By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Nissan is here. Soon the cold will be gone, snow will be a distant memory, and the harsh weather will be a thing of the past. Landscapers will start coming around as the ground warms. Trees and bushes will soon start showing signs of life as tiny green buds begin to unfurl. Branches will bloom, the grass will turn green, and squirrels and birds will run across the lawn enjoying life. Daylight Saving Time is here, bringing an additional hour of light as the sun rises higher in the sky, shining brighter, filling hearts with promises of warmth and color.
Young and old soak in the pleasures of recreation, walking, biking, and playing ball, as they strengthen their bodies, enhance their well-being, and broaden their perspective.
Spring, the season of new beginnings, announces that Pesach, the Yom Tov of freedom, is almost here. Freedom is the feeling of not being subjugated to another power. Freedom is the ability to think, speak and act without fear. Freedom is a feeling of liberty and emancipation. The freedom of living a Jewish life is here.
It was during this period so many years ago that Hashem announced that the time for our freedom had come. He told our beleaguered ancestors that this month of Nissan was to be the first of the year for them.
As the Bnei Yisroel were about to become an independent nation and gain their freedom, Hashem told them that they would begin counting their months from Nissan. The world may have been created in Tishrei, but that month precedes the doom of winter, while Nissan heralds spring. It is fitting for our nation to begin counting from when the world starts to get back to itself after lying in semi-hibernation.
Spring, the season of new beginnings, gave rise to the newfound freedom for an enslaved nation. For 210 years, they knew subjugation and torture. The people were like a tree in the depths of winter, broken by pain, hunger and demoralizing servitude. Hashem appeared to Moshe and told him to inform the slaves that life as they had known it would come to an end.
“Hachodesh hazeh lochem.” There would soon be a new month, a new season, a new reality. “Lochem,” given to you, a personal gift that you would recognize and appreciate. From this month forward, you will never be the same. No longer lowly slaves, you will become a holy nation.
Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron, discusses in his new sefer Zeman Cheiruseinu on Pesach, why the month of Nissan was proclaimed as the “rosh,” and why it supplanted Tishrei as the first of the months. He quotes Rav Yitzchok Eizik Chover, who writes that Tishrei marks when the world was created according to teva. But Nissan is when Hakadosh Boruch Hu began to deal with Klal Yisroel lemaalah m’derech hateva. For Klal Yisroel, it is as if the world was created anew. Therefore, we begin counting months from Nissan and that is why it is the month of geulah.
The Jewish people were purified as gold is purified by fire through their subjugation in Mitzrayim. Until then, they were in a darkened state and weren’t able to be receptive to Torah. But after they were purified, the middas hadin was pacified and they were able to be given the Torah and mitzvos. By the time they left Mitzrayim, they were on the level of Adam Harishon prior to his sin.
At the Pesach Seder, we retell the story of our redemption from Mitzrayim. We tell of the misfortune that befell our forefathers as our nation was forming. We speak of what the Jews in Mitzrayim endured and proceed to discuss their liberation and formation as a new people, for there is no spring that is not preceded by winter, no freedom that comes without agony, and no birth without pain.
Thus, the posuk states (Devorim 16:1), “Shamor es chodesh ha’aviv v’asisa pesach laHashem Elokecha ki bechodesh ha’aviv hotziacha Hashem Elokecha miMitzrayim loylah – Watch the month of spring, and make in it the Korban Pesach to Hashem, because in the month of spring Hashem removed you from Mitzrayim in the night.”
Pesach is intrinsically tied to spring. We were taken out in this season and we celebrate our delivery in this season. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 11a) understands from this posuk that the month of Nissan must be watched – “shamor” – to ensure that it falls in the spring, and when it appears that it will be during the winter, we must make a leap year.
Perhaps we can also explain that the reason the posuk interjects that we were taken out of Mitzrayim during the spring and at night, “loylah,” is to reinforce the concept that we were enshrouded in slavery, darkness and tumah. We were removed from that dark situation and placed in “aviv,” spring, with our newly-gained freedom and soon-to-be rebirth as a nation.
Even after our formation as a people and even after receiving the Torah, there were ups and downs, as there are in daily life. The lesson of “Hachodesh hazeh lochem” reminds us that there is always opportunity for hischadshus, renewal, in our world. We should never despair. Cold will give way to heat and sadness to joy. If things aren’t going right for us, we have to believe that there can be improvement and set ourselves to realize that goal. It may be difficult and it may take special effort, but there is no goal that is unattainable for a person of faith.
Leading up to Pesach, we scramble, expending much energy preparing for Yom Tov. The drive to clean every part of the house and clean every closet is widespread, even when not halachically mandated. It hints to the fact that we remember our history and that before the geulah there was hard work. Mekubolim reveal that the sweat that results from working to clean for Pesach has the purifying qualities of a mikvah, for there is no purity and no holiness without lots of hard work and sweat.
The connection between the exertion involved in biur chometz and the enduring struggle against evil is referenced by Chazal, who compare the yeitzer hora to se’or sheba’isah, chometz in the dough. Chometz represents immorality, and by eradicating it, we undergo a profound spiritual cleansing.
The eternal message of chodesh Nissan is that just as winter leads to spring and darkness leads to light, periods of g’nus – shame – lead to times of shevach.
Now, with winter’s end, with so many of us dealing with various challenges, hardships, sicknesses and discouraging news, we grab on to the message of hope and rebirth afforded to us by this glorious month and the glorious Yom Tov.
A year ago, a new sickness descended onto the world. Many lost their lives, people lost their jobs, and many businesses did not survive the lockdowns. Yeshivos, shuls and schools were closed. Children were out of school. Stores were closed and people feared to venture outside. Social interaction was cut to a minimum. People were separated from their families, loved ones and friends.
Last year, at this time, many of us were lying in bed, sick with the coronavirus, unable to move and wondering if we would ever be able to move again. Hashem was very kind to us, and we were able to slowly regain our strength and return to leading our lives.
Though we cannot bring back to life those who were lost, much of the turmoil caused by the disease has dissipated and we are able to see a path forward.
Sickness will give way to health, failures will lead to achievements, losses will lead to triumphs, and golus will lead to geulah.
Although it may appear to be laylah, armed with emunah and bitachon we fortify ourselves with additional strength. We sense that we are in chodesh ha’aviv and that our travails will give birth to recuperation and success.
Freedom is accompanied by obligations. We are given the abilities we need and enabled to rise to greatness. We are not held back from dreaming and setting goals.
When the Alter of Slabodka decided to open a yeshiva, he approached his rebbi, Rav Yisroel Salanter, and asked him what his main task should be as he directed the yeshiva.
Rav Yisroel told him that the task of a rosh yeshiva is to recharge the lives of the downtrodden and depressed. The Alter adapted this message and set as his goal in Slabodka to educate and inculcate the message of “gadlus ha’adam,” the greatness that man can reach.
Seemingly, they are not the same goal, for while Rav Yisroel told him to raise the weak and deficient, the Alter concentrated on motivating the bright.
But, in essence, they are one and the same, for the way for people to realize their talents and inner greatness is by helping them when they are down and letting them know that periods of darkness and dread don’t need to be followed by despair, because each person has greatness within that they can tap into and realize.
Each person can have their own spring. When everything seems dark and dreary, when all seems lost and you understand nothing, know that each person has a path that they can follow that can lead them to light, warmth and understanding.
As deep as a person has sunk, and as locked away as he may feel, if he latches himself onto Torah, he has a way out of his personal swamp. “Asei lecha rav,” make for yourself a rebbi, a teacher, “uknei lecha chover,” and procure for yourself a good friend, for they will guide you and lead you and help you reach your own promised land.
Seek warmth on a cold day and light when all is dark. “Hisna’ari mei’ofor kumi,” lift yourself off the floor and out of the dirt. “Hisoreri, ki va oreich,” lie not in slumber, awake, for your light is there, “kevod Hashem olayich niglah,” Hashem’s honor is upon you.
You’re not alone, you’re not weak, and you’re not powerless or incapable. Spring has sprung and you can, too.
Pesach calls out to all, from the rich to the poor. It proclaims in a language all can understand, in a voice all can hear, that Chag Hacheirus is here. You have the freedom and the ability to accomplish any goal you set for yourself.
“Kol dichfin yeisei veyeichol, kol ditzrich yeisei veyifsoch.” Let us all partake of the Yom Tov’s blessings. We will soon be redeemed as blessed, free, wholesome people in the land Hashem promised us.