The list of gedolim in the hospital grows longer each day. The Vizhnitzer is gone. Now R' Scheinberg is gone. What happened in France is just the latest indication of the return of European anti-semitism in its most vile form. Is there any good news to talk about? Our community leaders should be screaming day and night for people to wake up, yet everyone continues somnambulating through the day as usual. Ho hum.
In the "it boggles my mind" category we also have this story: A Jew is refusing to testify against a fellow Jew because he does not want to violate the issur of mesira, so the court is going to hold a hearing to decide whether to hold him in contempt and jail him for as long as 18 months. This is not the place to debate the parameters of mesira -- suffice it to say he certainly has a halachic leg to stand on; he asked a shayla to whomever he asked and got a psak not to testify. What's not to laud about sticking to your "steadfast beliefs" (as the newspaper described it)? It sounds so noble. It must take real mesirus nefesh to risk jail time, to go to court and say to the judge (as quoted in the story), "Because the transgression of mesira is so dire, my mind won’t change until I die.” One small problem: The same guy already served an earlier prison sentence for tax-evasion! Apparently this Yid's "steadfast beliefs" include mesira but not theft. Maybe tax evasion does not rank up there in the "dire" transgression category. I know what some of you are thinking -- there's honor among thieves after all, as the guy won't rat out his friend! Is this the nobility that the Torah has in mind when it says that the nations will say, "Rak am chacham v'navom hhagoy hagadol hazeh"? The ba'alei mussar speak of the ohr and choshech that exist at the same time, mixed up in the same person, b'irbuvya. Exhibit A right here.
Somehow we have to get into a better frame of mind for Shabbos and to welcome chodesh Nisan. Why were the halachos of korban pesach given on rosh chodesh even though the korban was only taken on the tenth of the month? The Shem m'Shmuel writes that these 10 days parallel the aseres ymei teshuvah. One doesn't just walk into pesach -- it requires tremendous preparation, cleaning and scrubbing the neshoma as well as the home. Maybe all these tzaros are there to push us to really focus on what is significant during these ten important days.
The Midrash contrasts the first pasuk of our parsha, "Vayikra el Moshe," with "Vayikra eilav malach," by Avraham after the akeidah. The former calling was done by Hashem himself; the latter by an angel. What difference does it make who did the calling, the kri'ah? In both cases the dibur that followed, the subsequent words and message, was spoken by Hashem. Does it matter if the invitation to a meeting with the King comes by messenger, by fedex, by e-mail, or by telegram? Shem m'Shmuel answers that kri'ah is not just an invitation -- it's the inspiration that readies a person to receive the king's message. One cannot compare the inspiration and preparation to receive the dvar Hashem that comes through a malach, as great a level as that may be, with the inspiration that comes from Hashem himself.
Why do we say "tzeischem l'shalom" to the malachim on Friday night? Because when Shabbos comes the kri'ah to us, the inspiration and readiness to receive the dvar Hashem that will follow, is higher even than what the malachim can help us reach. "Tzeischem l'shalom," thank you malachim for your help this past week, but now it's Shabbos, we can take it ourselves. Kal v'chomer Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan.
Even though it's usually not my cup of tea (my math phobia doesn't mix with fancy gematriyos), this week I just feel we should learn some torah from Vizhnitz (a non-gematriya piece : ). We are IY"H going to say in hallel, "Ana Hashem ki ani avdecha, ani avdicha ben amasecha pitachta l'moseiray" -- Please Hashem, I am your servant, I am your servant the son of your maidservant, you released the bonds that held me. The repetition is obvious: First we say "Ani avdecha," and then we repeat again, "Ani avdicha ben amasecha." What is the meaning behind our repetition of these nearly-identical phrases?
The Imrei Baruch of Vizhnitz writes that when he stood before the amud to say hallel the first time after the passing of his father, he realized his own inadequacy to fill the void left by his father's passing. Here, in the spot his saintly father stood, before the amud at which his saintly father davened, he dared stand as a m'maleh makom to serve in his place -- how could he?!
He answers by quoting a mashal: One day a king was walking outside his castle and happened upon a poor nobody sitting there in the squalor. The king doesn't pay attention to such things and was about to pass by, but that nobody suddenly began to call out to him. "Do you know who I am?" asked the voice. "I'm Ploni, the son of your trusted advisor!" The King was shocked. It would be an embarrassment not only for the advisor, but for it would be a personal embarrassment for the king himself if the son of such a close confidant were left in such a state. The king ordered that Ploni be taken and cleaned up, fed, dressed, and given a place of honor in his court.
"Ana Hashem," we say, "Please Hashem forgive our absolute chutzpa in daring to utter the words 'Ki ani avdecha.'" Who are we kidding -- it doesn't really fit us, we don't really measure up. We are nothing compared with those who came before us. But before you get angry at us, before you walk away, can we bother you for a minute and remind you of who we are? "Ani avdicha ben amasecha," we are the children of those who have earned a place of honor in your court and who do deserve to be listened to.
Not in our own merit, but in theirs, lift us up, untie our bonds.