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04/10/2018 01:15:18 PM


Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

Faster, Faster, the Redemption is Coming
Pesach Day 8, 5778

From start to finish Pesach is the holiday of redemption. But it is two different redemption stories. 

The holiday begins with the focus on our ancestors’ redemption from Egypt but it concludes with an emphasis on our future redemption in a messianic era.

One manifestation of this theme of future redemption is seen in the practice of Chassidim to celebrate a mashiach meal as the holiday ends; communities gather together and drink four cups of wine and discuss the arrival of the mashiach.

This practice is attributed to the founder of chassidus, the Baal Shem Tov.

But the association of the last day of Pesach with the messianic era goes back much further than the Baal Shem Tov and appears most strongly in the messianic haftorah that we read on the eighth day of Pesach.

The haftorah comes from the utopian vision of Isaiah of a world in which every creature lives in peace and harmony (10:32-12:6).  The most famous lines of this haftorah are, “A wolf will live with a lamb (ve-gar zeev im keves), a leopard with a kid, and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling shall lie together, and a small child shall lead them (Isaiah, 11:6).

The haftorah might have started with the first verse in chapter 11, “and a shoot shall spring forth from the stem of Jesse, veyatzah choter mi-gezah yishai.”

But it doesn’t start there.  Instead it starts a few verses earlier in chapter 10:32: “Od hayom be-nov laamod yenofef yado har bat tzion givat yerushalayim, still today he intends to stand in Nov, he waves his hand towards the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.”

What is this verse referring to and why is it the opening verse of this great messianic prophecy?

The Talmud explains that this verse is referring to Sancheirev the King of Assyria (705-681 BCE) who had been leading a vicious assault on the land of Israel.  As the previous verses in chapter 10 (28-31) tell us he had been driving his army though the land—“A route that normally takes ten days, he drove through in one day” (Sanhedrin, 95a).  Every city was falling before him in his drive to conquer Jerusalem.  And then Sancheirev and his army arrived on the last day of Pesach at the city of Nov, on the outskirts of Jerusalem (See Artscroll Sanhedrin, 95a, note 9).

The city of Nov – a city of kohanim – was the site of one of the worst sins in Jewish history.  David had taken refuge in that city when he was fleeing from Saul and as a result Saul had killed the entire city.  By Divine decree the Jewish people were collectively worthy of a great punishment as a result of Saul’s sin.

In Nov, Sancheirev’s soldiers urged him to continue the attack on Jerusalem that same day, “nishdei bei yadah haidnah, let’s attack Jerusalem today!”  Sancheirev responded, “temahitu, lemachar, you are too tired today, we will do it tomorrow.”

What Sancheirev didn’t realize is that that day was the day destined for him to attack.  This was the final day the Jewish people were vulnerable to the Divine decree as a result of the sin of Saul in killing all the kohanim in the city of Nov.  So by delaying the attack a single day, the Jewish people were no longer vulnerable to that decree.  Thus, Sancheirev lost his power, his moment -- his opportunity.  That night he went to sleep thinking he would attack in the morning, but says the verse that night an angel of Hashem came and killed 185,000 men from Sancheirev’s camp (2 Kings 19:35).  

Sancheirev had his opportunity to destroy Jerusalem, but he delayed it and as a result he lost his moment.

From our perspective Sancheirev’s blunder was a great thing as it spared Jerusalem.  

But the principle the Talmud extracts from this story is essential to all of our lives.  Says the Talmud, “bas dina, batel dina, justice delayed is justice cancelled.”

Od hayom benov laamod, Sancheirev stood in Nov and said, I still have time.  Go to sleep men.  Tomorrow is another day.  Plenty of time. Yenofef yado le-har bat zion, he waved his hand flippantly at Mount Zion and said, I will capture you tomorrow.

But sometimes there is no tomorrow.  There is only today!

This is why this is the first verse of our haftorah.  The message is that if we want the mashiach to come, then it must not be tomorrow, but today! Don’t be like Sancheirev who waited for tomorrow and told his soldiers to go to sleep. If we wait we too, can lose our moment, our opportunity.

The holiday of Pesach is the opposite of od hayom be nov laamod.

The redemption from Egypt was a hurried redemption.  It was a redemption of immediacy.  The verse tells us we left Egypt, be-etzem hayom hazeh, not od hayom, but be-etzem hayom—this very day (Exodus, 12:41).  We needed to leave right away, immediately, not in ten minutes, but right at that moment.

The greatest symbol of this is the matzah.

The verse tells us, “They baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt into matzot, and it did not rise…for they could not delay” (Exodus, 12:39).

Why couldn’t they delay?  Pharaoh was defeated.  Would an extra 18 minutes really have mattered?

The very next verse in the Torah tells us TWICE that they had lived in Egypt for 430 years.  So why couldn’t they wait an extra few minutes?  After 430 years why the urgency?  

I can see the conversations taking place at dinner tables and in Egypt.  This Moshe he is in such a hurry!  Why can’t he wait a few days and plan properly!  If he would just take some more time to do this, then we will be so much more organized.

But that’s what they had been saying for 430 years!  

That is the point of matzah.  

The message of matzah is if we don’t seize the opportunity we will lose the opportunity.

I had the great honor of baking matzah with many of you this year.  I apologize to all those to whom I raised my voice in the heat of the battle.  Don’t take it personally.  I was immersed in the mitzvah.  We needed to bake the matzah and we needed to do it right.  And doing matzah right means doing it quickly.

A friend of mine, Aaron Shiller is a DJ.  He took the words that I say at our matzah bakes and using my voice he mixed them into a song.  

The words I used were, “Faster, faster, for the purpose of making matzah, le-shem matzos mitzvah, faster, faster, the redemption is coming.” 

Matzah needs to be made quickly.  It has to be done be-chipazon, with great haste.

If we wait on our matzah it loses its holiness and becomes the opposite of holiness.  One second it is the bread of redemption, and the next second it is the bread of our servitude.  It all depends on whether or not we wait.

Matzah is the opposite of Sancheirev.  Sancheirev is wait till tomorrow.  Matzah is we must do it today; no, not even today; today is too long to wait!  We must do it right away, and with great zeal.  

When it comes to an opportunity for redemption there is always a reason to act like Sancheirev, and wait.  But the message of Pesach is that when it comes to redemption we can’t wait.

But when we speak about redemption and the messiah I know that it sounds so foreign and unrealistic.  I look into your eyes and I notice that for some of you it is just so foreign that it is not even relatable.   

So let’s try to translate it into a language that is meaningful and relevant.

Redemption doesn’t have to be thought about on a large scale like a mass exodus from Egypt, or suddenly ending violence or hunger in the world.  Redemption can also happen on a small scale by doing good deeds in the world and helping people grow closer to Hashem.  

This past week as part of our daf yomi studies we started studying tractate Horayot.  There is a strong custom to study Horayot in the month of Nissan in the days leading up to Pesach.  (see Mesivta Shas, Horayot, aliba dehilcheta, 2a).

There are different theories for this custom.  One theory is because the number of dapim corresponds to the days in Nissan leading up to Pesach.  Another theory is that the subject matter is what happens when a Nasi makes a mistake and the first 12 days of Nissan correspond to inaugural sacrifices of the neseim.

But another reason could be the fact that one of the teachings in this tractate connects to the very idea of Pesach that we have been discussing – do not wait upon the opportunity to do a mitzvah.

The tractate discusses the story of Lot and his daughters (Genesis, 19).  The Torah tells us that Lot along with his two daughters were the only ones that survived the destruction of Sodom and so thinking that they were the only survivors in the world they went to live in a cave.

At this point Lot’s two daughters did a grotesque sin.  They believed that the world was destroyed and that it was their responsibility to perpetuate the world.  So they got their father drunk and the first night the older daughter (bechira) conceived a child from him, and the second night the younger (tzeirah) daughter did the same thing.  The son of the bechira was named Moab, and the son of the tzeirah was ben-ami, the forefather of the tribe of Amon.

Even though incest is a great sin, the Talmud is sympathetic to the daughters of Lot as it tells us “nitkavnu le-shem mitzvah, their intent was for good” (Horayot, 10b).

More than that the Talmud derives a lesson for all of us from the actions of the bechirah of Lot.  Says the Talmud:

Leolam yakdim adam ledvar mitzvah.  A person should always rush to be first to perform a mitzva, as in reward for one night that the elder preceded the younger, she merited and preceded her to royalty by four generations” (Horayot, 11a).

This is an astonishing teaching.  We know that the Bechira created the tribe of Moab, and from that tribe eventually would descend Ruth, and from Ruth would come the melelekh hamashiach, King David himself.  The Talmud is teaching that the reason King David comes from Moab is because the bechira rushed to do a mitzvah.

The only problem is that she didn’t actually do a mitzvah.  She did a tremendous sin.  It is hard to think of a bigger sin than the one she did.  

From this great sin, the Talmud extrapolates a lesson for all of us.  We too, must rush to perform the mitzvah.  We should not be saddled by the fear of failing.  Indeed, Lot’s daughters failed in their efforts.  They failed more spectacularly than anyone else in human history.  Their sin is recorded in the Torah and everyone reads it year after year.  Yet, she is rewarded for rushing, even though she failed!

Not only is she rewarded, the Talmud cites her actions as a proof text for all of us to follow in her footsteps and hurry to do a mitzvah!

That’s how important it is for us to rush to do a mitzvah.  When it comes to helping people and performing the service of Hashem, our thought process should not be what happens if we fail, but rather how quickly can I help.

Returning to that same chapter in Isaiah.  Do you know how this vision ends?  Isaiah says the words we say every week as we conclude Shabbat and venture forth with all of our dreams into the world, “Hineh Kel Yeshuati evtach ve-lo efchad, behold Gd is my salvation, I will trust in Him and I will not be afraid” (Isaiah 12:2).

This is the lesson of the last day of Pesach.  We will not be afraid to do good deeds.  We will not miss an opportunity for a mitzvah out of fear of making a mistake.  

And this is an idea we must bring to our mind as we recite our yizkor prayers.

As we recall those who have passed on to the world to come we remember that our own time is limited.  We will not waste it.  We will not spend 430 years contemplating how to make the perfect loaf of bread.  Instead we will make the most of every second Hashem gives us on this earth.

And above all we will not squander our opportunities with our loved ones who we recall today.  We will not lose an opportunity to embrace the people we care for.  We will cherish our time with our loved ones.  

Even though we have many published matzah baking times, there is a secret matzah bake that no one knows about.  Right before the seder I go with my children and we bake one last batch special for the seder.  When we do it we adopt special stringencies, but still some of my colleagues say to me, what if you mess up?  What if you fail?  

But isn’t that the exact message of Pesach! We can’t live in fear of failure!  

Just the opposite.

Faster, faster, we will rush to do a mitzvah.  The redemption is coming, we will not squander our time on earth.

Od hayom benov laamod, this is the attitude of Sancheirev.  

We, on the other hand, will take our matzah be-etzem hayom, at this very moment.  

We would rather fail and make chametz then lose an opportunity to serve Hashem!

Thu, July 9 2020 17 Tammuz 5780