At our Seder meals last week, we
concluded our eating with the afikoman, the matzoh that symbolizes the
paschal lamb of old. Halachah stipulates that no tasty food or drink
should follow the afikoman, so that its flavor should linger in our mouths
for the duration of the night. (Practically speaking, that means the two
minutes it takes most of us to drag ourselves to bed after finishing Chad
Gadya-so much for discussing the Exodus until the morning Shemah!)
"Praise, you servants of Hashem, praise the name of Hashem!" So we sang in one of the psalms of praise that directly precede the drinking of the second cup of wine at the Seder.
The S'fas Emes (p. 109) points out that
the Psalmist, in this verse, is implying something by exclusion: Praise, you
servants of Hashem-and NOT you servants of Pharaoh! For every servant
feels some measure of sorrow at his diminished status, and, therefore, feels
no impulse to give praise except the individual who is a servant of Hashem.
This "servitude" brings a person to simchah (joy), he writes.
Every servant looks for strategies to break free of his master except
the person that serves Hashem; he, on the contrary, seeks out opportunities
to extend his acceptance of the "yoke" of G-d's Kingship. He
rejoices in additional directives; he welcomes more mitzvos.
It sounds very nice, I know, but do we (do I!) really feel such joy in being servants of G-d? King David rejoiced over G-d's Torah and mitzvos as if he had discovered much silver and precious gold, he tells us all through the Book of Psalms (see Chapter 19 and Chapter 119, for example). Myself? I like mitzvos, sure, but I rejoice over my morning coffee-and to claim that I do so primarily because it gives me the strength to learn Torah and do mitzvos may duly impress my readers, but is, frankly, a bit short of the truth.
And, yet, that is the goal. To
serve G-d with joy, to rejoice in the Torah and mitzvos (and not just after
a few shots on Simchas Torah). This itself is service, of course, and
requires a lifetime of dedicated effort. Where can we start?
Why rejoice? Because the laws of the Torah enable us to live, to bring true and lasting meaning into our earthly existence by enabling us to connect with the Source of all life. They also, Rashi reminds us in his comments on this verse, give us eternal life in the world beyond this one. Caffeine-great as it is-can't quite match that.
Second, why not bring to mind the taste
of that afikoman (with which we started), and the pleasant memories I'm sure
we all have-in one form or another-of the just departed holiday. Every
Jewish holiday is called a "yom tov," a good day! How kind
of Hashem to give us such magnificent "goo days" throughout
our calendar year and, best of all, there's one each week (Shabbos) that is
the holiest and, perhaps, most delightful of them all. For weary
work-obsessed souls like us, it's a blessing and true cause to rejoice.
"[The festival days, including
Shabbos] are all reviving waters for the soul, cleansing away unseemly dust
that covered those removed from G-d and returning the soul to the source of
all joy and true life, to bathe the soul in the fountain of Divine nearness.
And now, with this nearness to G-d, the sanctification and bliss of all
manner of life on earth will be renewed and refreshed."
DON'T MISS THE RETURN OF THE LIFE CYCYLE SERIES: RABBI YOSEF EDELSTEIN WILL LECTURE ON MAY 9TH, AT 7:30 AT THE J.E.A., ON "THE SIGHTS AND SYMBOLS OF THE JEWISH WEDDING."
Edelstein is Director
of the the Savannah Kollel and the
Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP).
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