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(For the dates of each holiday this year we provide a Hebrew annual calendar for reference.)
Choose from the following holidays:
|Sukkos (Feast of Tabernacles)
|Yud-tes Kislev (19th of Kislev)
|Shavuos (Jewish Pentecost)
1-2 Tishrei (2 days)
Rosh Hashanah, observed on the first and second of Tishrei, is a celebration of the Hebrew New Year. It begins the "Days of Awe," the Jewish high holidays throughout the month of Tishrei.
The holiday of Rosh Hashanah is significant to all humanity because it is the anniversary of the sixth day of creation, on which G-d made the first human beings. Everything had been made ready. The sky, the land, the seas, all the vegetable and animal life—the world in its entirety was prepared for the arrival of mankind. Once the first humans had been created, all of creation could now relate to G-d in a profound way. The universe was finally ready for the fulfillment of its true purpose.
As soon as Adam was created, his first act was to proclaim G-d as the King of the Universe. But this was not enough—he also called upon all of G-d's creatures to worship G-d. This illustrates to us both the foundation of our relationship with G-d and the central focus of Rosh Hashanah: our acceptance of the Almighty as the King of the universe and submission to His total authority.
Hasidus (Torah mysticism) teaches us that there are three dimensions to our relationship with G-d. First and foremost is our acceptance of G-d's total sovereignty over all of Creation, acknowledging Him as Master and obeying His divine will. This is the deepest, most absolute level of our connection to G-d. At a somewhat more superficial level is teshuvah, the regret for our previous sinful conduct brought about by a strong desire to return to G-d. Finally, the most external level of connection to G-d is the bond established through our observance of the mitzvos (commandments). Our performance of these good deeds connects our thoughts, speech, and actions with G-d. Nevertheless, it is the most superficial aspect of our relationship with G-d, since it is dependent on our actions. Therefore, only once we have acknowledged G-d as our King are teshuvah and observance of the mitzvos possible.
Rosh Hashanah is a time for us to develop all three of these components of our relationship with the Almighty. It is a time to focus on G-d's sovereignty, repent for our past failings, and recommit ourselves to His service. As the only creatures with free will, we have the unique ability to choose whether or not we worship and serve G-d. When we make this conscious decision to submit to His will, we establish His sovereignty over all Creation. This is the basis of our relationship with G-d and the foundation of our observance of all the commandments.
Rosh Hashanah is called the "Day of Judgment." G-d weighs our good and bad deeds of the previous year against each other, deciding our potential blessings for the next year. For this reason, Rosh Hashanah is a time for us to seriously consider our actions, taking this opportunity to repent for past sins and recommit ourselves to G-d's service. Our teshuvah and prayers of worship and supplication cause our names to be written in the "Book of Life," bringing G-d's mercy and blessings for the year to come.
As with all the holidays, the Jewish commandments and traditions for Rosh Hashanah reflect its meaning and significance. Every Jew is commanded to hear the blowing of the Shofar, an ancient musical instrument crafted from a ram's horn. The various sounds played with the Shofar carry a profound significance. They proclaim the coronation of G-d as the King of the universe. They alert listeners to the Day of Judgment. They are a rousing call to repentance, invoking the humility, sense of awe, and inspiration that are necessary for a complete return and commitment to G-d's service.
The special Torah readings of Rosh Hashanah also connect to the significance of the day. On the first day, the story of the birth of Isaac is read in the synagogue. These verses demonstrate G-d's Divine Providence and Omnipotence through Sarah's mothering her first child at the age of ninety; teach the importance of a proper upbringing through Sarah's removal of Ishmael's bad influence on Isaac; and explain Abraham's rise in importance, as the king of the Philistines personally visited him to establish a peace agreement. The second day's reading is of the binding of Isaac, which illustrates Abraham's total submission to G-d with everything in his life. All of these teachings directly relate to the significance and observance of Rosh Hashanah.
Also central to the observance of this high holiday is a focus on solemn and fervent prayer. Remorseful for our shortcomings of the past year, we turn to G-d in supplication for His mercy, ardently petitioning His forgiveness and future blessings. We convey our souls' true needs, both spiritual and material. Through this expression of our renewed commitment to the L-rd and of our genuine necessities, we communicate our desire to serve Him and to fulfill our purpose for existence—preparing the world as a comfortable home for G-d.
The birth of mankind was the pinnacle of the creation of the universe. With the formation of Adam from the dust of the ground and the life-giving "breath" of G-d (Genesis 2:7), He established the vehicle for the revelation of His magnificence in the physical universe. When we acknowledge the Almighty as L-rd and Master over our lives, repenting of our sins and renewing our commitment to His divine will, we work to achieve this purpose. We unite as a people to achieve the ultimate unity of ourselves—and the rest of Creation—with G-d. We thereby tap into our inner G-dly potential, becoming partners with Him in completing the Creation.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, our thoughts and activities must focus on our relationship with G-d and our commitment to fulfilling our divine mission. We thereby work in unison to fulfill our inner potential by refining this world into a receptacle for G-dliness. In return we receive G-d's beneficence in the form of blessings, with their ultimate culmination in the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah). We will then have achieved the long-awaited Redemption—both personal and collective, spiritual and physical—the ultimate reward for our persistent and dedicated efforts.
Rosh Hashanah encompasses two days (sundown to sundown), the first and second of Tishrei. Although the various commandments and customs particular to its observance are only incumbent on the Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah is of universal significance. Hasidic gentiles are strongly encouraged to take part in certain important aspects of its observance.
It is recommended that Hasidic gentiles have a special meal on the first evening of Rosh Hashanah. Traditional Jewish foods for Rosh Hashanah are certainly available if so desired. These include challah (sweet bread) and apples dipped in honey, the head of a fish or lamb, pomegranates, and carrots. These traditional foods symbolize sweetness and abundance.
The focus of this holiday is on repentance and prayer. We appraise ourselves, evaluating our previous shortcomings, and turn to G-d for forgiveness. Through our heartfelt and earnest prayers we acknowledge G-d as King over every part of our lives and entreat his blessings to satisfy our genuine needs. We commit ourselves to faithful service during the new year.
As already explained, the special Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah teach important principles related to this holiday. While Hasidic gentiles may hear the readings in an Orthodox synagogue, where they are recited in Hebrew in a singing voice, those who do not know Hebrew certainly have the option of reading the passages in English on their own. They are found in Genesis 20–22.
In addition to the Torah readings, there are other Jewish activities for Rosh Hashanah that may be of interest to a Hasidic gentile, such as listening to the sounding of the Shofar. One only need contact his local Orthodox synagogue for their schedule of Rosh Hashanah activities.
May our renewed commitment to G-d's service this Rosh Hashanah tip the heavenly scales in our favor and bring the Messianic Redemption immediately!
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15-21 Tishrei (7 days)
Lasting for the seven days from 15 to 21 Tishrei, Sukkos is a joyous and festive occasion following the solemn holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Although it is a universal holiday, it applies differently to Jews and gentiles.
Often called the "Festival of Booths," Sukkos is unusual in that it does not commemorate any specific event in Jewish history. Nevertheless, G-d commands its observance in several places throughout the Torah. Various passages in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) describe the specific commandments, which the Oral Torah explains in further detail.
During these seven days Jewish men are required—and the women often volunteer—to live in sukkos, flimsily built booths with walls of wooden planks and a "roof" of rafters and loosely strewn palm branches. These unpleasant accommodations can be made even less comfortable by the autumn weather, which in many areas is rapidly deteriorating as winter approaches. The Jews therefore demonstrate that they do this mitzvah (commandment) entirely because it is commanded by G-d and not for any personal pleasure.
Dwelling in sukkos reminds the Jewish people of the forty years that they spent wandering in the Sinai desert before entering the Holy Land. During this time they lived in booths very much like these and survived only by the miraculous providence of G-d, as bread fell from the heavens and the "Clouds of Glory" surrounded them. G-d's sustaining force was dramatically evident, as they were completely dependent upon Him for survival.
One can often be tempted to think that his own efforts sustain him and that he is the master of his own destiny. However, leaving the stability of one's home to dwell in the poorly built structure of the sukkah reminds each Jew of the time in the Sinai desert when G-d explicitly and miraculously demonstrated that His hand is what sustains and provides for everyone out of His infinite goodness and mercy. It develops a sense of awareness that everything he has could be taken away just as easily as it was given to him— that materiality is not as stable as it may seem.
For this reason, Sukkos is a time of gratitude to G-d for everything we have, no matter how much or how little. Since it coincides with the fall harvest, when the produce of the fields is gathered, it is especially important at Sukkos to recognize that everything comes from G-d and to be thankful for His sustenance. We rejoice because we know that G-d will provide us with everything that we need for His service.
At Rosh Hashanah we are judged for our actions during the previous year. G-d gives us blessings in accordance with our behavior. It is through our rejoicing and exuberant gratitude at Sukkos that we create a receptacle for the blessings, allowing them to enter this world and connecting us with His beneficence.
Another Jewish commandment associated with Sukkos is the "Mitzvah of the Four Kinds." The Jews hold together branches from a date palm, willow, and myrtle, along with an esrog (citron fruit). As they shake the branches and fruit in all six directions during prayer, symbolizing the fact that G-d is everywhere, they connect with the unity and harmony of the universe.
When the Holy Temple existed in Jerusalem, the Jews offered seventy sacrifices during the Sukkos week. These burnt offerings were given on behalf of the seventy gentile nations of the world, who had originated from the dispersal at the Tower of Babel. The nations had fallen into idolatry and forsaken the one true G-d, so in order for the sacrifices of the nations to be given at the Temple during Sukkos, the Jews had to make the offerings themselves. Ever since the destruction of the Temple, the Jews have no longer been able to do this; instead, they read the portion of the Tanakh that describes the sacrificial offerings.
Nevertheless, the Tanakh explains that this is only a temporary situation. Zechariah (Chapter 14) prophesied the war to end all wars, a worldwide conflict involving the Land of Israel. The war ends as Moshiach (the Messiah) leads G-d's people to victory. Although this war does not necessarily have to occur—since it is dependent on our actions—what is certain is that at this time the entire world will recognize that the G-d of Israel is the true G-d, and will abandon all of their false religions.
Zechariah continues by explaining that once the Temple is reconstructed, the nations of the world will begin to fulfill their responsibility of observing Sukkos every year by offering the seventy sacrifices. No longer will it be necessary for the Jews to stand in their place. G-d will also make it a commandment for everyone, Jews and gentiles alike, to dwell in Sukkos during this time. This will serve as a test for us to prove our desire to serve Him.
Although our blessings for the year were determined at Rosh Hashanah, it is up to us to draw down these blessings and make them a reality. We can do this by observing Sukkos in the proper way, showing our humility and thankfulness to G-d for everything with which He has provided us. When enough of us are observing the holiday of Sukkos, we will demonstrate our readiness to take the Jews' place in offering the sacrifices of the nations. It is therefore through Sukkos observance that we connect to the Holy Temple and merit its rebuilding with the coming of Moshiach—the ultimate blessing for our actions.
While the Temple is not currently in Jerusalem, we can fulfill our obligation of sacrifices by offering prayers instead. These prayers should be given in humble praise of G-d, as well as rejoicing and gratitude for His sustenance of our lives. JAHG-USA has adopted the practice of reciting the following Psalms as a "Hasidic gentile hallel": 47, 67, 96, 98, 117, 148. These Psalms should be recited in addition to any Psalms or other prayers that a Hasidic gentile already recites each morning. We can also connect to Sukkos all year long through our prayers, thanking G-d for His providence. This is especially important after meals.
As part of the celebration of Sukkos, Hasidic gentiles are encouraged to eat special meals throughout the week. By eating these meals especially for Sukkos, we honor G-d through our attitude of joy and thankfulness. This festivity draws down a great blessing from the Heavens.
Once Moshiach is revealed and ushers in worldwide Redemption, we too will dwell in the Sukkos and will offer sacrifices at the Temple. At that time we will be able to fulfill our complete connection with Sukkos, drawing ourselves and the world around us closer to our Creator. May this occur without delay.
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The Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad hasidic movement in Russia, was imprisoned for several weeks in 1798 for the publication of his book, the Tanya, the "Bible" of hasidus (Jewish mysticism). He was fated for a death sentence, but after official interrogation was miraculously released on this date. The Russian authorities, who had suspected his book of being an incitement to revolution against the Czar, had a sudden change of mind and even encouraged him to disseminate the Tanya widely!
The 19th of Kislev is therefore known as the "Rosh Hashana" (new year) for the hasidic movement. It represents the testing and vindication, both in the heavens and in earthly courts, of the Alter Rebbe's efforts to spread the teachings of hasidus in preparation for the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah).
The Alter Rebbe, in his first letter written upon release from prison (even before seeing his family), made special mention of the notable fact that the gentiles in the Russian government were profoundly influenced by his sudden deliverance; that is, they clearly recognized that his release was a miracle from Hashem, the G-d of the Jewish people. The Alter Rebbe considered it particularly important that the non-Jews were therefore able to see the hand of G-d working actively in our physical world something Christianity fundamentally fails to understand (which is the reason Christians believe in having a "mediator" between G-d and man).
Why was this so important to the hasidic movement? Because the 19th of Kislev has a direct connection to the arrival of Moshiach. As the Ba'al Shem Tov (founder of the hasidic movement as a whole in 1734) learned in a prophetic vision, Moshiach is destined to come once the teachings of hasidus have spread throughout the world; the Alter Rebbe's release signified the elimination of the last barriers to this process, which could henceforth begin in earnest.
As the current Lubavitcher Rebbe (the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad movement) has explained, this connects to the gentiles in that the teachings of hasidus, which should now be revealed to non-Jews as wells as to Jews, will cause the primitive beliefs of Christianity (i.e., the "trinity") to melt away, and gentiles will become observant Hasidic gentiles. This, too, is an important step to bringing Moshiach. For Hasidic gentiles, the 19th of Kislev is therefore a day that connects non-Jews to Chabad, to the Rebbe, and to a strengthened commitment to learning hasidus and spreading its teachings to other non-Jews.
Hasidim get together for farbrengens gatherings with food, special hasidic songs, and shared teachings from the Rebbe concerning this day. Likewise, Hasidic gentiles should meet, have some refreshments, and learn concepts of Hasidus. The Rebbe gave sichos (speeches) each year on the 19th of Kislev, and several times he discussed the connection of Hasidic gentiles to the holiday; these are now available in English translation, and can be studied at the Hasidic gentile meetings.
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Starts 25 Kislev (8 days)
During the era of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Greek rulers became frustrated with Jewish loyalty to G-d's Word and His commandments, and thus began suppressing Jewish observance, forcing Jews to convert to idolatry on pain of death, and defiling the holy Temple with idols. The Makkabee family responded by leading a revolt against their Greek masters. Miraculously, the raggedy band of poorly-armed and -trained Jewish guerrillas defeated the huge, powerful Greek armies in one strategic battle after another, breaking the back of the Greek empire and scattering their forces. After several years, the Jewish warriors achieved a temporary independence for Israel.
During the middle of this war, the Jews recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem. Working quickly, they destroyed the idols and restarted the daily sacrifices in a rededication ceremony ("chanukah" means "dedication"). There was one problem: They had enough oil to burn for only one day in the holy menorah (candelabra), but it would take eight days to send messengers to get more. The key miracle of Hanukah was the fact that this one day's worth of oil actually burned for eight days, until the new oil could be brought in.
The Greeks resented the Jews for obeying G-d's commandments, including those that don't make sense to our human logic. According to the Greeks, a person should first decide what parts of G-d's Word make sense, and then follow only those. This is the same mistake Christians make today; since the Law seems like a "curse" that is impossible to uphold (G-d forbid!) and the rituals seem strange, Christians find it easier to dispense with the whole Law by inventing a "new" testament and "new" covenant. To the extent that Christians do recognize higher moral laws, they tend to choose those laws based on their own opinions and "logic," rather than following G-d's instructions as given in the oral Torah. Jews and Hasidic gentiles, on the other hand, respond by affirming our dedication to following G-d's Law, whether or not it seems to make sense, and to the oral Torah.
G-d showed the world that the Jewish position was correct by working a miracle that defied logic, and which also vindicated the Jews for their observance of the Law. By performing the "impossible," G-d demonstrated how blind the Greeks had become; their intellect stood in the way of Truth. This is also the reason He made a miracle with lights (to counteract the Greek darkness).
Hanukah is also a time that the Third Temple, which Moshiach will build, is dedicated in its heavenly realms. Thus we help prepare for the physical building of the Temple in the immediate future. This is significant to Hasidic gentiles, because non-Jewish nations did participate in the building of both the first and second Temples, and the Temple is the central place of worship for the entire world.
Jews have two special mitzvos on this holiday: Lighting the Hanukah menorah at night, and reciting the hallel prayer (a particular set of Psalms) during the morning prayer services.
Hasidic gentiles may also light their own Hanukah menorahs (though without reciting the blessings), but this must be done according to the exact halachic rules (consult Hanukah lighting guidelines from an orthodox Jewish source).
Hasidic gentiles may recite extra Psalms in the morning on each of the eight days. JAHG-USA has adopted the practice of reciting the following Psalms as a "Hasidic gentile hallel": 47, 67, 96, 98, 117, 148. These Psalms should be recited in addition to any Psalms or other prayers that a Hasidic gentile already recites each morning.
It is further recommended that Hasidic gentiles have public Chanukah events, including social gatherings and public menorah lightings, to teach other non-Jews the importance of this holiday. Children may receive gifts (preferably small ones, on each of the eight days), and there should be a focus on teaching children during this time. Moreover, it makes an excellent alternative to the pagan, forbidden "holiday" of X-mas.
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The book of Esther relates the origin of the festival of Purim. After the destruction of the First Temple, the Jewish people had been exiled and dispersed widely throughout the lands. The Jews in Persia lived under the rule of King Ahasueras. When Ahasueras banished his wife Vashti for refusing to appear at an extravagant banquet, he went about selecting the new queen. He chose Esther, a beautiful Jewish woman who had been raised by her cousin Mordecai, a descendant of King Saul. Following Mordecai's advice, Esther did not reveal her Jewish identity.
King Ahasueras appointed the wicked Haman as his chief advisor. Of all the king's servants, only Mordecai would not bow to Haman. In his rage Haman convinced the king to decree that all the Jewish people in the land be killed. By the casting of lots (purim), Haman chose the day of the massacre to be the 13th of Adar.
The Jews were greatly distressed when they heard of Haman's evil plans. Mordecai, fearing for the fate of his people, convinced Esther to plead with Ahasueras for the lives of the Jews, even though the punishment was death for entering the king's inner court without being summoned. Before going to see the king, Esther fasted for three days while she prepared a brilliant strategy to defeat Haman's plans.
Because of his love for her, Ahasueras spared Esther and granted her request for an exclusive banquet the next day to which Haman would be invited. This bolstered Haman's confidence in his position with the king and Esther, so he built gallows from which he planned to hang Mordecai.
The next day Haman approached King Ahasueras, intending to request his permission to kill Mordecai. Remembering that Mordecai had once thwarted a conspiracy against his life, Ahasueras asked Haman's advice as to how to reward Mordecai. Because of his overconfidence, Haman assumed that the reward was intended for him and suggested that he be given royal treatment fit for the king. Thus Ahasueras gave Mordecai this reward, much to Haman's dismay.
With Mordecai and Esther now both in Ahasueras' favor, the king granted Esther's request at the banquet to spare the lives of the Jews. Once Esther pointed out Haman's wickedness, the king had him hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai and promoted Mordecai to Haman's former position. Furthermore, King Ahasueras gave the Jews the right to defend themselves, which they used to kill their enemies. The redemption of the Jews was completed on the 14th of Adar, the day on which we celebrate Purim.
Purim serves to remind us that things are not always as they appear to be, but may instead be the exact opposite. While Haman seemed to be favored by the king and thought that he was to be greatly honored, the honor was instead given to his enemy Mordecai. In fact, the very gallows that were made by Haman to hang Mordecai were used to kill Haman. Additionally, it had been decreed that the enemies of the Jews would have power over them, but the situation was reversed on the appointed day of their destruction. This concept that things are not always what they seem to be on the surface is reflected in the celebration of Purim itself it is a time of celebration with a hearty feast, drinking and merriment, while its true underlying holiness is less apparent.
The name of G-d is not mentioned even once in the book of Esther. This illustrates the principle of Divine Providence, by which the hand of G-d is concealed in everyday events. What might be attributed to "coincidence" is really G-d's active involvement in the affairs of this world. This explains the salvation of the Jews at Purim, a concealed miracle of G-d. In fact, according to Hasidus (Torah mysticism), this miracle was at such a high spiritual level that it emanated from the very essence of G-d, which cannot be named. This further explains the absence of G-d's name in the book of Esther.
Haman's plot against the Jews was defeated because they remained true to G-d during the year leading up to their appointed day of extermination. Once they became aware of Haman's plans, they did teshuvah (repentance) and strengthened their Torah observance, thereby meriting redemption. Observance of Purim therefore reminds us that when the world does teshuvah, turning to the Torah and doing G-d's will, the Jewish people will be redeemed from golus (exile) and the Messiah will establish G-d's kingdom on earth.
Purim is a joyous, festive occasion with special mitzvos (commandments) for Jews to perform. The day before, they fast and give tzedakah (charity). Both on Purim Eve and Purim, the Megillah (scroll of Esther) is read in the synagogue; when the name of Haman is mentioned, gragers (noisemakers) are used to "blot out the name of Haman." Gifts consisting of at least two ready-to-eat foods are given to friends, tzedakah is given to at least two poor people, and special prayers are said. Finally, there is a festive meal in the afternoon and often celebrations in which children dress up in costumes. Jews are commanded to drink wine until they cannot tell the difference between "blessed be Mordecai" and "cursed be Haman."
Hasidic gentiles are encouraged to participate in the festivities of Purim. While they do not recite the special prayers, it is recommended that Hasidic gentiles listen to the Megillah reading, send the gifts of food, give tzedakah to the needy, and eat the special meal. Above all, Purim should be seen as an opportunity to remember G-d's continual involvement in the affairs of this world and the Messianic Redemption that will occur when the world turns to serve Him.
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15-22 Nissan (8 days)
The holiday of Pesach (Passover) is celebrated for eight days, from 15 to 22 Nissan. It commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, where they had been slaves under the rule of Pharaoh.
The account of the events of the exodus is related in the Haggadah. Although originally holding a status of honor under the rule of Joseph, the Israelites became enslaved under the new Pharaoh, who was concerned about the Jews' success in numbers and accomplishments. Pharaoh persecuted the Jewish people and decreed that the Hebrew baby boys be drowned in the Nile River at birth.
The baby Moses was spared this decree by decisive actions of his mother, who placed him in a basket and floated him on the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter found him and raised him from childhood in the courts of Pharaoh. This placed him in the unique position of closeness to Pharaoh so that he could intercede on the Israelites' behalf.
After ten terrible, miraculous plagues against Egypt, only when the first- born of Egypt were killed did Pharaoh finally agree to set the Jewish people free from bondage. In order to transform the Israelites away from their slavery mentality, G-d commanded that they make a sacrificial offering of the lamb, an Egyptian god. By doing so, the Jews demonstrated that they were ready for freedom through choosing G-d's commandments over slavery to external and internal forces. The Jews then sprinkled the lambs' blood on their doorposts so that the "angel of death" would pass over their houses (hence the name "Passover").
When Pharaoh finally relented, the Jews hastily departed from Egypt, rushing out without even having the time to allow their bread dough to rise. Once the Israelites had reached the Red Sea and saw the armies of Pharaoh approaching, several of them advanced into the sea, bringing on the miracle of its parting. While the waters of the sea permitted the Jewish liberation, they crashed down upon Pharaoh and his armies, destroying them all.
The Attainment of Freedom
The essence of Pesach involves the achievement of both physical (external) and spiritual (internal) freedom. The two are related to the point that one cannot exist without the other. Once the Jewish people attained physical liberation from Egypt through G-d's merciful intervention, they were now able to attain spiritual freedom through receiving the Torah, their own internal refinement, and the observance of G-d's commandments. Only by recognizing the value of human life and by transcending our individual limits can we obtain such true spiritual liberation. More than just the absence of physical oppression, true freedom is an internal quality that arises from one's free will to choose good over evil. The Israelites chose to embrace the commandments of G-d as a free people, thereby connecting to something much higher than themselves.
The Jewish exodus therefore involved both the release of the Jewish people from slavery and their becoming a free, independent people by accepting the Torah and obeying G-d's Law. Before the exodus, G-d had told Moses: "When you will take the nation out of Egypt, they shall serve G-d upon this mountain [of Sinai]." Therefore, receiving the Torah from G-d was the purpose of the exodus and the initiation of the Jewish mission to observe the Commandments.
Pesach must be seen as not only a celebration of history, but also of great relevance to us today. The Rambam (Maimonides) stated that "An individual is obligated to conduct himself as if he himself had just gone out of Egypt... as if you yourself were enslaved, and you went out to freedom and were redeemed." This means that each one of us should conduct himself on Pesach as if he himself had gone through the exodus and become a spiritually free man. The way we live our lives daily must be such as if we ourselves have escaped exile in Egypt.
But how are we slaves today? Do we not live in a free society, spared from the whims of an arbitrary, corrupt dictator?
The concept of slavery reaches much deeper than one's external circumstances. A person may be enslaved by a dictator or by the society as a whole, but often more relevant to us today is a slavery to one's own passions, habits, intellect or reason. Each of us lives in our own personal Egypt, our own evil inclinations that bind us and limit our ability to be able to connect with the Divine. This evil inclination, or yetzer hara, maintains us in a state of spiritual darkness, separated from G-d's divine, life-sustaining energy. We can attain freedom from this enslavement only through elevating ourselves out of our current limitations, by learning Torah and doing the mitzvos in the service of G-d. Only then can we truly connect with the Torah rather than viewing it as external to ourselves; only then can we realize our true, G-dly selves.
Once we liberate ourselves from our own personal "Egypts," will we be capable of liberation at the level of society as a whole. The collective efforts of all Jews and Hasidic gentiles in unison will bring about the end to slavery worldwide and the transformation of the Creation, as we are to be partners with G-d in its completion.
The Jewish Mitzvos of Chametz and Matzah
Chametz is one of five grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt) that has come into contact with water for longer than eighteen minutes and has had a chance to ferment. Because chametz rises, it is spiritually related to pride and indulgence. It is therefore compared to the yetzer hara (evil inclination).
In order to rid oneself of the arrogance of chametz, Jewish preparation for Pesach involves ensuring that there is no chametz in the house, which involves a thorough search and cleaning. This removal of the chametz symbolizes one's choice to be free of the yetzer hara and the slavery that its false pride brings.
The removal of chametz is commanded to the Jews in Exodus 12:19–20: "[For] seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses... You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall you eat unleavened bread."
Instead of chametz, Jews must only eat matzah (unleavened or "impoverished" bread) at Pesach. Matzah, which is nearly tasteless, as such is related to the redemption of the Israelites from the spiritual impoverishment of Egypt. Since the dough of matzah is not allowed to rise, matzah symbolizes one's riddance of slavery to the arrogance and selfishness of chametz. It was the only bread that the Jews were able to eat at the exodus, since there was not enough time for the dough to rise. Performance of this mitzvah assists the Jew in overcoming his own worldly inclinations and attaining true spiritual freedom.
The Seder is the special meal eaten by Jews over the Pesach holiday. Along with the meal, it is a mitzvah to eat matzah and drink wine.
The matzah is a symbol of the spiritual impoverishment that one must overcome to attain true freedom.
Wine, which is enjoyable and pleasing to taste, is a remembrance of the freedom from slavery that the Jews achieved through their own service to G-d.
Therefore, the matzah and wine together represent the exodus from slavery and attainment of spiritual freedom for which Pesach is celebrated.
To partake of the Seder is to remember the Jewish exodus and to relate it to our own lives. One must commit himself to live by G-d's standards, the Torah, and thereby free ourselves from our own personal bondage. As each of us does this on a personal level, so will we attain the collective redemption of our nations and bring holiness into this world.
A Lesson Regarding Children
It is especially important that children be taught the significance of Pesach. It is our responsibility to raise our children in the service of G-d, which can only be accomplished through a proper Torah education.
Pesach is specially related to children in that as a part of his oppression of the Israelites, Pharaoh had ordered that all Jewish sons be drowned in the Nile River. The Nile, which was an Egyptian god, is seen as a symbol for wealth and prosperity. Therefore, to drown a child in the Nile represents his immersion in the materialistic, G-dless society of Egypt, leading to a spiritual "drowning."
The modern-day lesson to be gained is that rather than teaching our children to live for the ancient Egyptian ideals of wealth, prosperity and power, we must educate our children as faithful servants of G-d, observing the mitzvos and focusing on the spiritual refinement of ourselves and the world around us.
The Jewish children of that time had gained a special spiritual sensitivity due to their having been saved from death by the self-sacrifice of their mothers, who had born them in danger and hidden them from the Egyptians despite Pharaoh's decree. Since these children had lived due to G-d's protection and care in their time of danger, they were especially sensitive to the presence of G-d and inclined to obey His Commandments.
It is our responsibility to raise our children with this same sensitivity, with the spiritual refinement necessary for hastening the realization of the Messianic Redemption.
Awaiting and Bringing Moshiach
The Israelites had lived under Egyptian bondage for so long that they had acquired the psychology of slaves. When given the opportunity to become free, many of them would rather have chosen to remain in slavery because of this mentality. A similar situation exists today, where many Jews and Hasidic gentiles have lost sight of our mission to bring Moshiach and the Redemption because of our persistence in the slavery mentality brought on by the spiritual darkness present in the world.
However, the Jews are commanded to await the coming of Moshiach. On the eighth day of Pesach the Jews eat the feast of Moshiach (the Seudah). This was a custom instituted by the Baal Shem Tov, the righteous Hasidic leader who recognized that we are approaching the time of Moshiach. The purpose of this meal is to bring close in one's mind the Redemption, remembering that we must await with urgency the coming of Moshiach and live in such a way as to hasten his arrival.
We must at every moment be thinking and acting in such a way as if Moshiach were already here. In other words, we cannot wait for a miracle from Above to free us from our present darkness—this we must do ourselves. This involves an immediate commitment to doing much more than just observance of the Seven Noahide Laws. We must find and take advantage of every possible opportunity to bring kindness and holiness into the world around us. When we act as if Moshiach were already here, as if we are already in the time of Redemption, then and only then will we make the Redemption a reality.
Pesach is the ideal time to begin the process of our spiritual liberation and refinement, as did the Jews upon their exodus from Egypt. By spiritually attaching ourselves to the Jewish people and recognizing the modern relevance of Pesach in our own lives, we will free ourselves from the bondage of our bad habits, our personal Egypts, and our golus as a collective people. We must have an urgent sense of responsibility to choose spiritual liberation through adherence to G-d's commandments, which will transform our own lives and the world around us. Our personal Redemption must lead to a collective Redemption of society through our selfless commitment to hastening the revelation of Moshiach and establishing G-d's kingdom on earth.
At Pesach we are to relive the redemption of the Jews from Egyptian bondage, while making such redemption a reality within our own lives and society as a whole.
The Need for Pesach
Within the successive months of Nisan, Iyar and Sivan, there is a sequence of Jewish holidays and traditions that have great bearing on the nature of our own service of G-d. After Pesach (which lasts eight days), there are seven weeks (49 days) of Sefiras HaOmer followed by the holiday of Shavuos.
Pesach, the first stage in the sequence, represents the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. This could not be accomplished based on the Jews' own merit, since they had sunk very deeply into spiritual darkness. Only G-d in His infinite benevolence could liberate the Jews through His Divine intervention.
Sefiras HaOmer, the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuos, are a time of systematic spiritual growth. There are 49 emotive G-dly attributes, since each of the seven middos (emotional sefiros) is contained within each of the seven. On each of the 49 days until Shavuos, a specific emotive attribute is singled out for refinement. Therefore, by the completion of all 49 days of Sefiras HaOmer, all emotive aspects of one's soul have been refined. This refinement was necessary for the Jewish people once they had left Egypt because they had to be spiritually ready to accept the Torah. However, the extent to which each of us can attain this refinement is limited to our own perception of Divinity, because it is the result of our own actions and perspectives.
Shavuos commemorates the revelation of Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. This was a revelation of Divinity that transcends all limitations, because it is a revelation of G-dliness itself, not subject to human influence or control.
The sequence of these three events illustrates the steps necessary for one to experience his own liberation and pursuit of G-dliness. First one must go through Pesach (abandonment of slavery and its evil), and then through Sefiras HaOmer (systematic spiritual refinement), so that he is finally ready for Shavuos (the revelation of the Divine Presence as he brings holiness into the world through observance of the mitzvos). Once we have collectively gone through these three steps of refinement of the Creation, the world will be prepared for the revelation of Moshiach.
Jewish observance of Pesach includes various traditions. Before Pesach begins, a Jewish family must search for and remove all chametz from the house. Celebration of Pesach further involves the lighting of Yom Tov Candles, the saying of special blessings, and eating the Seder meal after nightfall (including matzahs and wine). Jews say special morning prayers (such as the Hallel and Musaf), read the Haggadah and study about the miracles of the splitting of the Red Sea. The emphasis is on reliving the exodus throughout the Pesach holiday.
Although Pesach is directly related to the birth of the Jewish nation, there are aspects of Pesach that pertain to all of mankind. Each of us is living in our own personal Egypt, bound to various bad habits and passions resulting from the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Pesach is a time for us to strive to attain personal redemption from our slavery and thereby bring about our spiritual liberation. When we act not only for our own personal liberation but for that of the world, we are also preparing the world for the revelation of Moshiach. Furthermore, there should be a special emphasis on the teaching of children about Pesach and how they should apply its principles in their lives.
Although Hasidic gentiles do not recite the blessings and do not need to abstain from chametz or light candles, there are various practices that we can adopt in order to connect to the Jewish observance of Pesach. In addition to the regular prayers said in the morning, Hasidic gentiles may recite extra Psalms on each of the eight days. JAHG-USA has adopted the practice of reciting the following Psalms as a "Hasidic gentile hallel": 47, 67, 96, 98, 117, 148. These Psalms should be recited in addition to any Psalms or other prayers that a Hasidic gentile already recites each morning.
It is further recommended that Hasidic gentiles participate in Seder dinners when possible, or alternatively they may have their own special dinners in honor of Pesach. Making these dinners as public as possible will have the effect of teaching other non-Jews the importance of this holiday. Hasidic gentiles may read the Haggadah publicly, and there should be a focus on teaching children about the lessons to be learned from Pesach. Moreover, it makes an excellent alternative to the pagan, forbidden "holiday" of Easter.
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6-7 Sivan (2 days)
After the Jewish people departed from Egypt, they headed directly across the desert for Mount Sinai. Their travel lasted fifty days, during which they spiritually refined themselves and prepared themselves to receive G-d's Torah. The period of forty-nine days of emotional self-refinement between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuos is now known as Sefiras HaOmer, or the Counting of the Omer.
On the fiftieth day—6 Sivan—amidst spectacular thunder, lightning, and great miracles, G-d gave the Torah to the 3 million Jewish people. This was the only time in history that He revealed Himself to a large number of people.
Shavuos, considered to be the most important holiday, is a celebration of this giving of Torah at Sinai. The Torah gives two sets of instructions as to when to celebrate it. The first is to observe it fifty days after Pesach, relating it to one's efforts to prepare himself as a vessel to receive Torah. The other is to observe it on 6 Sivan, which is a mandate from within Torah itself relating to G-d's giving of the Torah. Shavuos therefore defines the relationship between G-d and humanity through Torah, consisting of the Jewish and Noahide covenants.
What is the distinction between giving and receiving Torah? G-d gave the Torah through His mercy, not depending on whether or not we have prepared ourselves to receive it. We receive the Torah when we study it, endeavor to comprehend its wisdom, and apply it to everything we do in our lives. While the Torah was given at a certain time, our receiving of it can and should happen continually and without limitation.
Shavuos completes the process begun with Pesach. Pesach, which celebrates the exodus from Egypt, signifies the acquisition of freedom. Shavuos brings meaning to this freedom by providing the means to live our lives in fulfillment of our Divine purpose: service of G-d through the commandments. Everything we do in all aspects of our lives should be done to serve G-d by observing the commandments with enthusiasm and vitality.
The Torah, while given to the Jewish people and transmitted by them from generation to generation, contains universal truths and guidelines for all mankind. The Hebrew letters of the Ten Commandments have a total numerical value of 620, corresponding to all of the 613 Jewish commandments plus the Seven Noahide Laws. The Noahide Covenant was therefore established anew at Sinai. Hence we must observe the commandments and their specific applications as given at Sinai, not as given in the original covenant with Noah. Because the Noahide Laws are given exclusively in the Oral Torah and not in the written, we see that we must look to the Jewish people—who maintain and teach the oral traditions—for Torah learning and spiritual guidance.
The giving of Torah sparked a fundamental change in the way the universe operates. Until then the effect of performing a mitzvah (commandment) was temporary, with spirituality and physicality separating themselves once again when the mitzvah was completed. However, once Torah was revealed at Sinai, the mitzvos began to have a permanent effect: Spirituality could now be fused with physicality, revealing G-dliness in the physical world and spiritually elevating the physical. Because of this new permanency of the mitzvos, we can fulfill our G-dly mission here in this world by adding our efforts to those of previous generations in helping to reveal G-d through His creation.
Shavuos has a direct connection to the final Redemption. G-d revealed Himself for but a moment at Sinai when He gave the Torah, a foreshadowing of what is to come and remain permanently in the Messianic Era: the Divine presence manifesting itself visibly and permeating all of creation, as the result of our cumulative efforts throughout history in fulfilling the Divine mandate of the Jewish and Noahide Covenants.
A primary emphasis for Shavuos observance is Torah study. One should dedicate himself to studying Torah that day, especially those aspects pertaining to Hasidus, the mystical aspects of the Torah. Studying Hasidus, as revealed through the Tanya of the Alter Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, is important for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Shavuos is also a time to reflect on our spiritual qualities and our observance of the commandments. This self-evaluation is necessary to help prepare us as vessels for Torah understanding and religious observance.
A special festive meal on the eve of Shavuos would be appropriate to help commemorate this event.
Noahides may recite extra Psalms in the morning on each of the eight days. JAHG-USA has adopted the practice of reciting the following Psalms as a "Hasidic gentile hallel": 47, 67, 96, 98, 117, 148. These Psalms should be recited in addition to any Psalms or other prayers that a Noahide already recites each morning.
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