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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Tazria/Parshas Hachodesh 5774 "From Within"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Birds are chirping; delightful spring day

We bid our farewells; we’re moving away[1]

Boxes are loaded; Truck ready to go

Time to depart; 3 Landau Lane ho!

Movers are busy packing boxes galore

Squeezing our stuff through the front door

One final look; a last glance around

The walls are all bare; nary a sound

In the palpable silence; we suddenly hear

Influx of memories; times we did share

Menorah on Chanukah; candle’s warm glow

Purim in costume; winters in snow

Special neighbors that always surrounded

At our Shabbos table - friendship abounded

Our children’s first steps; the first words they said

Shema every night as we tucked them in bed

Watching our children growing so fast

Trying to hold on to moments of past

We realized then that we were leaving behind

A part of our souls; a piece of our mind

We walked away slowly; sun blinding our eyes

With a new understanding; bittersweet goodbyes

We are turning a page; Continuing down the track

On the journey of life, there’s no turning back

Birds are out chirping; A delightful spring day

We’re moving on; but memories forever stay

Parshas Hachodesh is the fourth and final special Torah portion read during the Shabbosos prior to the holiday of Pesach. Parshas Hachodesh is primarily a detailed listing of the laws involving the Paschal sacrifice commanded to the Jews in Egypt just prior to the exodus. However, the title of the parsha is modeled after the introductory verse, (Shemos 12:2) “החדש הזה לכם ראש חדשים ראשון הוא לכם לחדשי השנה – This month (i.e. Nissan) shall be for you the beginning of the months; the first for you of the months of the year.”

The holiday of Pesach is analogous to the birth of the Jewish nation.[2] Therefore, during the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nissan we remind ourselves that this juncture of the year is a time of renewal and rejuvenation.

The gemara[3] relates an fascinating story about the great sage Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch[4]. The wines of a certain village called Pargoyasa and the waters of a village called Dadyomeses were extremely pleasurable. One who would drink that wine and bathe in those waters would feel tremendous enjoyment.

The gemara relates that Rabbi Elazar was enticed by the pleasurable wine and bathing water and it caused him to forget his Torah learning. It affected him so much that when he returned to the study hall and began reading from the Torah the verse, “החדש הזה לכם - This month shall be for you”, he inadvertently read it, “החרש היה לבם – Their hearts were stuffed up.” The Rabbis prayed for mercy on his behalf and Rabbi Elazar was able to remember his learning.

In order to appreciate the perplexity of the aforementioned story, one must understand the extent of Rabbi Elazar’s greatness. Following are a few Talmudic passages describing Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch:

• “If all the sages would be on one pan of a balance-scale… and Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch would be on the second pan, he would outweigh them all.”[5]

• “Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch is like a wellspring flowing even stronger.”[6]

• “Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai stood up and kissed him on his forehead and said, ‘…Praised are you our patriarch Avrohom that Elazar ben Aruch is your descendant.”[7]

How is it possible that someone as righteous and erudite as Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch could be so affected by a few physical luxuries, that he couldn’t read a simple verse properly?

The exodus from Egypt was accomplished in two distinct stages. The first stage involved the ten plagues that ravaged Egypt, and culminated with Pharaoh imploring the Jews to leave the physical confines of the country. The second stage was accomplished at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds.

The miracles that transpired at the sea are well-known. The waters split and the Jews descended into a miraculous path between the walls of water. When the Egyptians tried to follow suit the waters of the sea caved in and drowned them.

Tosafos[8] states that the sea did not split across from one side to the other. Rather, it split in the shape of a semi-circle so that the Jews emerged from the sea on the same side that they had entered, albeit a few yards over.[9]

If they didn’t traverse the sea, what was the purpose of the whole miracle? G-d could have just as easily decimated the Egyptian army in a plague, as indeed occurred after the final plague before the exodus?

Sefas Emes explains that at the time of the physical exodus the nation did not undergo any internal change. At the slitting of the sea however, there was a national metamorphosis which was integral to their development into nationhood.

By nature humans thrive on innovation and newness. In a room packed with people filled with the drone of conversation if one shouts “did you hear the news?” the room will instantly quiet down and everyone will turn to hear the exciting news.[10]

We are curious beings, always seeking some information that we were not yet aware of or acquiring something that we did not yet have. Stores often post signs stating, “ראה זה חדש –See this new thing”. We thrive on chiddush (novelty); it makes us excited and fills us with a spirit of life.[11]

There are two distinct ways for one to seek “chiddush” in life: External chiddush and internal chiddush.

Most of the world seeks external chiddush. We look for new trends, styles, fashions, and news. We try to keep up with the Joneses[12] and we want to know what kind of car or house we can purchase that will impress others and make us feel important.

The deficiency of external chiddush is that it is fleeting and transient. No matter how eccentric and original something is today, within a short time the novelty fades. Something that is this week’s fashion and craze may be trite and banal next week.[13]

The other form of chiddush is internal; it comes from within ourselves. It is a constant process of revival and regeneration of what we already have. Not only does this entail developing an appreciation for what we already have, but also tapping into the vast greatness within us which usually remains dormant.

Rabbi Yochanan described Rabbi Elazar ben Aruch as, “a wellspring flowing even stronger”. A wellspring is a fountain of water which perpetually replenishes itself. The greatness of Rabbi Elazar was that he found chiddush within himself. He was not interested in the external “chiddushim” of the world around him. Rabbi Elazar personified the words of the verse, “החדש הזה – This (process of) renewal[14]” is “לכם – for you”, i.e. from you. Rabbi Elazar’s renewal came from within!

When Rabbi Elazar allowed himself to indulge somewhat in pleasurable wines and waters, his sense of internal chiddush was enervated. On his great level he became drawn toward the enjoyment of earthly pleasure and it detracted from his lofty spiritual greatness. Although he surely did not lose his ability to read a verse from the Torah, a philosophical transformation had occurred that obfuscated him. Now instead of the renewal coming from within the words “החרש היה לבם – Their hearts were stuffed up” were more applicable.[15]

When the Mirrer Yeshiva was making the onerous journey from Shanghai to America via ship after the conclusion of World War II, there was one point when a stunning sunset was visible from the boat’s deck. Someone called to Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l - a student of the yeshiva at the time - and told him that it was worth putting down the gemara he was studying for a few moments to see the extraordinary view. Rabbi Shmuel refused and continued learning. To him the gemara he was learning possessed far greater novelty and excitement than any sunset.

The exodus of Egypt was a physical departure from the land of bondage and servitude. Still, it was more of an external event than an internal change. For a nation poised to become the Chosen People the events of the exodus were severely lacking. At the splitting of the sea however, that deficiency was rectified. When they emerged from the sea on the same side they entered, they realized that the greatness of the event was internal. “Yisroel saw the great Hand that G-d inflicted upon Egypt; and the people revered G-d, and they had faith in G-d and in Moshe, His servant.”[16]

That event triggered the development of deeply rooted faith within the people. That transformation was more seminal than the exodus itself. They went nowhere physically but they became a different people, spiritually and psychologically. The splitting of the sea impressed upon them the message of internal chiddush and finding novelty within!

Parshas Tazria commences with a discussion of the laws of feminine purity. A woman naturally possesses a biological time-clock; an internal cycle of renewal. The parsha continues with a discussion of another spiritual malady that effect one physically, i.e. tzara’as. It is an internal impurity which espouses the need for change.

On Pesach we undergo national rebirth. Perhaps, we do not change physically but Parshas Hachodesh reminds us that change is a psychological process too.

We may never reach the level of internal chiddush that Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum zt’l had, but on our own level we must not lose track of the internal greatness we inherently possess.

When one walks out of a hospital after being a patient (G-d forbid) or going to visit others he has a temporary appreciation of his health. A person who is able to maintain that appreciation and sense of internal chiddush constantly develops an appreciation of life that fills him with joy and gratitude for all that he has and all that he is.

“This month shall be for you the beginning of the months”

We are turning a page; Continuing down the track

On the journey of life; there’s no turning back

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[1] In 5768 when this was originally written, we moved from the Blueberry Hill condominium where we had lived for 4 years to our current home at 3 Landau Ln.

[2] See Maharal (Gevuros Hashem)

[3] Shabbos 147a

[4] The following thoughts are based on a discourse by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman at Bais Medrash Shaarei Tefilah, 7 Adar I 5768/February 12, 2008

[5] Avos 2:12

[6] Avos 2:11

[7] Chagiga 14b

[8] Arachin 15a, K’shaym

[9] If asked why the Jews crossed the sea, the answer is not ‘to get to the other side’!

[10] The Yiddish phrase “Vos iz neais- what’s the news” is almost a Jewish mantra, not to mention a Jewish news blog.

[11] Any time a new placard is hung up in a shul or yeshiva, a crowd will invariably gather shortly after to see the new posting.

[12] Or Goldbergs

[13] Any child who has leafed through his parent’s wedding album has had that feeling of pity for the outdated and out of style clothes they wore in those days. Little do those children know that one day their children will look at their wedding album in the same manner.

[14] the word hachodesh is from the same root as chiddush

[15] [היה is stated in the past tense, because when one seeks chiddush externally his personal greatness and untapped potential seems to be things of the past.]

[16] Shemos 14:31

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