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The Observant Jew

Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

Pesach in Paradise

It’s winter now.  Though it’s January, people are already thinking ahead to the spring time.  As we read the parshiyos of Shemos, recounting the plagues and the eventual redemption from Egypt, I can’t help but juxtapose the Torah readings and the myriad ads I see touting the latest Pesach programs.

Words like “lavish”, “ultimate”, “luxury”, and “gourmet” don’t generally come to mind when thinking about matzah and maror, yet for some reason, hotel and Pesach program operators imply that these are linked inextricably and necessary for you to have a good Yom Tov.

You can spend Pesach in your choice of exotic locales.  What could be more inspiring than experiencing Pesach as our forefathers did, in the desert?! (I’m guessing their experience wasn’t quite Palm Springs or Scottsdale.)  From Florida to Australia, from the Caribbean to Switzerland, for some reason Pesach has become a time for people to indulge themselves in all the physical comfort they can get.  

I’m waiting to see the ad proclaim, “Don’t Miss the Most Incomparable Supreme Pesach Experience at the newly-remodeled Eight-star Waldorf-Astoria Cairo!  Exclusive Chol Hamoed trips to climb the Pyramids and go Jet Skiing on the Red Sea!”  Programs proudly advertise the soft beds, executive chefs, and swimming pools they will have.  But what happened to the Yom Tov?

Of course, some places feature dvrei Torah, inspiring speakers, and shuls stocked with seforim, but you know that people aren’t going there just to learn.  They’re going because Pesach is difficult to make, it’s a chance to get away and, if money is no object, then let someone else clean and cook.  After all, it’s the festival of freedom!

Leave aside the fact that cooking and cleaning for Yom Tov are mitzvos and can be appreciated.  Ignore the reality that Pesach is NOT about spring cleaning and that much of the intense labor being done is excessive.  But what about the fact that the freedom we seek on Pesach is to break the bonds of the physical world and become a spiritual people?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go away for Pesach if you can afford it.  But I wonder if you think of the people who not only can’t afford to go away, but can’t even afford to stay home; the people who feel strapped and crushed by the weight of the extra costs involved in buying matzah and Pesach foods.  Sure, many of the people who make these programs also need the money, but I doubt they could not afford a Seder if they didn’t.

The question is whether, while you’re pursuing Pesach on a safari in the savanna, you’ve given some thought to helping those you leave behind.  I had a friend who was marrying the daughter of a very well-to-do man.  Eschewing the gashmius typically associated with the affair, he wanted a very simple wedding.  Then his father-in-law-to-be let him know that whatever he spent on the wedding he was going to send an equivalent amount of money to Israel to help marry off poor couples.  Suddenly, my pal was more than happy to up the band and the menu because it was really helping others.

The Rambam writes that one cannot experience true simchas Yom Tov, cannot enjoy the holiday, if he knows of others who have not got the means to celebrate it properly.  This is why specifically at Pesach we collect Maos Chittin, money for wheat.  We need to make sure that other people have what they need before we sit down to partake of a twenty four-hour tea room stocked with French pastries and Belgian chocolate.

It’s funny.  If you look at the Torah, how was the Korban Pesach eaten in Mitzrayim?  They were united as family and neighbor units, combined into individual homes.  Why didn’t they make a communal Seder in a large ballroom?  

They ate in their traveling clothes, a far cry from the multitude of outfits that are so de rigeur for the Pesach social scene.  They ate the animal roasted, without fancy reductions or glaces and they ate quickly, not stretching out their meal for hours upon hours.

It seems like somehow we’ve lost touch with the meaning of being free, dedicated to Hashem and the Torah.  Instead, we’ve become attached to the apron strings of a new generation of physical indentureship as we celebrate something, but I don’t know if it’s Pesach.

What I’d like to suggest, as you’re making your Pesach plans, is to ensure that whatever you choose to do, you’ve made sure that your extended family, friends, and neighbors can enjoy Yom Tov too.  Put aside money for tzedakah to make sure others have the basics and then some.  That way, no matter where you end up, you will truly celebrate Pesach in paradise.

 Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world.  You can find him at www.facebook.com/RabbiGewirtz and follow him on Twitter @RabbiJGewirtz. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion.  Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail info@JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.

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