Rabbi Gershon Avtzon

Many schools have a “theme of the year” that plays a central role in the education of the children. A few years ago, some of my children were learning in the local “Ohr Torah of Cincinnati” Montessori school and one of the constant themes was “attitude of gratitude” i.e. opening the eyes of the children to how much they have to appreciative for, and how to respond with gratitude. They encouraged the children to express their gratitude in words and in action. 

Showing and expressing gratitude is a central theme in Judaism in general and of Pesach in particular. We relive and retell the story of the exodus from Egypt with constant focus on the many wonders and miracles that G-d Almighty had performed for us. One of the goals of the retelling of the miracles and exodus is to open our eyes to the daily blessings that we receive in our lives and to learn to express gratitude and appreciation for those miracles. 

While showing appreciation is not an expression of faith, because everyone can understand the concept of showing appreciation for the good that they have received, there is an act of showing appreciation that demands faith: Showing appreciation in advance for the anticipated goodness you believe that you will receive from G-d Almighty. Yet, this type of expression can bring about true deliverance and redemption. 

If you ask a Jew, why we eat Matzah on Pesach, the answer given is, as we say in the Haggadah: Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.” Yet, we find that the Jews ate Matzah on the night before they left Egypt? The answer (as explained by the medieval scholar Abarbanel): Hashem wanted the Jews to eat Matzah in Egypt in anticipation of the miracles that would take place when the would eventually leave Egypt! 

The Talmud records the following heavenly debate that took place in the times of the Jewish King Chizkiyahu. He was a very righteous king, and Hashem had shown him many miracles. He was so thankful, that he announced (Isaiah 38:20): “The Lord [has promised] to save me, and we will play my hymns all the days of our life in the house of the Lord." 

Yet, The Talmud (Sanhedrin 94a) seems to say an opposite story: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, sought to designate King Hezekiah as the Messiah...The attribute of justice said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, and if with regard to David, king of Israel, who recited several songs and praises before You, You did not designate him as the Messiah, then with regard to Hezekiah, for whom You performed all these miracles, delivering him from Sennacherib and healing his illness, and he did not recite praise before You, will You designate him as the Messiah?” 

Many of the commentators explain: While in heaven they appreciated the songs of praise that Chizkiyahu offered after he experienced the miracles performed for him from above, that was not enough to merit to be the Messiah of the Jewish people. To experience true redemption, they had expected him to show — and sing his songs of — his appreciation in advance of the miracles performed for him! As he waited, the opportunity was lost. 

We all are aware that the holiday of Pesach is 8 days long. The holiday actually finishes this upcoming Sunday night, April 4 2021. To many of us, the main part of the holiday is the first two days, when we participate in the Pesach seder. The second days are just “regular” holidays. Our sages enlighten us to a different reality: While during the first two days of the holiday we commemorate and celebrate the exodus from Egypt, the last two days are meant to awaken in us our anticipation for the long-awaited exodus from our current exile. We rekindle in our hearts the desire to return to the holy land and serve Hashem in the rebuilt third temple in Jerusalem.

May we merit to celebrate “This year in Jerusalem,” Amen! 

 

You can email Rabbi Gerson Avtzon at  lessonsinlife@americanisraelite.com.

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