By Rabbi Dr. Zalman Kossowsky
Dear Friends, and landsleit from Zelva, Dereczin and Volkovysk,
have been preparing and giving sermons now for more than 30 years,
but I must admit that finding the proper words this year has
been one of the most challenging that I can recall.
I am sitting and writing this draft exactly 9 days before Pesach, but I have been mulling over these ideas for a while. Obviously the situation around us, especially in Israel, is fraught with danger. No one seems to have a good solution that will truly solve the problems that face us. The hatred seems implacable and the threat of destructions seems very real. Yet the refrain that keeps running through my mind comes from the Haggadah:
/Ubh,IKfk Ubhkg sng sckC sjt tÇa
/Ubh,IKfk Ubhkg ohsnIg rIsu rISõkfCa tKt
/osHn UbkhMn tUv QUrC aIsEvu
This promise made to our fathers holds true also for us . . . In every generation oppressors have attempted to destroy us. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.
these are not just words in an ancient printed text.
They are also facts in our personal lives.
In recent times I have often wondered what thoughts passed
through my late Father's k"z
on that day in September 1939 when he had to jump on a bicycle and
flee the Shtetl of Zelva, where he was Rabbi, because
the Communists were planning to take him that night into the forest
and kill him. Or did my
ever dream as she as she, her husband and daughter miraculously left
Kaunas (Kovno) 13 months later, that she would need more than two
sets of fingers and toes in order to count her descendents (not that
she would ever do such a thing as 'count' her great-grandchildren).
And yes, there was a horrible price that was paid, on both the
national as well as the individual level.
But 63 and one half years later, v"C
I am still here, talking to you, while Hitler and his Final
Solution lie in the dust. Yes,
they are selling huge quantities of the Arabic version of 'Mein
Kampf' but they too will pass into the dust, and our
great-grandchildren will still be coming together to celebrate
in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, but if not, then in Synagogues
wherever they may be.
Notwithstanding the above, we are all deeply troubled. What shall we do? What can we do? A significant segment of the believing Jewish world came together on erev Rosh Chodesh, two weeks ago, in a day of fasting and prayer. We pounded on the Gates of Heaven. While I am convinced that the Almighty heard our prayers, as of now the dangers and threats are all still there. And so I turned to the Chumash, because I have been taught, and I truly believe that it is so --
avot -- siman
literally translated -- the acts of the Fathers are
signposts for the children.
Or put into modern terminology -- there are macrocosmic and
microcosmic cycles in life, and the acts of our ancestors form
pathways down which we can travel.
And in this sense I went back to the story of that first
Exodus because there is a phrase that keeps haunting
says: Why do you cry
out to me? Dabeyr
speak to the children of
Israel and let them move!
cannot escape the conviction that there is a key here.
There is a siman
-- a signpost for us the children of Israel of today.
So I try to understand the context and search the
the commentators because how can it be wrong to call out in our
pain and fear to our Father in Heaven?
I read the whole chapter, I recommend it to you, it is Chapter
14 in Sefer
Shemot the Book of Exodus at
the beginning of Parshat
has triumphantly led the People out of the Land of Egypt and they
have marched three days into the desert.
G'd appears to Moshe and tells him to stop and turn back
towards Egypt so that the Egyptians will become convinced that the
Israelites are confused and terrified of the desert and will chase
after them. 'Why?'
'Because there is still a reckoning outstanding that needs to
be settled!' The
Israelites listen and turn back and camp along the seashore where the
Egyptian horde overtakes them. The
Bnai Yisrael look up and see the overpowering armored might of
Egypt thundering down at them -- va'yir'u
me'od -- and they become
very frightened and they cry out to Hashem and they say to Moshe --
'why did you take us out of Egypt? . . . are there not enough graves
in Egypt that you have brought us out here to die?
And Moshe tries to calm them and tells them not to loose
heart, but to stand up and be ready to see the salvation that
Hashem will bring.
briefly, is the context till the end of Verse 14.
believe that it is not difficult to see the pattern of our moment in
history as a reflection of that first event.
The pogroms of Europe culminating in the horror of Hitler's
attempted Final Solution being followed immediately by the miracle of
the renaissance of the establishment of the State of Israel, the
-- the dawn of the Deliverance
are also reflections of the horrors of Egypt followed by the miracle
of the Exodus. But then
too, the path to Promised Land is tortuous.
There are all sorts of reckonings that are still open and need
to be settled and in this process there are many moments of terror
and indecision to be experienced by the Bnai Yisrael.
So it is also for our People today.
We may be physically within the borders of the Promised Land,
but neither our neighbors nor even the nations of the world are ready
to accept that we have the right to be there.
(In this context there is a wondrous Midrash that tells
of the 4 different schools of thought that developed amongst the
Israelites regarding the optimal response to the Egyptian threat --
but that would make this sermon even longer that it is).
comes Verse 15 which I quoted earlier - Ma
of the commentators grapple with this verse.
However, in my moment of need now, I resonate especially to
the comments of the Or Ha'Chayim
by R. Chaim ibn Atar (1696 -- 1743) who was the leader the Moroccan
Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael at the beginning of the
not call to G'd in a time of trouble?
To whom else shall we call?
And why shall we stop calling before we are saved?
And where shall we travel to if the sea had not yet
he suggests the following reading of Hashem's statement::
do not call out to me. I
wish to help you and the Bnai Yisrael.
But they need to make the opening for the blessing to come to
them. They need to
strengthen the forces of chesed
THEY NEED TO BEGIN TO MOVE !!!
much?' we ask. 'To
where?' we ask.
me'at' says the Ibn Ezra,
'small steps, but move in the right direction -- towards the
what is the right direction for us, today?' I ask myself.
'What is our yam
suf -- our Sea of
And then the answer came back, echoing from the last verse of the prophetic vision of the Isaiah who foresaw this moment and whose message we read on the Shabbat before Tisha b'Av.
friends, we tend to think of Tzedaka
as charity, as money.
Let us not forget that the first time the term appears in the
Torah it is in another context entirely.
Chap. 15 of Sefer Bereishit -- of Genesis -- Hashem appears to
Avraham in a vision and tells him:
'Fear not, Avram, for I am with you.
I am your shield. Great
will be your reward.' To
which Avram responds: 'L'rd
what can you give me. I
have no children!'
To which Hashem reacts by taking him outside and showing him the stars and promising that 'his descendants, too, would be as numerous.' (Verse 6):
he believed in Hashem -- who considered this to him a 'tzedaka'.
my friends, for us who wish to return to Zion today, our target to
which Hashem is saying today - Dabeyr
begins with believing firmly in
the Promise and its fulfilment EVEN
IN THE ABSENCE of evidence as to how it
that is ONLY THE
There is still the chesed
and the rachamim
that is commonly associated with the term.
It has to do with how we relate to our fellow man.
How we share in his or her needs and tzorres.
How we respond. We
are not being called upon, I believe, to perform major acts --
me'at' says the Ibn Ezra,
'small steps' to which I would add -- 'but
each and every day!!!!'
know that the second Temple was destroyed because of
antidote, therefore, is acts of 'senseless
Be kind to the next person -- not because of something that
you want from them or have the need to give to them, but simply
because they are there. Because
they too, like you, are created b'tzelem
elokim -- in the image of
is one final element in this movement towards our personal
Sea or Reeds -- that may be hard for some of us today, after 353
murdered and 3,244 even more brutally and cold-bloodedly wounded and
mutilated brothers and sisters in Israel, and that is to accept and
understand that at the Seder, when we recount the Ten Plagues that
Hashem visited upon Egypt, even the most 'right wing' among us
will take off a drop of wine from the Cup of Blessing for each
Plague. Nor will any of
us dare to say the 'Halel
Ha'Shalem' the 'Full Hallel'
during the second half of Pesach.
friends -- G'd anxiously awaits our next move.
cannot move BEFORE we do !!!!
-- help G'd help
Then indeed this will be, in this year - a chag sameach.