Some Yomim Tovim have a way of just creeping up on you. Before you realize that they are around the corner, they’ve arrived. Pesach is different. Pesach is in the air weeks before the Yom Tov actually arrives, wherever you go in the Jewish world.
The stores are packed with shoppers buying everything from fish to shoes lekavod Yom tov. Bochurim are home from yeshiva, giving their homes, shuls and streets a different look.
Wherever you go, you hear vacuum cleaners whirring. That sound may give you a headache the rest of the year, but when you hear it now, it sounds so melodious. The machine seems to be singing about the approach of Pesach. “Come on over,” it calls. “Let us prepare for Pesach together.” While we push the vacuum cleaner to and fro, it’s as if we are holding a guitar in our hands, making music.
We are not engaged in some lowly, mundane activity. We are cleaning a house for Pesach. How joyous that is! Who can complain about that? Boruch Hashem, I have a place to live. Boruch Hashem, I have my strength. Boruch Hashem, I can clean the home You blessed me with and I can be mekayeim Your mitzvos. Boruch Hashem, I live in a time when I can freely eat matzos without fearing a blood-libel inspired pogrom breaking out.
Wherever you go in the Jewish world, you will pick up the scent of soap at work. The whiff of ammonia, bleach and Easy-Off® attack you from all corners. All year round, those odors force you to run and open the window to escape them, so offensive are they. But when you walk into a Jewish home during these weeks and are greeted by these pungent smells, they evoke a pleasant association, and you embrace them. They send so many memories rushing into your brain. They remind you that in a few days, chometz will be but a distant memory and you will soon be sitting like a king or queen at the Seder.
Reminders confront us from all sides about the impending Zeman Cheiruseinu. Shloshim yom kodem hachag, thirty days before the holiday, we are told that we must begin reviewing the intricate laws of the Yom Tov. We have Parshas Parah to remind us to purify ourselves in preparation for the korban. Parshas Hachodesh reminds us that Chodesh Nissan is about to arrive.
Unlike the other major holidays of Sukkos and Shavuos, Pesach demands a heightened degree of preparation. The home must be spotlessly cleaned, matzos must be baked, special foods purchased, a different menu prepared, and on and on. The hachanos are especially taxing on the women. For weeks, they work themselves to the point of exhaustion, making sure that everything is perfectly in order in time for the Seder.
When it comes to “bringing in Pesach,” family members have to be careful to share in what can be an overwhelming task if shouldered alone. At no other time of the year is cooperation so vital.
If everyone leaves everything to Mommy to worry about, chances are that Mommy will have a hard time pulling it all together. It is only when every member of the family pools their efforts and abilities that Pesach becomes that rich and rewarding experience that we so eagerly anticipate.
This spirit of cooperation that marks Pesach preparation has its parallel in one of the core elements of Yetzias Mitzrayim – our transformation into a cohesive nation, a family unit on a national scale.
We went from being slaves scattered around Mitzrayim to becoming an organized community of Bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. A community is defined as a group of people with common interests joining together to contribute towards the public good. When each person cares only about himself and what is good for him, the community suffers. In a community, everyone sacrifices a bit for the common welfare.
And so it is on Pesach. Perhaps this is the reason why the Rama begins Hilchos Pesach with the minhag of maos chittin, obligating all Jews to help those less fortunate who cannot afford to buy what they need for Yom Tov.
We demonstrate to what extent we are part of the greater Jewish community by the way we respond to appeals to come to the aid of those who have difficulty meeting Yom Tov expenses.
For the past several years, together with my dear friend Reb Yossel Czapnik, I have been inserting an envelope into the Yated before Pesach on behalf of Keren Hachesed. We depend upon our good readers to assist the Keren Hachesed volunteers and the people they help.
Boruch Hashem, the response has always been truly magnificent and is a tribute to the righteousness and kindness of our readers who are no doubt bombarded with so many pre-Pesach appeals. Those envelopes are mailed by readers throughout the course of the year and Keren Hachesed counts on the donations to help repay the loans they took out to help people with Yom Tov expenses.
Keren Hachesed is an organization founded by Bnei Torah to help kollel yungeleit, rabbonim, rabbeim, roshei yeshiva and other hard-working people who make a living but can’t afford to make ends meet when it comes to Pesach, but will not accept help from public organizations. The Keren carefully screens all potential recipients.
The Keren helps the people who live next door to you in the most bakavodike and respectful way possible. The Keren helps the very people you would be helping if you only knew how to approach them and offer assistance. Contributing to the Keren is a perfect way to help a family just like yours make Yom Tov. In doing so, you are contributing to one of the greatest tzedakos in our area.
If you live in a Torah community within 90 miles of New York City, chances are you have a neighbor who is enjoying the benefits of Keren Hachesed this Yom Tov. The recipients are good people, with nice, fine families, who dedicate their lives to doing good for the community and have everything but enough money to properly celebrate Yom Tov. Keren Hachesed helps them accomplish that in myriad ways that I cannot describe, lest the recipients recognize that they are benefiting from Keren Hachesed. In fact, the recipients don’t even know that Keren Hachesed exists.
Keren Hachesed, working behind the scenes, comes to the rescue in hidden ways.
The volunteers who run the chesed group are so dedicated to their cause that they would rather work harder at raising the funds necessary to continue their work than permit me to describe their work. They place the dignity and self respect of the people they help above all else. The less attention showered upon their activities, the happier they are. However, as the recession deepens, more and more of our neighbors require their services and it behooves those of us who are able to, to rise to their aid.
Several years ago, some Keren volunteers were involved in multiple mishaps for a few years in a row. They became disturbed by the thought that a Divine message was being sent.
They approached the famed Rav Chaim Kreisworth, ZT”L, a towering talmid chochom, who was well known for his untiring efforts for tzedakah and chesed. He replied that the only one who would be able to interpret what had occurred was the Steipler Rov.
One of the people involved in the Keren traveled to Eretz Yisroel and described to the Steipler Gaon zt”l the organization’s work and the misfortunes that had been experienced by the volunteers. He asked for the Steipler’s insight into the significance of these episodes.
The Steipler answered him that not only was there nothing wrong with what they were doing, but the tzedaka they perform is on such a high level that the Soton was trying to derail them from their noble work.
He suggested that from that year on, all those involved in Keren Hachesed should observe Yom Kippur Kotton on Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan, including blowing shofar.
Since then, the only problem the Keren has had is raising sufficient funds to keep pace with the need. Let us all do what we can to help these noble people bring Yom Tov goodness to some of the finest families in Klal Yisroel.
As we run around loading our shopping wagons with everything we need for Yom Tov, let us keep in mind the people who cannot afford to fill their wagons. As we try on new suits and shoes, let’s keep in mind those who have to make do with old clothing and hand-me-downs. Let us show we care about those not as financially blessed as we are. Let us show hakaras hatov to the Ribono Shel Olam for all we have.
You can contribute to Kern Hachesed by sending a check made out to them to me at 53 Olympia Lane Monsey NY 10952. Every dollar given will bring a smile to Jewish faces of all ages. You will be contributing to their simchas Yom Tov as well as your own.
When contributing to your local maos chittin campaign, and other good causes please remember Keren Hachesed.
Shabbos Hagadol comes early this year. Shabbos Hagadol, literally “The Great Shabbos,” heralds the traditional Pesach drasha, but its significance is broader than that. It is the day on which, 3320 years ago, our forefathers rounded up sheep for the Korban Pesach. It is the day which announces that the chag hageulah is about to descend upon us. Every Shabbos is “great,” and every Shabbos is a gift from G-d, but since it comes around every week, we tend to take it for granted.
Shabbos reminds us that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Shabbos is a day which raises us up to a higher spiritual plane than we are on during the rest of the week.
Yetzias Mitzrayim, when we were taken from bondage in Mitzrayim and separated as the Am Hashem, started on Shabbos with the preparations for the Korban Pesach. That seminal event is remembered every year on Shabbos Hagadol.
Shabbos Hagadol is greater than every other Shabbos of the year because it announces that the days which commemorate that aliyah of the Jewish people – and have the spiritual power to renew that aliyah – are once again with us. Shabbos Hagadol heralds the arrival of the sanctified period of time that took our nation to a new and higher level for eternity.
Let us all pray that in the merit of the mitzvah of tzedaka and the areivus our acts of kindness demonstrate, this coming Shabbos Hagadol should be our last Shabbos in golus. May it herald the arrival of the geulah. Amein.