Nisan 17, 5780

Passover: A Festival of Thanksgiving

On this intermediary Shabbat, we pause from the regular Torah readings and turn to Pesach. Right now, we are isolated within our homes and even though we are separated from each other, we are looking forward to the end of this pandemic. It is my desire that we use this time to grow and learn. It is hard to face ourselves during times of silence, and we prefer distractions, but we are being challenged to face the ghosts of our past which can be frightening. Many religious people are saying that the Creator has sent this plague to punish us and that Mashiach is coming soon; to pray that he will save us from this madness and seek to escape instead of learning how to live and deal with the consequences of our own actions. It is easy to blame the Creator for everything that happens to us but remember, He doesn’t punish us; we punish ourselves. We may say that we didn’t cause this virus, that we are innocent and are suffering because of what others did. The Creator is using man’s greed, selfishness to teach us something at this time. He is using this for good, taking us out of our comfort zones. We are learning to be humble and honest with ourselves.

If we believe in the Creator, we understand this term…” bechirah chofshit”, free will. Freedom means that we are responsible. The root of a Hebrew word can paint a thousand pictures. For example, the word charut חָרוּת means “to engrave”; the word cherut חֵרוּת spelled the same way, means freedom and acharayut אַחֲרָיוּת means responsibility. When the Bore Olam “engraves” His Torah upon our hearts, He wants to give us “freedom” but with freedom comes “responsibility”. If you know how to do what is right but do not do it, it is a sin.

The Torah portion this Shabbat is taken from Exodus 34 and in verses 6 & 7 the LORD is speaking to Moshe. In these verses lies a beautiful teaching from our sages called “The 13 Attributes of the Bore Olam”.

ו וַיַּעֲבֹר יְהוָה עַל-פָּנָיו, וַיִּקְרָא, יְהוָה יְהוָה, אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן–אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, וְרַב-חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת.
6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: ‘ LORD – LORD, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;
ז נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָון וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה–פֹּקֵד עֲון אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל- רִבֵּעִים.
7 keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’ visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’

The first and second attribute: 1 יְהוָה 2 יְהוָה YHVH – YHVH LORD – LORD means that He is manifesting Himself in His fullness; He is a personal and majestic God seeking a relationship with his people, not to make us His slaves. The Third: 3 אֵל El, translated as God Almighty, is the One in charge, in control. The Creator allows us to be in charge of our lives because of our free will but it doesn’t mean that we are in control. The Fourth: 4 רַחוּם rachum, God is compassionate especially to those who are poor and needy, down in spirit. The Fifth: 5 חַנּוּן Chanoon, He is generous, giving us far more than we deserve. We are undeserving of His grace. The Sixth: 6 –אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם Erech apayim – long-suffering. He has so much patience with us, slow in anger, always waiting for us to return to Him. The Seventh: 7 ְרַב-חֶסֶד Rav Chesed – abundant goodness; He is so kind to us more than we are to ourselves and toward each other. He is kind to the unrighteous as well as to the righteous or we would all be dead. The Eighth: 8 אֱמֶת Emet- Rabbi Yeshua taught us about truth when he said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. Emet refers to the Creator who sets us free from the slavery of our mind, our ego when we come to truly and intimately know Him. The Ninth: 9 נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים Notzer chesed la’alaphim: He extends His grace and kindness to the thousandth generation meaning eternal. He takes into account the zechut – זכות, the merits of those who have gone before us, our parents, grandparents, teachers, even worthy friends. The Tenth: 10 נֹשֵׂא עָון Nosei Avon: God forgives our iniquities, our unintentional wrongdoing but for intentional ones, He forgives only if we do teshuva and return to Him although the consequences remain. The Eleventh: 11 פֶשַׁע Fesha is rebellion due to our own pride. The only way to reverse this is to acknowledge who we are and ask for help. The Twelfth: 12 חַטָּאָה Chata’at- although translated as sin, a better translation would be “missing the mark”. It means we try to do something right, but it ends up wrong. Again, acknowledgment is the key. The Thirteenth: נַקֵּהNakeh means visit: the full expression is יְנַקֶּה–פֹּקֵד עָון Y’nakeh paked avon: “Visiting the iniquities of”…meaning God will visit us in our time distress and forgive, erase the consequences of our misdeeds when we truly turn back to Him and desire to make things right. Again, He doesn’t punish us; we punish ourselves.

The Torah teaches us clearly that the Creator is the only One who forgives sin. There are no sacrifices that can forgive sin. The only way is to come directly to the Creator in humility acknowledging our shortcomings and be ready to make restitution. Each of us is responsible for our own actions. We cannot put it on someone else. Pesach is a festival of thanksgiving, not for the forgiveness of sins. God delivered Israel not because they were good but in the merits of their fathers. Not one of them asked for forgiveness as we see later with the golden calf. Our Creator constantly asks us to return to Him and Pesach is the perfect time to do that.

Hodu l’Adonai ki tov. Give thanks to YHVH for He is good, His mercy endures forever.
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי-טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ