Room for All

Finding space in a world of holiness

By: Rabbi Dovid Samuels

“Where there is holiness, there is space!”

The Yomim Tovim are not, for us, a mere recollection of past events. The times on the Jewish calendar have within them great spiritual potential, and through our observance of the laws and customs of that particular day, we can unlock and download much of this wealth. Our holy books are full of ideas that help us to connect to the spirit of the day, so that the opportunities available to us will not pass us by. The fact that Pesach has so many preparations, like cleaning the house, baking matzas, kashering utensils, preparing the Haggadah, shows us clearly that Hashem is preparing us for a massive spiritual download over the course of the chag. The question is, can we handle it?

This question can be asked, and perhaps should be asked, at any auspicious time. Are we really able to connect to Hashem in the way He expects? Afterall, we are physical, and He is metaphysical. Can a people of mere flesh and blood really fill themselves with infinite and eternal spirituality? The answer is no. By natural means it is not possible. But that was the answer before Yetzias Mitzrayim. Now that we have Pesach, that answer has changed. Let’s explain.

Pesach was an exodus form Miztrayim. Mitzrayim, as a place of hard and torturous labour, represents a closed and limited existence. The Jew’s bodies were controlled, and their minds were controlled. To a large degree, their souls were controlled. Without enough time to think about the meaning of life, Hashem and His plan, their souls were neglected. They were restricted; they were constricted. Mitzrayim – Egypt – has the same root as the word meitzarim – borders or limits. This is telling us that leaving Mitzrayim was a sign for all Jews in all times that they, too, could leave their borders and limitations. Is it with force and aggression that we find our freedom and sovereignty? No; we will find our freedom by tapping in to the holiness of Pesach: the blueprint of our sovereignty. So it is on Pesach that we are given the ability to escape our natural and physical limitations that prevent us from attaching to a world of infinite spirituality and expand ourselves to be able to connect to Hashem’s limitlessness.

Let us start with a wonderful explanation by the Tiferes Shlomo. A verse in Vayikra[1] says that Aharon and his sons would eat the remainder of the mincha offering, unleavened, in a holy place, in the courtyard of the Holy Temple. He understands that this verse is not merely a command to the Kohanim how and where to eat the mincha offerings, but a message to all Jews on the night of Pesach. We are also tasked with eating our matzos – unleavened – in a holy place, and that our physical bodies can, on this amazing night, become as holy as the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash!

With this we have our first step in understanding how we can absorb the holiness of the night. The kedusha of the Beis Hamikdash contains a secret to how we relate to Pesach, and service of Hashem in general. We know a famous feature of the Beis Hamikdash was that even though it was packed full of people, when it came time for everyone to bow down there was miraculously enough space. Here is the secret: where there is holiness, there is space!

The Chasam Sofer alerts us to a peculiar statement at the very beginning of the Haggadah: “All who are hungry should come and eat with us.” He asks: Is there enough space in our houses to host all of the poor amongst us? How could everyone fit at our tables and have enough to eat? His answer: Where there is holiness, there is space! He brings examples to prove this idea. He points out that all of the miracles in Egypt needed prompting by Moshe Rabbeinu. However, when all of the Jews assembled in front of the Mishkan at once – certainly a huge miracle – there is no mention of Moshe having to do anything to prompt this wonder. Similarly, in the times of Yehoshua, all of the Jews were able to gather between the two poles of the Ark! This, says the Chasam Sofer, is proof that where there is holiness, there is space.

Chazal teach us that during the life of Shimon HaTzaddik there was a special blessing on the showbread that made it possible for every Kohein to become satiated from even the smallest morsel. When we invite the guests on Pesach night, knowing full well that, sadly, there is not enough space to adequately house the poor, we nonetheless invite them because we know that the great holiness that the seder night holds, and by performing the mitzvos of the night like eating the matzos “in a holy place”, space is expanded and there will be room for everyone. Kedusha – holiness – is against limitation. Afterall, it was on this night that we broke out of the limitations of Egypt, and it will be through utilising this night that we will become holy enough to remove all of the limitations we face, both physical and spiritual.

The Tashbatz, one of the medieval halachic authorities, writes that in his time throngs of people filled a beis medrash in a way that could not have happened by the laws of nature. The Chasam Sofer, quoting this Tashbatz, adds that he also saw this phenomenon himself, but he refused to reveal where he saw it. Rav Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich writes that the Chasam Sofer was humbly referring to the holy room in which he gave his daily lecture which only through a miracle housed the large number of students who came to learn. So on Pesach, we invite the guests, and the holiness of our Pesach seder will make room for them. So too we allow ourselves to expand past our physical restrictions and connect to a world of infinite spirituality, beyond our natural capabilities.

This is, really, an inseparable concept at our Pesach Seder. When we lift up the matzos and proclaim, “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim,” we are telling everyone around us that the simple, broken scrap of bread that we ate under immense suffering and torture has the ability, through the holiness of the mitzvah, to not only satiate us, but to elevate us out of the slavery, out of the limitations. This is why we refer to the matzah both as the bread of affliction and the bread of answers; for when we allowed holiness to enter our world of confinement and suffocation, it became a world of expansion and higher understanding; a prison of affliction became a realm of answers.

For the Jews to be freed from Mitzrayim where they were at the lowest spiritual level, they needed to be elevated slightly. Hashem gave us mitzvos in Mitzrayim, and with them the holiness, that raised us beyond the level we deserved, all so that we could be redeemed. This elevation is not something that only happened in Egypt, it is something that happens every year at Pesach, where we are given a spiritual boost beyond what we are capable of achieving ourselves, so that we can experience the full benefits of our own personal Yetzias Mitzrayim. And with this idea we can understand a strange practice that takes place at the Pesach Seder: reclining. In Mah Nishtana we make reference to the reclining, and although it may have been the way of royalty to recline, for us it might be rather awkward and uncomfortable. Coupled with that, the halocha dictates that even the lowest member of society will still recline in front of people much higher than him, as if he was royalty! But if we understand that the theme of Pesach is expanding past ourselves, and breaking through our own limitations, then the act of reclining fits perfectly. As we perform the mitzvos and connect to holiness, we occupy more space, we become larger, we become fuller Jews – spiritually. And it’s not just the nobility; it is every single one of us. If we have mitzvos, we have holiness, and if we have holiness, we can expand, we can succeed, we can recline!

This gift given to every Jew on Pesach, that he can connect to that which is so much higher than himself, is where the wicked son at the Seder is mistaken. He coarsely asks: “What is this service to you!?” Simply understood, he is asking what we could possibly find fulfilling in serving Hashem. But as we go a little deeper, we see that he is emphasising the words “to you”. He is asking the question we began with, “You are mere flesh and blood. Can a people of mere flesh and blood really fill themselves with infinite and eternal spirituality? How can you expect to achieve the spiritual success that you seek?” The answer before Yetzias Mitzrayim was, “You’re right…it is impossible.” But we have the merit of answering him differently now. We say, “This is a Pesach offering to Hashem.” Meaning, the chag of Pesach has given us the ability to stretch further than was possible, to break through our boundaries, and destroy all of our limitations. The wicked son’s mindset is that of someone who never left Mitzrayim; he never broke through his limitations; he never experienced kedusha. We left Mitzrayim, we can attach to The Infinite, and Yes, we can achieve the spiritual successes we seek, because where there is holiness, there is space!

  1. 6:9

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