepted to perform the two commandments of the Passover Offering and circumcision, and this is how they have been performed ever since. When the Jews accepted the commandments of circumcision and the Passover Offering they thereby willingly separated themselves from the Egyptians. When children see parents in a happy and festive mood, it influences them for life and motivates them to follow in their footsteps. Those children who did not see any joy in Shabbat observance did not have any interest in maintaining it. The Seder table is a tremendous opportunity to educate and influence our children about our great and proud past. We encourage them to ask questions and explain the reasons for every commandment we perform to the best of our ability.
In recent years we find many products with an intriguing kashrus label that does not seem to make any sense from a kashrus point of view. The label reads "Kosher for Passover and all year round." It seems to be redundant since anything that is kosher for Passover obviously is also kosher for use throughout the year. However, there may be a message we can learn from this label. The label is telling us to be as scrupulous with our kashrus observance during the whole year as we are on Passover. When doing our shopping for Passover and buying matzah, wine and other products, we take extra care to make sure that each and every product is made under reliable supervision. It is incredible to see that even people who eat non-kosher food throughout the year are stringent to the smallest detail when it comes to buying kosher items for Passover. It is not uncommon to see shoppers in supermarkets before Passover making sure that they buy salt and sugar with a kosher for Passover label at the same time that they buy non-kosher products to be used before Passover.
Secret of success
It seems strange that otherwise non-observant Jews should take such extra care to buy kosher items for Passover. What is the secret of the success of Passover above other mitzvot and Festivals? Before we answer this, it is interesting to note that we find another mitzvah that is widely practiced by otherwise non-observant Jews. The vast majority of Jews worldwide will make sure that their newborn sons are circumcised. This phenomenon is already mentioned in the Talmud (Shabbat 130a) where it says that any mitzvah that the Jews accepted happily such as circumcision is still observed in happiness and with a festive meal. The Talmud (Ibid) says further that any mitzvah for which the Jews were ready to give up their lives at the time of persecution, such as circumcision and not serving idols, is still strictly observed.
Circumcision and Passover Offering
The Midrash (Shemos Rabban 1:8) explains that although the commandment of circumcision was originally given to our Patriarch Abraham (see Bereishis 17:9-14) many Jews had stopped observing this commandment during the exile in Egypt in an attempt to integrate into the gentile society. However, prior to the exodus from Egypt, the Jews were commanded to slaughter the Passover Offering. At the same time they were instructed that any male that was not circumcised would not be permitted to partake of this offering. As it says, (Shemos 12:22 & 48) "And you shall slaughter the Passover Offering … No uncircumcised male may eat of it." The Jews happily and willingly accepted to perform the two commandments of the Passover Offering and circumcision, and this is how they have been performed ever since.
Separation from Egyptian society
When the Jews accepted the commandments of circumcision and the Passover Offering they readily separated themselves from the Egyptians. The Egyptians detested both circumcision as a violation of the physical body and the slaughtering of sheep since they worshipped them as an idol. The Jews put themselves in danger as they could not know for certain how the Egyptians would react to their slaughtering of the Egyptian's idol. It was an even greater self-sacrifice to circumcise themselves, thereby weakening their ability to defend themselves in case the Egyptians would attack them.
Follow in footsteps
It is the happiness and self-sacrifice of these two commandments that, as the Talmud says, has preserved these two commandments more than any other. Self-sacrifice on its own is not sufficient to ensure the continuity of observing a mitzvah. It must be combined with the joy and happiness for the opportunity to do the will of G'd. When children see parents in a happy and festive mood, it influences them for life and motivates them to follow in their footsteps. And when they themselves turn into parents they will further pass on the observance of these commandments to their own children.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein once asked what is the reason why so many second-generation American Jews stopped observing Shabbat. Even many children from families who were strictly observing Shabbat did not maintain it! He answered that this was due to the parents expressing that they found it extremely difficult to observe the Shabbat. It was a tremendous challenge for them as their very livelihood depended on working seven days a week. We have no right to judge these parents, but the fact remains that the children did not see the joy of Shabbat observance and therefore did not have any interest in maintaining it. Another of our great sages, who lived in Israel after the Holocaust, once made a comment that he had not succeeded to bring up his children to the standard he had hoped and expected. He blamed himself for failing to sing the Shabbat songs at the table during the Shabbat meals.
This may be the secret success of Passover. Children saw how their parents were happy and excited to prepare for the holiday despite the hard work. The Seder night was celebrated as a most enjoyable family get-together in honour of our birth as a nation. For weeks, the children would look forward to this special occasion. They grew up with a positive good feeling about this experience and even years later wanted to pass it on to their own children.
In order to ensure that future generations feel attracted to Judaism and will want to stay within the fold, it is not sufficient to be observant. We must make sure that we transmit and share the joy and happiness of the observance of G'd's commandments. The Seder table is a tremendous opportunity to educate and influence our children. At the same time that we discuss and relate about our great and proud past, we must instill in them a pride and eagerness to be part of this glorious chain. We encourage them to ask questions and explain the reasons for every commandment we perform to the best of our ability. Comes the little kashrus label and tells us its message: you are doing a great job making sure everything is kosher for Passover; however, make sure it shall also be a kosher experience throughout the year. We must learn from the success of Seder night and emulate it on Shabbat and other occasions. We have so many opportunities to learn the meaning and background of our mitzvoth, such as participating in seminars, listening to lectures or reading books that gives us the ability to transmit our rich heritage to our children. We must show them that this is not just empty or shallow traditions but a profound way of life with tremendous purpose and satisfaction. This is the only way we can attempt to ensure that our children and grandchildren will not be attracted to the glamour of the street and fall through the cracks. On the contrary, they will be proud and happy to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents and in turn transmit this message to their own children.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network