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Freedom

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613 Degrees of Freedom

Passover has ended.  All Jews hastily remove their Passover dishes into special cabinets or the attic until next Passover.  After an eight-day break, home becomes filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.  Passover leaves us with the pleasant taste of burnt matzot, memories of the Seder spent with family, and stories of the Exodus.  But did Passover really end? In the Mishnah (the precursor of Talmud), the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost) is called “Atzeret.”  This word is familiar to us from Shemini Atzeret—the holiday that follows immediately after the seven days of Sukkot, often simply viewed as the last day (or, in Diaspora, the last two days) of Sukkot.  Either way, Shemini Atzeret is the conclusion of the festival of Sukkot.  By designating Shavuot as Atzeret, the Mishnah seems to imply that it is [...]

Four Cups and Three Matzoth

On Seder night we drink four cups of wine and eat three matzoth. Why four cups and not three? Why three matzoth and not four? The same numerical relationship exists among our forefathers. We have the patriarchs – Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob). But we have four matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah (Rebeca) Rachel, and Leah. This dynamics also manifests itself in the holiest name of God – Tetragrammaton – YHWH. Why does the four-letter Name have only three unique letters, Yud, Heh, and Vav? According to Sefer Yetzirah – a classic text of Kabbalah attributed to Abraham or to Rabbi Akiva – there are three letters of Hebrew Alef Bet called mothers: Alef, Mem, and Shin, which are considered to be “primary” letters. The three mothers represent the basic logical triad [...]

From Purim to Passover

The Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law – states that 30 days before Pesach (Passover) one needs to start learning the laws of Pesach. The simple meaning of this directive is clear – the laws are many and complicated and there is a lot to learn – so one needs to start early. There may be a deeper meaning in this, however. Let us recall that Pesach and Purim are exactly 30 days apart. To start learning about Pesach 30 days before, means to start learning about Pesach on Purim. Or, perhaps, the message is that from Purim we can learn about Pesach. The word Purim means “lot.” The story of Purim is about throwing lots. Evil Haman threw one lot to choose a month for the pogrom against Jews of [...]

Pesach – Time of our Freedom

The holiday of Passover – Pesach – is called zman cheruteinu– time of our freedom. As we have discussed many times on this blog (see Interpreting Dreams; It’s the time, stupid! Carpe Diem; Mezuzah and Time; Riddle — the answer; Splitting the Sea), freedom can only be obtained by mastering time. Everything about celebrating Passover is related to time. It all starts on the Rosh Chodesh Nissan (the New Moon, the beginning of the month of Nissan – marked by the renewal of the monthly lunar cycle – during which we celebrate Passover).  On that day, the very first commandment was given to the Jewish people – the commandment to set the calendar by the lunar cycle, i.e., the commandment of keeping time. Classical commentators ask: Why the Torah (which means “Instruction”) does not have as [...]

Freedom in Space, Time and Spirituality

And the entire Mount Sinai smoked because the Lord had descended upon it in fire, and its smoke ascended like the smoke of the kiln… Exodus 19:18 The Holiday of Shavuot is thought to be a culmination of the Passover. Just as Shmini Atzeret is a culmination of the Holiday of Sukkot and comes after seven days of Sukkot, Shavuot is also called Atzeret and comes after the Holiday of Pesach, albeit separated from it by forty-nine days of Omer. On Shavuot we read a Torah portion from the Chapter 19 of the Book of Shemot (Exodus). We already discussed the verse 18, "Mount Sinai smoked," in the previous post, Mount Sinai smoked because the Lord had descended upon it. Here, I'd like to focus on the word "smoked" from a different perspective. [...]