[Ed. Note] Out of the respect and recognition of the impact made by longtime BJL friend and contributor, Reb Shaya Gross, z’l, we will maintain a living memoriam to Shaya through the sweet words and thoughtful insights of his Divrei Torah. BJL readers will remember his weekly column on the Parsha and on various Torah ideas and concepts. These meaningful words will help us remember this special young man who will be sorely missed and for those who did not merit to know him, this will be the most appropriate way for them to become familiar with who he was.
Dvar Torah I
There is a Tefilla that bothered me for a long time. Here are the words translated into English: 'For forty years I was angry with the generation and I said they are an errant hearted people and they do not know my ways,therefore I have sworn in My wrath that they shall not enter My land of contentment'. These are the words that Hashem said to Klal Yisroel after they sinned many times in the Midbar with the 'breaking point' being the sin of the Meraglim. When would one imagine these words should be recited?
Probably the first time that would come to mind would be Tisha B'av, when we are on the floor fasting and crying. But no, we say these words every Friday night, minutes before we usher in the Shabbos queen! At the onset of the happiest and holiest day of the week we mention one of the worst sins in the history of Klal Yisroel!
What is the explanation???
Here is the explanation I came up with.
A number of the Seforim discuss that Shabbos is related to Teshuva. The root of the word Shabbos is Shav, the same root of the word Teshuva: “return”. The six days of the hectic work week can get a person distracted from where he is holding in Avodas Hashem. Shabbos allows us to relax from the tension of the week, contemplate where we are in our Avodas Hashem, and figure out what new strategies we can implement to help us make the next week a more spiritual one.
Hence I suggest that we specifically mention the worst sin in our history at the beginning of Shabbos to teach us that even for the most terrible of sins there is always room for Teshuva. And specifically now on Shabbos, we can tap into the essence of the day: doing Teshuva!
Pesach is referred to in the Torah as Shabbos, hence I believe it has this special ability for Teshuva as well. In fact one of the themes of Pesach is that we 'start with shame and end with praise'. No matter what one’s background or past is, there is always the opportunity and place for Teshuva.
May we all be able to implement change for the better during this shabbos-like Yom Tov. May we thus merit during this 'Zeman Chayrusaynu' to true freedom from our bad habits that bog us down, and to be able to regenerate and invigorate our special relationship with our Creator.
Dvar Torah II
The Seforim tell us that Pesach corresponds to Avraham Avinu. What is the connection between Avraham's outstanding performance of the mida of Chesed and Klal Yisroel on Pesach?
Below is a Dvar Torah I have sent out in the past but is very appropriate for Pesach and answers this question.
The Pasuk uses the term 'vichamushim' to describe Bnei Yisroel when they left Egypt. There are a number of explanations for what 'vichamushim' means.
 It means that only one fifth of Klal Yisroel left Egypt. Four fifths of Klal Yisroel were killed during the plague of darkness, as they weren't fitting to be redeemed.
 A second explanation for 'vichamushim' is that the Jews were armed with Mitzvos. A question on this explanation is that the Pasuk tells us that on the very last day before they left, they were 'empty' of Mitzvas. So what Mitzva did they have now when they left???
 Targum Yonasan says 'vichamushim' means each family had '5 tafla'. Tafla means children, so the simple understanding of the Targum is that each family had five kids. A glaring question on this explanation is that from EACH pregnancy the women had [at least] SIX kids. So what then does the Targum mean that they only had FIVE TAFLA??
The Baeir Yosef provides us with a beautiful approach that answers all these questions and ties all three explanations together. He explains that the four fifths of Klal Yisroel who died, were only the Jews twenty or older who were of age to be punished in the heavenly court. Their kids were certainly not deserving of punishment and were therefore not killed. Thus there were many orphans who had no parents. The Baeir Yosef suggests that the remaining one fifth of Klal Yisroel adopted all the orphaned kids! That is what the Targum means when he says 5 'Tafla', i.e. five FAMILIES of kids. That besides their own kids, each family adopted four other families so that all the kids of the four fifths of Klal Yisroel who died would have surrogate parents! That was the big Mitzva that they were armed with when they left Egypt!
According to this approach we see that the Jews at the time of the leaving Egypt on Pesach really did emulate Avraham's Mida of Chesed. Keep in mind that they had no provisions for their own families let alone for the hundreds [according to some calculations] of orphaned children they were adopting! So it was truly a magnanimous act of Chesed.
Now as Pesach is approaching how can we emulate this noble Mida of Chesed of our ancestors?
We all know that throughout the recent generations there have been many Jews who have chosen other paths and have not remained committed to Yiddishkeit. They have produced many 'orphans', kids and even grownups, who don't know anything about the beauty and depth of Yiddishkeit and what our purpose in life is. There are a number of organizations and special people out there to help fix this sad trend. All of the Gedolei Yisroel laud their work and encourage and ask all of us to do our share in this holy Mitzva. We can all support these organizations [each person according to his/hers financial situation] AND do our share in bringing these 'orphans' close to Yiddishkeit by inviting them to our Shabbos & Yom Tov meals, talking & acting respectably in the workplace etc.
In the merit of this crucial Mitzva which parallels the Mitzva that Klal Yisroel performed when they left the exile of Egypt, may we merit soon the final redemption speedily in our days!
Dvar Torah III
Parshas Mishpatim enumerates many laws relating to the daily life of all Yidden. Why after the super high at Mount Sinai, in the previous Parsha, where Hashem revealed himself to all of us in an otherworldly way, are we now 'brought back down' to the regular mundane life? What is the connection between these two Parshiyos?
Rav Shraga Simmons answers, 'actually they [the 2 Parshiyos] are two sides of the same coin. The spiritual high of Sinai is gratifying, but it doesn't solve the problem of the world in which we live.
Spirituality is not achieved by meditating alone on a mountaintop or by learning in an out-of-the-way monastery. Jewish spirituality comes through grappling with the mundane world in a way that uplifts and elevates it.'
Hence we need to learn and practice the halachos of everyday life in order to truly elevate everything we do as we interact in the 'real' world.
What then was the purpose of the super high revelation at Mount Sinai?
The answer is that we all need a powerful spiritual experience to get ourselves going. It gives us the knowledge and conviction that we are on the right path doing what Hashem wants us to do. The Rambam likens it to one trudging along in a dark and rainy storm, lost, not sure where to go and what to do. Then there is a flash of lightning-it doesn't last long and doesn't come often-but it illuminates the path on which he is traveling, showing him where to go. That was the purpose of the revelation at Mount Sinai. And now once we have witnessed that 'illuminating light' we must channel its inspiration into our daily lives trying to elevate all the 'mundane' things we do.
We find this theme on Pesach as well.
Why do we call the second phase of the Seder, URchatz, which literally means 'AND washing', instead of just Rachtza [washing]?? Obviously the Author of the Hagada is teaching us that this washing right after Kadeish is very much connected to Kadeish. How so? We start off the night and the entire special Yom Tov of Pesach by sanctifying it with the Kiddush blessings over wine. This gives us the opportunity to tap into the very special holiness of Pesach and the ability to feel truly awesome and holy. To keep that holy atmosphere going we must immediately afterwards continue to be exacting in our observance of halacha. Hence it's called AND washing, to teach us that this halachik technicality is very much connected to the Kadeish that was right before it!
[The above Dvar Torah I heard from Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb but I don't remember the source he was quoting.]
Let us all try to work on learning and practicing Halacha, even when we don't always feel Hashem's presence, and thus truly elevate our daily lives. May we then merit soon the final redemption where the awesomeness and holiness of Hashem and his Torah will be revealed and felt for all eternity.
Dvar Torah IV
I heard a nice vort from Rabbi Frand in the meaning of the song we sing at the end of the Seder. 'Echad mee yodayah, Shinayim mee yodayah'.... If one were to say 9/11 one would immediately associate that with September 11th, 2001 the day the twin towers were destroyed. If one were to say the date of your birthday you would immediately say 'that's my birthday'. The same is true with your street address, phone number, and any other number that has much significance to you.
Hence the explanation in this song is that after such an uplifting holy night of Kadeish, four kosos, Magid, Seudas Yom Tov, Hallel...., we should hopefully be on the level to immediately associate the regular numbers with spiritual topics & ideas. What does the number one mean to me? The only thing I associate with one is the Ribono Shel Olam. The only thing I associate the number two with is the luchos. The only thing I associate three with is the Avos....!
Dvar Torah V
The Torah calls this upcoming special Yom Tov, 'Chag Hamatzos', whereas we call it 'Pesach'.
Why the difference in language?
Rav Levi Yitzchok from Berditchev explains that we know that Matza symbolizes the fact that we were in a rush to leave Mitzrayim without waiting to let the dough rise and with no other provisions we followed Hashem into the Midbar, trusting that he would provide for us. So Hashem in the Torah lovingly refers to this Yom Tov as 'Chag Hamatzos' praising us for what WE did. Whereas 'Pesach' represents that Hashem was pasach/passed over the houses of our ancestors in Mitzrayim. So we refer to this Yom Tov as Pesach; lovingly praising and thanking Hashem for what HE did for us!
Wishing everyone a Chag Kosher Visameiach!