Parshas Ha’Chodesh: Lessons and Chizuk from Mitzvas Matzah

This coming week’s parshios are Vayakhel-Pekudei, as we close the book of Shemos once again, with the completion of the Mishkan and the resting of the Shechina within.  Sefer Ha’Geula, the Book of Redemption (the appellation for Sefer Shemos) that began with the Egyptian enslavement ends with Hashem dwelling amongst the people: כִּי עֲנַן ה’ עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יוֹמָם, וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ–לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָל-מַסְעֵיהֶם – For the cloud of Hashem would be on the Mishkan by day, and fire would be on it at night, before the eyes of all the House of Israel, in all their journeys (Shemos 40:38). 

However, in addition to the double parshios that are to be read, this coming Shabbos, Parshas HaChodesh is also read (halavay, may our batei kenisios reopen, so that we may merit to read both Parshios Ha’Shavua and ha’Chodesh b’tzibur, from our holy Sifrei Torah). 

Parshas Ha’Chodesh, from Parshas Bo, Sefer Shemos 12:1-20, is always read the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nissan.  This passage introduces the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh to the Bnei Yisrael, commands them regarding the Korban Pesach, and the observance of Chag Ha’Pesach

While this year, everything is very different and the world as we know it has stopped; with seemingly harsh gezeiros against Klal Yisrael R”L, with the closing of our mekomos kedoshim – our houses of Torah and Tefilah – Nissan is still upon us and the Yom Tov of Pesach awaits. 

The pasukim tell us: בָּרִאשֹׁן בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ, בָּעֶרֶב, תֹּאכְלוּ, מַצֹּת:  עַד יוֹם הָאֶחָד וְעֶשְׂרִים, לַחֹדֶשׁ—בָּעָרֶב, On the first, on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening shall you eat matzos, until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening…כָּל-מַחְמֶצֶת, לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ; בְּכֹל, מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, תֹּאכְלוּ, מַצּוֹת – all leaven you shall not eat; in all your dwelling places you shall eat matzos (Shemos 12:18,20).

The essence and symbol of our freedom is the consumption of matzvos and the removal of all chametz

When going to bake matzos for Pesach, R’ Yaakov Edelstein zt’l (1924-2017, Rav of Ramat HaSharon, Israel) would retell the following story:

“Rav Yisrael Salanter (d.1883), who founded the mussar movement, would bake matzos on erev Pesach with his talmidim, in a chaburah.  He oversaw the operation and made sure it was all done to the highest standard.  One year he had to be somewhere else and couldn’t be with them.  They asked him, ‘Rebbe, tell us at least one thing about which we should be especially attentive (during matzah baking).’ 

“R’ Yisrael Salanter answered, ‘Your are all well versed in the laws of Pesach, and I have no doubt that you will vigorously clean the equipment and do everything according to the halacha.  There is only one thing that I’m worried you will forget.  Among the women who will be rolling the matzah dough is a widow.  Do not shout at her, but speak to hear gently and softly, because it is written in the Torah that it is prohibited to cause a woman pain.’

“(When retelling this story, R’ Yaakov Edelstein would comment and say,) Rav Salanter regarded all the halachos as one.  Essentially, he was telling the talmidim, ‘While you are engaged in the mitzvah of baking matzos, don’t forget the mitzvah of כָּל-אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם, לֹא תְעַנּוּן, every widow or orphan you shall not oppress (Shemos 22:21)’” (Reaching For Heaven, Artscroll, p.290-291).

When baking matzos, and preparing for the festival and the mitzvah of achilas matzah, R’ Yisrael Salanter wanted his talmidim to think of the feelings of someone else, someone more sensitive, someone perhaps in pain, someone who needs some extra care and concern.

During these very confusing and uncertain times, as we too prepare for the yomtov of Pesach, we must strive to have others in mind.  Not only does it matter how mehudar our matzah is (it does matter), but how much we are mehudar in our interactions with others perhaps matters just as much, if not more.

Now that our communities have essentially shut down, Hashem yerachem, we must be even more creative in finding ways to connect to, and care for, each other.  We don’t understand even one iota of Hashem’s master plan, but we believe and know that He has one, and His will will always be done. 

R’ Yaakov Edelstein further taught, “Matzah is very important.  It is a mitzvah that grants a person many qualities, and it is made specifically from something that can become chametz.  It is only from this that we make matzah, and if we are not extremely careful, the matzah will become chametz.  The moment it comes into the world, it is in constant danger.  It is on the border, and it can go either way, becoming chametz or matzah.

“The Torah is teaching us a mussar lesson: The spiritual virtues and achievements that a person merits come about specifically through overcoming challenges.  When a person is standing at the edge, swinging in front of the abyss, but he holds strong and stands fast and doesn’t fall, then he merits being elevated and advances another step, moving significantly forward.  Specifically something that can become chametz – that’s the basis for preparing the matzos.  To make matzah, you need to start with chametz.  To reach Olam Habah (the World to Come), you need to go through Olam Hazeh (This World). 

“This is the proper outlook as Pesach approaches” (Reaching for Heaven, p.296). 

While we cannot, and do not, understand the ways of G-d – כִּי לֹא-יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם, וָחָי (Shemos 33:20) – we only know that we are here to fulfill His will.  During this difficult time, we must strengthen ourselves in mitzvos bein adam la’Makom (such as ensuring we will have kosher matzos), bein adam la’chavairo (such as striving to be sensitive to all those around us), and ensuring that our spiritual achievements come from rising over the challenges we face.

With heartfelt tefillos for besuros tovos and refuos for all, בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,


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