Pesach Adventures: Meeting Alexander Zaid and the Chief Rabbi of Israel

Last night Oro Shel Adam hosted a Chagigi Chol Hamoed meal for Olim and former Lone Soldiers.  It was wonderful to have the opportunity to celebrate the chag with good friends, Divrai Torah, singing and good food.  The highlight of the meal was a Batya Miller Pesach special – Matza Smores!

The Miller family spent three wonderful days in the Natzeret (Nazareth) area with my parents and family, celebrating Pesach and enjoying a short vacation.  I would like to share two experiences from our time up NorEmek-Yizraelth.

On our first full day in the area we were brought on a tour to Beit Sha’arim and stood on a hill top looking down into the beautiful Yizrael (Jezriel) Valley.  There, we learned of the story of Alaxander Zaid.  Zaid came to Eretz Yisrael as a pioneer in 1904 and became one of the important Aliya Bet leaders.  He was among the founders of Bar Giora and Hashomer Jewish Defense Organizations and spent the better part of thirty years defending Jews and Jewish agricultural settlements.  He survived two attacks by Arabs and was murdered on the third in 1938.

As we were sitting there looking into the valley and hearing the story of Zaid, I felt it to be a tremendous privilege to be taking my kids on a Pesach trip to see this beautiful site in our cherished land and to hear the story of a true Jewish hero.  While I have no doubt that had I met Zaid we would differ on many fundamental national and religious issues, nonetheless, his Jewish bravery and self sacrifice for the Land of our People is a great source pride for me.  Cherished places like Emek Yisrael were redeemed and returned to Jewish hands after thousands of years of being in foreign hands because of great Jews like Zaid.  Unlike so many Jews that have assimilated and lost complete connection to their Jewish identity due to the effects of a long and excruciating exile, these heroic Jews managed to keep a strong connection to our people and homeland, and have an honored place in the history of our Nation.

In efforts to try and raise our children to be great Jews themselves, I am thrilled that we had this family experience – seeing the beauty of the land and learning about Alaxander Zaid Z”L.  Not every committed parent has this type of opportunity to educate their children in this way and I should never take it for granted.

The second experience is a little bit less Yom Haatzmaut oriented and a lot more connected to the holiday that we are in currently.

Even though it might be one way to understand the mitzvah of receiving one’s Rabbi on the Chag, it never dawned on me to go visit the chief Rabbi(s) of Israel on the moed.  However, when the Chief Rabbi decides to visit you (I happen to have arrived at the place before Rav Lau and family arrived) I gladly welcomed the opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah of Kabbalat Pnai Rabo B’chag.  By the end of the two days, I indeed felt a deeper connection to Rav Dovid Lau, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.

We had a few opportunities to ask Rav Lau questions one to one, receive brachot and dovin in the Rav’s minyan, but it was a most special Pesach gift to hear the Chief Rabbi of Israel share Divrai Torah in-person!

Rav Lau taught a few ideas.

We say every morning before Shmoneh Esrei, “ממצרים גאלתנו ה’ אלוקינו, ומבית עבדים פדיתנו” “Hashem Elokanu redeemed us from Egypt and freed us from the house of slaves.”

Is this phrase simply repetitious or is there something novel about the second phrase?

When a slave is sold from one master to the next, like Yosef Hatzadik was sold from the Midianites to the Yishmaelites to Potiphar, is this cause for celebration!?  While it is true that the slave has been technically freed from his master, it is only for the purpose of gaining a new master.  This is not freedom by any stretch of the imagination.  Imagine if Pharoah would have been sick of dealing with the Jews and decided to sell us to the Edomites, would this have been a proper basis to create a seven day festival?

ממצרים גאלתנו ה’ אלוקינו, ומבית עבדים פדיתנו is teaching us that Hashem redeemed us from Egyptian slavery and more importantly freed us from human bondage all-together.  For what purpose did we gain eternal freedom, asked Rav Lau?  We attained the status of חירות עולם so we would become עבדי ה’ servants of Hashem, committed to upholding and safeguarding Hashem’s Torah.

Secondly Rav Lau spoke about the importance of being commanded the all important mitzvah of setting our own slaves free “מצות שילוח עבדים” while still in Mitzrayim.

Rav Lau illustrated the idea through the following story.

One winter in Lodz was particularly cold and prices of firewood skyrocketed, leaving the poor people without any means to warm themselves.  The famed Rov of the city, Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, decided to take upon himself to collect money for firewood from the wealthy people of the city.

The first stop was the home of the wealthiest man in Lodz, Mr. Posnanski.  When the doorman saw the Rov coming he quickly went to get his boss, who although wearing light clothing, immediately came to the cold door personally to greet the Rov.  He invited the Rov in to talk.  The Rov returned his greeting but began to talk without moving from the door.

The Rov was making small talk and casual conversation about nothing in particular.  He discussed the comings and goings of the city, world news, on and on without seeming to indicate the reason for his visit.  Mr Posnanski stood and listened with respect while his bones began to freeze from the cold.

The Rov kept on going with endless conversation as if he were relaxing somewhere comfortable instead of standing in the freezing cold.   After a long while the cold became too much for Mr. Posnanski and he apologetically asked the Rov if they can move into the warm living room.  Without budging Rav Eliyahu Chaim said that now he will tell him why he came.  He told him about the lack of firewood, and Mr. Posnanski gave him the large amount that he asked for.  Only then did the Rov finally accede and followed the host into the living room.

When they sat down in the comfort and warmth, Mr Posnanski asked the Rov why he insisted on speaking for so long at the door in the cold.  Rav Eliyahu Chaim said that the world says that a satisfied man cannot comprehend the pain of those who are starving.  Similarly those who live in heated homes cannot fathom the pain of those living in frigid apartment with no heat.  Had we sat inside you would not have given as generously as you did after standing in the cold for so long and experiencing a small taste of the poor peoples’ pain.  (Gedolei HaDoros)

Copied from – (http://revach.net/stories/story-corner/Rav-Eliyahu-Chaim-Meisel-Calmly-Shmoozes-In-The-Bitter-Cold/4533)

Rav Lau concluded that Hashem had to give us the commandment of setting our slaves free while still in Egypt for the same reason that Rav Meisel asked for the donation from Mr. Posnanski for the poor of Lodz while standing in the cold.  Only when we experience and actually feel the pain of others can we become truly sensitive to their plight.  It is not just good enough to invite the poor to our seder, we must also put ourselves into their shoes.  On some level, this is why we eat lechem oni  poor man’s bread for 7 or 8 days.  Through matza, we have the once a year chavaya of experiencing a small taste of what is like not to go to sleep on a full stomach.  May it create a sensitivity inside of us to last the entire year, BE”H!

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