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The Lesson of Pesach

"We were slaves to Par'o in Egypt, and Hashem the G-d of our ancestors took us out from there with a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm" (Haggadah Shel Pesach).

I read a very moving story in the fabulously motivational book, She'ifos, which, I believe, can also give us a better approach to understanding the lesson of the Pesach Seder.

Yehudaleh, was a wonderful little boy. He was bright and friendly, yet serious and studious. He had an excellent memory and he excelled in all of his studies and got the best marks in his class. In short, he was the kind of boy every parent prayed for. Everyone believed that he would be very successful in life.

Suddenly, in the middle of the seventh grade, everything changed. Yehudaleh's father died of an extended sickness, and the child's world crushed down upon his young head. He had always been especially close to his father and had enjoyed spending time with him; studying, talking or just being in his company. Now, all this had come to an abrupt end and it was more than he could possibly bear.

His mother could not fill in the gap because she had difficulties coping with her own just as tragic change of life. Her husband had always been the sole bread-winner and now she had to support her family all by herself. In addition to the expenses of the regular budget, there were enormous bills that had accumulated from the many months of her husband's illness. Good meaning people had loaned her money for visits to and from doctors from all around the world and expensive treatments which all hoped would help her husband recover from his sickness. But the Almighty's will was different and he never got off of his sick bed. Now she had to find a way to repay these bills and that preoccupied her mind around the clock. As much as she wanted to, she simply was not strong enough, physically or emotionally, to help her son adjust to the new situation in life they found themselves thrown into.

In yeshiva, everyone could see that Yehudaleh was not the same boy he used to be. He found it difficult to concentrate and never participated in class any more. No one could blame him but no one could help him either, since he became closed up inside and would not let anyone approach his broken heart and help him mend it, no matter how hard they tried. As a result, his marks plummeted further and further.

Next year, in the eighth grade, Yehudaleh's rabbis found themselves faced with a major problem. It is customary, in Israel, for the staffs of the Cheiderim (Elementary Schools) to help their students get into the best Yeshivos Ketanos (Junior High Schools) that they can. It is not an easy job at all as there is stiff competition from graduates from all over the country and, of course, every Rosh Yeshivah wants only students who will add to the good name of his institution. Yehudaleh's rabbis knew that his present situation and his poor marks would not encourage Roshei Yeshivah to accept him into the better schools. But they also knew that it would be an unforgivable sin to send a boy with so much potential to a weaker school which accepted students who couldn't tow the line.

The eighth grade rebby who taught Yehudah and loved him dearly decided that it was his obligation to see that he was accepted into the Yeshiva he really belonged in, in spite of his present situation which, he hoped, he would eventually pull out of. With prayers to Hashem that he be successful in what he knew would be a formidable task, he began to phone the heads of the best Yeshivas in Israel. He described to them what an exceptional student Yehudah had been, but he could not deny them the truth about his present slump. However, he assured them that in the right atmosphere, and given the proper attention, he was positive that the old Yehudah would blossom again and would be one of their prime students. He told them that they would earn a great portion in the World-to-Come if they would have mercy on this orphan boy who could be one of the great leaders in Israel if given the chance he deserved.

The rebby was disappointed, but not surprised, at the response. Each Rosh Yeshivah he spoke to said that he sympathized with the boy, and totally agreed in principle, and commended the rebby for his concern and dedication to his student's welfare; yet each one had a different excuse, explanation and apology for not being able to accept Yehudaleh in his school.

One day it happened. The rebby's list came to an end and no one had accepted his precious student. He dreaded to have to admit defeat and enroll Yehudah in a weaker school, but he could not find an alternative. Until he heard that Reb Mordechai, an outstanding educator who was famous for his dedication to his students, was interviewing candidates for the new Yeshivah Ketanah he was founding this coming semester. The rebby knew that this was his very last chance and he made an appointment to visit Reb Mordechai the very next day.

Reb Mordechai answered the door himself and let in his guest. He listened intently to everything he had to tell him and was very impressed with the sincerity and dedication of the rebby to his student. When he had heard the entire presentation, he sat quietly, in deep thought and concentration, for several minutes which seemed, to the rebby, to be several hours. Finally, Reb Mordechai responded.

"I would consider it a privilege to be able to help Yehudah regain his former stature. But I can only do it on one condition. That, when I interview him, he shows convincing signs of potential success. If I am as convinced as you are, that there is reasonable hope that he will be able to overcome the tragedy which has befallen him, and excel, once again in his studies, then I will gladly accept him in my new yeshiva, although, obviously, he won't, at the moment, be adding to the yeshiva's name which is so crucial when one is struggling to found a new yeshiva and attract good boys. Nevertheless, I will feel that it is my obligation and privilege to give him the chance to succeed. However, if I see that he is so depressed that he will most probably continue to be 'out of it' in spite of his new opportunities, then I will not be able to accept him and I will expect you to accept my decision as final."

The rebby sighed in relief and even wiped a tear from his eye as he thanked Hashem and Reb Mordechai profusely. The answer was surely the best he could possibly have hoped for in the present situation.

The following afternoon, a nervous young Yehudah knocked on the door of Reb Mordechai's home. The Rabbi answered the door himself and greeted his young guest warmly. He asked him to be seated as he went, himself, into the kitchen to bring the troubled boy some tea and cookies. Then he sat down to talk with him.

"My dear Yehudaleh," he began, "I have heard a lot about you. I know that you were once one of the best students in your Cheider. I also know of the tragedy which befell you and how it affected you. Please believe me Yehudaleh that I want very much to help you regain your former stature. But I cannot do it alone. Only if you see me as a friend, to whom you can open up and express your innermost feelings so that I can help you address them, will I be able to come to your aid. Please, Yehudaleh, help me help you."

Reb Mordechai saw the tears streaming down Yehudaleh's eyes and he prayed that he had made the right impression. Yehudah began to tremble and for the first time since his father had passed away he began to talk about the pain he was experiencing. Once the dam was broken, there was no stopping the tide of words and emotions which swept out of him as he told of his anxieties and loneliness and of the pillows he soaked with tears every night. Reb Mordechai knew that he had succeeded in making the proper connection with the young boy, but now he prayed for the proper words to help him with. Suddenly, he received Divine inspiration and he took the youngster by the hand and led him to the window.

"Yehudaleh," he said, "look at that building across the street. It is twenty stories high. Some company just bought it and is evicting all of its tenants. When they are all gone, they intend to knock it down and build a sky scraper of eighty floors. They intend to get very rich from this investment. Someone might ask the CEO, why he has to go through the unnecessary expense of knocking down the building and beginning anew. Why not just add another sixty floors to the existing ten? It seems that it would be much more economical to do it this way.

"The CEO would surely explain that in order to stand, every building needs a foundation at its bottom. A bigger building needs a stronger foundation than a smaller one. Were he to build more floors on the existing foundation, the building would collapse. Only after knocking it down and digging a deeper and stronger foundation can he build the sky scraper of his dreams which will surely make him rich.

"It is the same in spirituality," continued Reb Mordechai. "These pains and tribulations you feel are actually strengthening the foundation of your personality. If you are strong and don't allow them to destroy you then you will not merely have won a fierce battle. You will have become a super strong person, much more than the average one, and you will be able to grow to be an outstanding individual, a leader in Israel who will stand far above his friends and colleagues who did not go through what he did."

Yehudah thought that he understood but still he asked the question of questions. "But why me? Why do I have to go through all of this pain? Why can't I have an easy life like my friends do?"

Reb Mordechai hugged the boy whose pain he felt and shared. "One might ask the CEO further why he chose specifically this building, in the center of Tel Aviv, to knock down and rebuild. He surely could have found empty lots throughout the country where he could have built a strong foundation from scratch without the added, unnecessary, expense of throwing down the existing building.

"The CEO would smile and explain that specifically because of its precious location, in the center of Tel Aviv, he is confident that his sky scraper will be very desirable to the public and will attract many buyers who will want to open their offices there and make him rich.

"Hashem works the same way," concluded Reb Mordechai. "He chooses those people whom He has granted the most potential to succeed, and He builds them up, through struggles and battles, because they, and only they, are the ones who, if they succeed in overcoming the challenges presented to them, will be the greatest men and women in their generation."

This conversation changed Yehudaleh's outlook on life and on his own situation in particular. He left Reb Mordechai's home a different person and when he attended his yeshiva, the following semester, he had the old stamina many had thought had died within him. He loved his Rosh Yeshivah, Reb Mordechai, who had helped him overcome his depression, and he became one of his best students. Eventually, the Gaon (genius) Reb Yehudah, as he became known, became one of the greatest Rabbis of the generation.

This beautiful story about beautiful people should make us realize that this is similarly the message of the Haggadah. The Jewish People suffered for many years at the hands of the tyrant, Par'o, until Hashem freed us from him. But our suffering was not in vain. Its purpose was to build the foundation of those who would later receive the Torah on Mount Sinai and be declared "the Chosen People."

And among this special Nation, there are those who suffer on a personal level. They should find solace from the story of the Haggadah by realizing that they have apparently been chosen by Hashem to reach great heights which they could not possibly do unless their own foundations were fortified by means of the trials and tribulations they were forced to suffer.

Those who have the proper attitude will grow and succeed while others with the wrong attitude are crushed under the burden. They will truly be happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel