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A Passover Lesson With Reb Moshe

courtesy of Alan D. Busch

courtesy of Alan D. Busch

"The Beginning of Wisdom is The Fear of G-d"

There are many smart, well-educated perhaps even brilliant folks who can recite their book learning verse by verse but,
of wisdom, they've none. The reason is simple: to possess wisdom, one must yield to a power greater than oneself.

"Whence come my blessings?" A man possessed of no wisdom does not ask this question.

"Portrait of A Consummate Teacher"

I am neither a talmid of Reb Moshe nor did I attend school in his inner world within which its inhabitants speak a very different language although it does sound very much like English.

I have, however, attended his classes in Chumash and Talmud through the years and am happy to report some progress when occasionally I find my head swimming in a substantial pond of new ideas, and I leave with a clearer understanding of whatever it was I hadn't understood as well before.

It’s an experience that began, I suppose, when I was finally curious enough to peer through the window of the beis medrash. Though the insiders welcomed me with the warmest of smiles and an unrivaled hospitality, it is nobody's fault other than my own when on rare occasions I feel very much still the outsider.

Reb Moshe speaks without benefit of any notes. His casual manner is reflected at times in what turns out to be an illusory unpreparedness. Let's be clear, Reb Moshe is always prepared. The question that sometimes taxes him is the choice of subjects about which to give shiur.

Drawing from an encyclopedic command of primary resource material in his head and supported by a stack of open books, Reb Moshe is the consummate teacher: thoughtful in his speech, attentive to any and all questions and always measured in his response.

Ever mindful to adapt the technical level of his language appropriately when there is a mix of students in class and always allowing those students taking notes enough time to catch up with his last thought, Reb Moshe's pedagogy is an eclectic blend of "Hanoch le'nar al pi darko"-"Train up a child in the way he should go", (Book of Proverbs, 22:6) and simple courtesy.

I've watched him do this many times, and I stress it here because I believe it speaks to the kind of person he is.

Of the many expressions of praise I could recite on his behalf, I think the most important may be that Reb Moshe is comfortable with saying "I don't know". Here is a man with an encyclopedic command of Torah who enjoys a world-wide reputation as a Torah giant in our generation, but is as approachable as Everyman.

He speaks in very plain terms and without pretense. His varied facial expressions are priceless. He pauses every now and then right in the middle of a sentence for what may be as long as fifteen seconds while he searches out his next word or rabbinic citation.

He is a passionate man within whom the "aish ha kodesh", the holy flame, burns intensely. His goal: to bring Jews from all walks of life closer to Torah which, is to say, G-d.

What's more? He succeeds.

Writer's Note: what follows are some thoughts I culled from Reb Moshe's annual Haggadah shiur that he gave this past week at Congregation Kesser Maariv in Skokie, Illinois.

There is no contradiction between matzah as both a symbol of freedom and of slavery. They can and do co-exist, and it is precisely when Jews joyously welcome and accept their service to and dependency on G-d that they are then only truly free.

The weighty symbolism of matzah is disproportionate to its pedestrian appearance,a poor man's bread that itself reflects the humble origins of the Jewish people who, at this time of the year, praise and thank Hashem Elokeinu b'ahava for this chag ha matzos.*

Although not the sort of bread you'd choose to serve at an elegant dinner party, don't think it so simple. Matzah is a food to which strict standards of kosher manufacture apply, and for good reason. The whole body of Jewish dietary laws, as arcane as it may and does seem to many Gentiles as well as a goodly number of Jews, is the foundation upon which Man alone can erect a structure dedicated to infusing kedusha into the act of eating.

"Why Bother?"

There is nothing inherently holy about the act of eating-every living creature does it, however great or humble. Think about that.

Only Man can elevate what would otherwise remain an essential but base biological necessity into a spiritual action. After all, if Man represents the apogee of living creatures, endowed with speech, creative potential and intellect, he has every means to elevate who he is and all he does closer to The One from Whom everyone and everything comes.

It's like Thanksgiving everyday.

By reciting brachot, blessings both before and after a meal or snack can we only then truly say: Yisborech Shimcha b'fe kol-chai tamid leolam voed (Blessed be Thy name continually, in the mouth of every living creature, forever and ever).

When the Exodus took place and the descendants of Jacob left the land over which Joseph had once ruled, they, in effect, exchanged masters, one for another. No longer subject to the whim of Pharaoh, the sons and daughters of Jacob became instead the servants of The One G-d whose manifestation Moshe had seen in the burning bush.

What Makes This Night Different?

That we were once slaves to Pharoah, and it was only when G-d took us out of that land and in turn made us His servants that we emerged a free nation of the children of Abraham despite any and all appearances to the contrary.

If at your seder your child asks why were our lives embittered by the slavery of Pharoah, answer him: 'So that we would truly appreciate the gift of freedom and be reminded that behind every gift there is a Giver to Whom we owe thanks.

A Happy, Healthy and Kosher Passover to one and all,

Alan D. Busch

04/06/12

*Hashem, our God with love for this festival of Matzos.

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