Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/rafael88/rivertonmussar.org/plugins/system/nonumberelements/helpers/parameters.php on line 130
Displaying items by tag: passover Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Sat, 24 Feb 2018 12:19:28 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb chesed and the Passover Lamb http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/635-chesed-and-the-passover-lamb http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/635-chesed-and-the-passover-lamb

art-goatAmong messianic Jews, much has been said concerning the parallels between the sacrifices of the paschal lamb and that of Yeshua. After all, the paschal lamb was the essential sacrifice which God commanded the children of Israel to make before liberating them from bondage to the Pharaoh of Egypt and bringing them to Sinai where they would enter into a covenant of service to Him.

The blood of this lamb placed upon the lintel and posts of the doors of Israel’s abodes in Goshen stood as the sign by which the destroyer would pass over them, averting the plague of death to the first born which befell the households of Egypt.  Similarly the blood of Yeshua, who Yochanon the Immerser referred to as the “Lamb of God,” spiritually holds the curse of sin and death in abeyance, and brings both Israel and the nations into a renewed covenant with God.  Yeshua himself used the symbols that surround the Seder meal and the Passover lamb, to ritualize and point forward to his own efficacious sacrifice.


taking hold

The two Passover lambs not only provide material and spiritual redemption for the community of Israel, but they also create a community of redemption out of the people of Israel. This is accomplished through the dialectic of chesed and gevurah. According to Jewish mystical thought, these two movements were employed by the Holy One in the creation of the world. Chesed is the move outward toward distant horizons. For the individual, this means expanding oneself and reaching out to others.  Gevurah on the other hand is an act of inward recoil, withdrawing into the protective recess of one’s own inward self. Through chesed, souls touch each other and loving community is created, by virtue of gevurah self-awareness occurs and souls are also developed. Since each and all people are created in the image of the divine, much can be learned about God in the chesed community as well as the loneliness of gevurah.

By examining Torah’s account of the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:3-8), we can see the cyclical pattern of chesed and gevurah. First Moses is commanded to speak to the entire assembly of Israel, instructing them to each select a solitary unblemished male lamb from the flocks, for the individual households. The lamb is brought into the humble homes for a five-day period of inspection. As it is observed within the privacy of each household for that period, the particularity of the lamb increases. First it is referred to as a lamb, with no definite article employed. Then it becomes the lamb and eventually we are told, “it shall be yours”. Here the taking of the lamb represents a recession inward to the individual home, a ceding of communal attachment for the sake of increased personal awareness. In moving toward gevurah, the lamb becomes more sentient to the observing family, and the attachments to it become more sentimental. No doubt its death will seem more brutal and become more efficacious as the awareness of its innocence becomes more acute.

The same can be said of Yeshua. From a distance he is a prophet among many, and a messiah among many candidates. Brilliant scholars have sought to place him within the great expanse of history, only to lose the power of his personality, the magnetism of his personality and the dynamism of his spirit. But when you draw closer to him, examine his life, and imbibe of his spirit he goes from being a messiah, to the Messiah and eventually your Messiah. Only in the closeness of such examination can one better know the love and nearness of God, and the depths of our own need.

behold who and what is around you

It is this awareness of our neediness that propels us out into the community and compels us to seek others. Torah tells us that around the paschal lamb a new chesed community forms. We read that “If the household is too small for a lamb, let him and his neighbor near next to his house take it according to the number of people…” Living together, sharing needs, provision and protection is made possible through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

How natural then for us to begin our Seder with the strange declaration, “This is the bread of poverty” followed by the seemingly contrary, yet open invitation for “all who are hungry to come and eat.” It is not the physical act of eating that draws us together; rather it is great sense of solidarity and empathy that we each crave. It is only in our deepest awareness of poverty that we are drawn out of our self-protective cocoons into the loving embrace of community.

This truth is even more intensely seen through the other Passover lamb. When we embrace his sacrifice through the poverty attained through the introspection of gevurah, we can truly enter into the chesed of the community. After Yeshua partook of his final Seder with his disciples he prayed this prayer:

“Father, just as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

This year having commemorated the Passover lamb and God’s gift of redemption, may this prayer of Yeshua become manifest in our lives and our community.

torah Sun, 15 Apr 2012 23:14:14 +0000
the steady journey http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/456-the-steady-journey http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/456-the-steady-journey

art-omercalCounting the Omer is an opportunity to learn decisiveness. This tradition marking the days from Passover to Shavuot (see Lev. 23:10-21) reenacts the journey from bondage in Egypt (Mitzraim in Hebrew, meaning “the narrow place”) to revelation at Mount Sinai.

When we say the blessing on day one, we’ve already decided to go the distance until day 49—which might tempt us to not count the Omer at all. Like most decisions, counting the Omer involves a commitment, the need for follow-through. We live in an age that teaches us to avoid commitment, to keep our options open, and to see what new possibilities might emerge. But once we count Day One, we’ve set our course to get to Day 49. This sort of decisiveness illustrates the commitment it takes to get from bondage and inertia to the place of fresh encounter with Hashem.

We can learn something from looking more closely at what we decide when we decide to take this journey.

First, we decide not to settle down in the status quo. This is an essential part of mussar in general, for mussar is always a path of self-improvement, which requires growth and change. If we get into maintenance mode, we lose mussar. We might grow tired or even bored with the demands of steady self-improvement, but we’ve already decided to pursue it, to leave the Egypt of old habits and routines, and head toward greater revelation of God, so let’s keep going.

Second, we decide to maintain our eagerness. We can decide to take the path of self-improvement . . . and kvetch the whole way. But we count the Omer not just to keep track of the days from Passover to Shavuot, but to show our excitement about getting there. We’re like a bride counting the days until her wedding, or a kid counting the days until his or her next birthday.

Decisiveness of this sort frees us from looking back, second-guessing ourselves, and regretting the past. This, of course, was one of the great failings of our forebears during the Exodus, as they longed for “the leeks and garlic of Egypt.” Decisiveness means realizing the past is past, and counting off the days as we move forward to the next thing God has for us.

Finally, counting the Omer teaches us that decisiveness must be maintained. We’d like to decide once to leave Mitzraim and get to Mount Sinai, but we have to renew that decision each day if we’re going to make it. So it is with many of life’s decisions: decisiveness is the ability to turn, to set a new course with clarity and promptness, but it’s also the ability to stay that course.

This week, as we continue to count the Omer each day, we can deepen our grasp of the middah of decisiveness. With the daily count we declare that we’re moving forward, heading toward something new, and not about to change course. We maintain our focus on preparing ourselves for more of Hashem’s revelation, which means renewing daily the decision to journey from Mitzraim to Sinai, not with grim determination but with joyful anticipation.

mesorah Fri, 22 Apr 2011 17:30:00 +0000
omer and order http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/453-omer-and-order http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/453-omer-and-order

art-barleyOf all the biblical holidays, only Shavuot – the time of the giving of Torah – lacks a specific date. Instead of giving a month and a day as with other holidays, the Torah tells us to count forty-nine days from the offering of first fruits during Passover. Then on the fiftieth day we celebrate Shavuot.


Even the starting date isn’t specified. Instead, right after the command to keep Passover, the Lord says, “You shall bring a sheaf [omer] of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Lev. 23:10–11). This instruction gives rise to the famous old controversy—does “Sabbath” here refer, as it normally does, to the seventh day of the week, or does it refer to the first day of Passover, which like the Sabbath is a day of complete rest and holiness, a day to be remembered and observed?

Long ago the Jewish community opted for the second interpretation, beginning the count of 49 days on the second day of Passover. But one of the arguments against this interpretation goes like this: If you start the count on the second day of Passover, it will always bring you to the same date for Shavuot —the sixth day of the month of Sivan—but if you start on the first day of the week during Passover, it will bring you to a different date each year. Why would the Torah tell us to establish the date of Shavuot by counting off the days every year, if it always brings us to the same date? It’s a reasonable question, but it misses one of the key elements of Jewish practice. God assigns us a role in marking off times and seasons, not because he can’t keep track of things without us, but because ordering time is an essential part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

At the creation, God divides day from night, keeps a count of the days, and sets “lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and [to] be for signs and seasons, and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14). Then, later, the Torah assigns Israel the responsibility of declaring holy convocations at these seasons (Lev. 23:2, 4). Counting the omer, then, isn’t to make up for some lapse where Moses forgot to tell us the date of Shavuot. Instead, it’s a matter of creating order, which is sharing in creation itself. As we count the days, we bring order into our lives and into the life of the community and clear a space for God’s presence among us. This order helps bring us out of the spiritual bondage of Egypt and to the foot of Mount Sinai, the place of revelation.

The custom is for the count to be done by each individual, as it is written, “You shall count for yourselves…” (Lev. 23:15). The medieval commentator Ramban says that each individual is to audibly count each one of the days. By our word we order the days, reflecting God’s act of creating all things by his word. Thus our days, or at least these days from Passover to Shavuot, are transformed from a headlong rush of time, into a sequence of worship.

As we count the omer each evening, we can do it with awareness that this small act of ordering reflects God’s act of bringing order—revelation, light, clarity—into a world that quickly returns to chaos on its own. With this sort of focus and intentionality, counting the omer will help us overcome the chaos within and prepare us to receive God’s word more deeply on Shavuot.

torah Wed, 20 Apr 2011 18:17:17 +0000
order of leaving egypt http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/450-order-of-leaving-egypt http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/450-order-of-leaving-egypt

art-haggadaIt is no small thing that the middah associated with the beginning of Pesach this year is seder (order). Drawing from insights I have heard and read from great scholars of our tradition, the general irony of seder in the midst of Pesach has not escaped me.

The exodus experience was one that overturned almost any sense of order the Jewish people had. Each and every plague was a deconstruction of the kind of order we counted on. Even the Pesach Seder itself is rather confusing. The big thing on Seder night is asking questions and only a few of them are actually answered! The Talmud tells us that we take a leafy green vegetable to eat on seder night just so the children will ask questions. They don’t give an answer. It’s even unclear when Pesach really begins. Is it the 14th of Nisan, or the 15th? One can come up with answers for all the unusual elements, but the real value here is that there is an overarching order even to experiences that defy our superficial picture of order.

a new order

There is an order to the seder, it’s just an unusual one. There was an order to yetziat mitzraim (leaving Egypt), but it was unsettling. Pesach is an experience that unsettles our normal order and replaces it with a new kind of order. We clean out our homes of things that seem so basic to have around: bread, flour, bread crumbs, etc. We sit and eat with people that we may have not seen since last year’s seder. For some people, the Seder is maybe the only thing they’ll do all year that is recognizably Torah related! Pesach upsets a certain kind of order and replaces it with a new one.

Each and every Besorah account of the death and resurrection of Yeshua includes mention of the disciples confusion about what was going on. This was not how it was supposed to happen. He was not supposed to die…people aren’t supposed to come back to life, either. This was God’s seder, not ours.

Order is a crucially important middah to cultivate. Lack of order in one’s life can often be a great source pain and stress for many people. This season, however, we are reminded of the importance of balance in the middah of seder. This season we’re thrown for a loop, taken for a ride that leads only to the place where God will choose. But, there’s an order to this journey also, and it’s one that we have an opportunity to tap into this season. May all of our seders be filled with joy, laughter, connection to the steps of the haggadah, lots of questions, a healthy dose of confusion, the kind of “drama” that makes you glad to be with the “fam,” and a sense of the bigger order.

torah Fri, 15 Apr 2011 05:24:29 +0000
a spiritual inventory http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/442-a-spiritual-inventory http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/442-a-spiritual-inventory

art-broomsI have always thought that cheshbon hanefesh, literally a reckoning with one’s own soul, was a practice most appropriate at the beginning of Elul, the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah. To this end Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the nineteenth century Mussar revival, undertook a forty day period of silence annually, from the beginning of Elul through Yom Kippur, to review his past year’s patterns of speech, to atone for wrongful speech, and to recapture the awe and sacredness of each word uttered.

This type of introspection is appropriate of course all year long, but it is particularly poignant before Rosh Hashanah. In the same way that many people go on crash diets a month before summer begins, fearing how their bodies will look on the beach, so the month of Elul is figuratively the crash spiritual regimen that we can undertake out of fear of how our souls might appear to God.  This is a period of awe, not terror, infused with all of the promise that is born out of the great compassion and love of God.

The last several years, though, I have become more and more convinced that a period of spiritual inventory taking and cleansing was even more appropriate from the mid-point of the month of Adar through the middle of Nissan. Let’s examine the reasons and possibilities of a pre-Passover discipline such as this, and then consider the process and ritual that might be undertaken.

out with the chametz

First let’s consider the two Shabbats that surround Purim, Shabbat Zachor and Shabbat Parah.  Zachor (remember) is an exhortation not to forget Amelek, the stealthy enemy who attacked Israel’s rear flank following our recent departure from Mitzrayim. Amelek is not only indicative of the many enemies that threaten us if we drop our guard, but is also symbolic of the sin and bad company that can overwhelm us and draw us away from Hashem if we fail to maintain constant vigilance. Shabbat Parah, which follows Purim, begins the preparation for Pesach. Parah recalls the odd command to use the ashes of a Red Heifer for ritual purification. Though this might be the most enigmatic commandment in all of Torah, it is again a reminder of our need to create a separation between ourselves and all that is associated with death.

Next let’s consider the preparation of our homes for Pesach. To properly rid our homes of chametz (leaven), we must begin the process early and plan carefully. For a month prior we try to plan our meals carefully avoiding the purchase of larger quantities of prepared foods that we will have to discard. A week before Pesach we begin to gather unopened chametz for donation to food pantries and we package up more valuable food and drink for “sale” to our non-Jewish neighbors. All of this preparation is necessary so that we might be able to complete a thorough cleaning of chametz a few days prior to Erev Pesach when we perform bedikat (searching out and burning of the chametz). The point is that only through a long and methodical process are we able to search for the last of the chametz and recite with conviction a nullification of chametz.

the chametz within

But there is a deeper meaning to the long, methodical and exhausting task of cleaning out chametz. According to the medieval commentator Rabbeinu Bachya, “It is well known that the chametz prohibitions allude to the yetzer hara (evil inclination), for man is obligated to utilize his yetzer tov (good inclination) to subdue his yetzer hara.”  Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam of Bobov adds, “Thus, the long and laborious task of making one’s home chametz-free is far more than mere 'spring cleaning.' The scrubbing of cabinets and closets helps scrub the chambers of one’s heart and purge them of that which distances one from his Creator.”  Finally as Messianic Jews, we cannot ignore the impassioned exhortation of Rabbi Sha’ul of Tarsus, “Since Messiah our Pesach Lamb has been sacrificed, let us keep the Holiday without the old chametz, the chametz of malice and wickedness, but with matzah without chametz, the bread of sincerity and truth.”

Agreeing with the tradition of our Sages regarding the parallel between cleansing our homes of chametz and cleansing our lives of sin and bad associations, I suggest that we undertake a regimen to prepare our souls prior to Pesach that is as exhaustive as the one we employ for our homes. The laws of removing chametz are elaborate and well defined. If we merely articulate our desire to remove sin from our lives without plan, process, or ritual I am afraid that our best intentions might be set adrift in the Sea of Arbitrary. We cannot remove what we have not identified.

My recommendation is to begin a process of deliberate moral assessment, a kind of spiritual bedikat chametz. Then when the search for both physical chametz and spiritual chametz is complete, recite a nullification of both, burning a written inventory of our moral shortcomings along with our household chametz. The question remains though, “how does one inventory character flaws and bad associations?” To do so we must know where to look. Flaws in character usually expose themselves in our relationships. So here are the steps that I would undertake in preparing for this unique search for spiritual chametz.

  1. Pray specifically for Hashem’s strength in making this arduous search.
  2. Make a list of relationships that in the past year have experienced or created feelings of anger or anxiety. Include not only people but institutions as well.
  3. Identify the exact nature of the problems or unsettled feelings in each relationship. For instance have you experienced resentment, shame, guilt or confusion? How have you felt threatened? Are there unhealthy patterns of activity, thoughts, or associations in your life from which you need to separate yourself?
  4. You may want to discuss this list with a trusted confidant, perhaps your chevruta, your spouse, or your rabbi.
  5. Pray and ask Hashem to help you distance yourself from any thoughts or associations that would cause you to be a less effective servant. As you would ask for nullification of the chametz that you did not find, so ask Hashem to nullify any spiritual chametz that you could not locate.
  6. Burn the list with the chametz! It’s not yours anymore.

Song of Songs Rabba, an early Aramaic commentary that dates back to the Second Temple period, explains and augments the divine voice stating compassionately, “My children, give me an opening of repentance no bigger than the eye of a needle, and I will widen it into an opening through which wagons and carriages will pass.” Here the Holy One is pictured not as a harsh judge, but as a loving father assisting his children who aspire to imitate his nature. The echoes of this statement can be heard in Yeshua’s gentle admonition that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Certainly the Messiah was not advocating self-inflicted poverty; rather he was suggesting a more God-approved form of “bookkeeping”, whereby we do not become weighted down by frivolity, self-sufficiency, false piety, base thoughts or unhealthy associations. By removing such excess inventory, we can become “lean and mean” making room for the treasures of heaven, that can be achieved through the ethical standards of a Torah centered life.



Here is an example of a spiritual inventory you can add to your mussar journal.


Person or Institution Resentment Guilt
Confusion Shame Threatens Self Esteem Threatens Security Threatens Wealth Threatens Sexuality Identity Formation






daily living Fri, 25 Mar 2011 04:33:23 +0000
the finer points http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/387-the-finer-points http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/cleanliness/item/387-the-finer-points

art-matzahEven while living in Salant, it happened once that Rabbi Israel [Salanter] was unable to be present when his shemurah matzah was being baked. Knowing that he took the greatest pains to observe all the finer points involved in the baking of the matzah, his disciples had undertaken to supervise for him in his absence. They asked for his instructions. What should they be most careful to watch?

Rabbi Israel ordered them to be especially careful not to distress the woman kneading the dough in their zeal, since she was an unfortunate widow, and they would thereby transgress the prohibition, "You shall not oppress a widow..." "The kashrut of the matzah is not complete with the observance of all the embellishments of the laws of Pesach alone," he would say, "But with the observance of all the finer points of the Choshen Mishpat as well." --from The Mussar Movement Volume 1, Part 2, pages 220 - 221

There is no doubt that Rabbi Salanter was scrupulous in his performance of mitzvot.  We read countless stories where he was concerned about the status of the food that he ate, knowing that it would break down, nourish his body, and give him the ability to perform the commandments.  He wanted to be fueled with only the best for the sake of Heaven.

But time and time again, we see Rabbi Salanter's recurring insistence that those who might be involved in his performance of mitzvot would not be worked hard or inconvenienced for him.  Rabbi Salanter had a keen understanding that mitzvot and treatment of other are linked together.  Fulfilling a commandment at the expense of others actually brings the level of holiness a deed lower, as it is done on the back of another without concern.

consideration is love

How terrible for you, hypocritical soferim and Perushim! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, but neglect the weighty things in the Torah: justice, kindness, and emunah; you ought to do one without neglecting the other. Blind guides, who strain out the mosquito but swallow the camel!   --Matthew 23:23-24, DHE

Mashiach Yeshua exhorts us to consider our actions in light of how they affect all involved.  While it is a mitzvah to tithe mint, dill and cummin, neglecting the other mitzvot to appear diligent in the eyes of the law is a sham.  No one is fooled by it and it eventually degrades your service to Hashem.  Tithing spices while oppressing others and showing little concern for their needs is nothing short of hypocrisy.

No matter what it is we do, we must have foresight to see the ramifications of any good deed we might seek to perform.  We are easily clouded by our own desire to appear right, holy and diligent.  This quality, while a positive driving force, can also be a blindness. We need to keep this desire in check so we do not make ourselves and others victims of a shabby form of righteousness.

We must not only take into consideration the many ways in which we can exemplify true righteousness through scrupulous attention, but also see how that level of detail will affect those around us and if it will yield a win-win in all arenas.  As we are supposed to serve the Eternal in heaven, we have to comprehend that we do so with our feet on the earth.  Being grounded in this simple principle will help us to realize that the divine service is not only through our prayers, study and hidden deeds — it also shines through the love and consideration we show for one another.   Let us learn to live by the law without causing others harm:  only then that will we be considered truly righteous.


Gospel references taken from Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels (DHE)®, © Copyright Vine of David 2010. Used by permission.

stories Fri, 11 Feb 2011 06:07:00 +0000