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Metamorphosis: From Hope to Rejoicing

A group of orphans, survivors of the Holocaust, at the reception camp in Atlit, 17 July 1944. (Wikipedia/Kluger Zoltan https://www.flickr.com/photos/government_press_office/6377346635/)
A group of orphans, survivors of the Holocaust, at the reception camp in Atlit, 17 July 1944. (Wikipedia/Kluger Zoltan https://www.flickr.com/photos/government_press_office/6377346635/)

This Pesach, let’s try to respect each other, have faith in our future, and bring the Final Redemption.

Since nursery school, many of us have been singing the time-worn words of Ani Ma’amin. This song, whose lyrics originate from the twelfth of the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles, is timeless and has endured both our nation’s woes and bravest moments: Whether it was the Jews in the gas chambers in the 1940s, chanting their haunting tune with strong faith and trembling voices; the soldiers of the Israeli army huddled together in melodious perseverance during the fire of last fall; or the group of twenty bliss-filled kindergartners chanting about how much they want something they don’t even know how much our people need.

Our Sages link the Redemption of Egyptian times to the Final Redemption, in that their month of occurrence, respectively, was or will be Nissan. Throughout Jewish history, starting with ancient times, we as a people have always anticipated the Geulah’s arrival: every single day in Mitzrayim, rising with the first streak of sunrise and hoping for a sudden change in state with bated breath; day in and day out, Nazi victims awaking to abrupt shrieks (Schnell!) and pointed guns; and of course, the national tragedies our sisters and brothers are more recently enduring in Israel.

During the collective and personal traumas within our people’s extensive history of plague and persecution, we have always held onto the text of Ani Ma’amin, as we recite it daily after our morning prayers: I believe in full faith in the coming of Moshiach. And even if he is delayed, I will wait for him everyday to arrive. These deeply felt words—which to some evoke tears just thinking of how much we have been through and how much we need the prayer’s fruition—beg the question: Can Moshiach come sooner or later than we expect? After all, he might come late and even so, we are still hoping for him each day.

In answering this question, the prophet Yeshayah delivers the Divine message of the Geulah, as he declares to the Nation of Israel, אני ה׳, בעתה אחישנה. “I am HaShem. I will hasten it [Moshiach’s arrival] in its time” (60:22). Many commentaries understand the term achishenah (“I will hasten it”) and be’itah (“in its time”) as a national choice—based on our actions and self-improvement—of hastening our redemption or waiting for it to come at its expected time in the Hebrew year 6000. In other words, the commentators Rashi and Radak explain Moshiach’s ETA as a matter of our merit as a people (Sanhedrin 98a). If we earn it now, through good moral behavior, we can bring the Davidic Savior two centuries early. If we do not, then he will still come, though much later, at his designated time.

Within the mundanity of our lives, though, beyond any heavy discussion of ethics or redemption, society at large encourages the ideology of having everything happen faster: whether it’s no-fuss eating and meal prep, with DoorDash and instant soup or oatmeal; “one-two-three” sanitizing, with Purell and Clorox wipes; or unhindered communication, with WhatsApp and autocorrect (because correcting your own mistakes in texting is just not fast enough). In this way, quicker is not only better, due to our 21st-century impatience and laziness; it is good for our own benefit and productivity. In making things convenient for us at work and at home, technology (with the brilliant minds behind it) has developed innovations, within the last two decades, like Netflix and other streaming services, which have become hallmarks of our culture. These major, time-saving improvements in our pleasure-seeking lives have transformed many people like me, at the early age of twenty-seven, into a bony, old dinosaur in the eyes of the younger movie-watching generation.

On a typical motsei Shabbos, as a kid, I had to drive three minutes with my father to our local Blockbuster (oy vey!) to kick back our feet with some popcorn (or leftover-Challah French toast) on our living room couch. And talk about how long it took to remove the DVD from its sleeve and insert it into the player and wait for it to load? I mean, I could have finished the movie by then! Humorously or not, our life in this new era is all about eliminating time-wasters and minimizing preparations, thereby increasing our leisure time and enjoyment. In this vein, if we can glean one positive message from the swift advancements of the modern era and the loss of our (long) attention span, it would be the importance of incorporating immense goodness and pleasure into our lives as quickly as possible. Unless we want to wait another two-hundred sixteen years, beyond our own lifetimes and that of our great grandchildren, it is up to us to hasten the Geulah.

As our Sages write in Pirkei Avos, אם אין אני  לי מי לי, loosely translated as “Don’t wait around—do something!” because if not you, then who? In this light, Rav Yisrael Salant, the founder of and the dynamic voice behind the European Mussar movement of the 19th century, spoke of the significance of improving ourselves as the only means in effecting change in our communities and throughout the world. Perhaps this idea can be an explanation of the words of our Sages (by way of derash) that every person is a universe unto him or herself. As an individual, through one’s own decisions, a person is a key to the world and its moral standing. That is, what we do not only has an effect on who we are as people; it also has a real impact on others and who they become as well. Whether it’s saying negative things about our peers behind their backs—as we not only destroy them, we destroy ourselves—or conversely, empowering ourselves or others by standing up to no-good and protecting victims of any range of abuse or terror.

From my own experience in the years preceding my second marriage, I can think of one truth which we can internalize in choosing the option of Achishenah, and that is the underestimated effect of our words. As we know, lashon hora is terrible. Yet, even within the bounds of negative talk, there are situations when it is permitted l’toeles. However, the purest form of wrong in my eyes is that which has no exception or potential for constructive purpose: motsi shem ra, literally “circulating a bad name.”

People are always interested in talking about other people’s lives since it is human nature. I suppose our own lives aren’t interesting enough! What people wear, what people do, how they interact…and the more private subjects that give people a strong sense of chiyus (liveliness and vigor): people’s intriguing tzaros—whether it’s shidduchim and an endless bachelor- or bachelorette-hood (“I really wonder what’s wrong with Yaakov”), medical and mental health suffering (“Poor family, she’s completely falling apart…”), or divorce (“Oh boy, if you only knew”). Even though it is not correct, not everyone means unwell by these conversations. In the same breath where curiosity has led humanity to the best inventions and technological advances, curiosity has also led us to the greatest of all sins. As the Baalei Mussar wrote extensively on the topic, every middah has its potential for good and bad.

What behavior I have found the most challenging, though, to digest or rationalize is that of ruining someone’s reputation. Lashon hora can be true; motsi shem ra is always, unequivocally false. Either people are dumb and believe everything they hear or people want to hurt. I want to fill in the first of the multiple choice in a make-believe assessment of people, since I try to believe in their innocence. Either way, no matter the intention, there is a reason Chazal say that humiliating another human being in this world is like snuffing the life out of him or her. Public shaming, or the spreading of lies, is the slow disassembly of a person’s spirit. It is an emotional form of cruelty. Indeed, the resulting anguish and personal torture can take years to overcome.

To clarify, we are not talking here about shaming Get-refusers or people who are doing bad things to their wives and husbands or to their own families. We are talking about lies regarding one’s character or mental health, about exaggerations and embellishments, and tremendous omissions—simply put, using our words to destroy another person’s life.

One thing I learned about people, besides for their deep curiosity, is their enormous creativity. Many people use it for chiddushei Torah, ways of chessed, and improving our lives as Jews, such as new programs and innovative applications relating to our mitzvah observance. Let’s keep our imagination to just that and use it only for the good and benefit of others. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t even say it in Yiddish!

On a very curious note: Historically, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933), otherwise known as the Chofetz Chaim, published many sefarim on the laws of speech as well as his last work entitled Tzipisa Lishu’ah, which is translated as “Have you yearned for the Salvation?” In addition to demonstrating his knowledge of Messianic times in his writing, this righteous author also proved what it means to have faith in our redemption as a people: Legend has it that the Chofetz Chaim always carried a parcel of special clothing around with him wherever he would go, in case Moshiach would suddenly arrive at that very moment. Therefore, it must not be a coincidence that the very man who elaborated on how to improve our speech in our interactions with one another was the one who rallied for the coming of Moshiach.

Furthermore: Interestingly enough, this holy man published Tzipisa Lishu’ah before he passed away in the year (1933), when the Third Reich rose to its infamous power. Before his death, the Chofetz Chaim warned his Jewish community in a prophetic way that World War I would seem like “child’s play” (or as he said, משחק ילדים) in comparison to World War II. Perhaps with his revolutionary expositions on bein adam l’chaveiro (between man to man), he wanted to help his nation improve their mitzvah observance and gain more merits before such an impending doom. After all, when we are stripped of everything, including our physical lives and our humanity, all we have is each other.

Now, to relate this to the upcoming holiday: As we know, Pesach is a time of freeing ourselves from what limits us. In this way, let us reflect on any pain or negative feelings we have towards one another which we can let go of. Let positive companionship heal us. Let time heal us. And let’s talk well of each other. Ironically, so many of us are focused on what we put into our mouths especially with kashrus and Pesach, so why don’t we care what comes out?

In two weeks time, we will be guzzling (or rather, royally sipping) our four cups of wine, symbolic of the four stages of the Exodus: והוצאתי I extracted you; והצלתי  I rescued you; וגאלתי  I redeemed you; and ולקחתי  and I took you out. The fifth cup, the Goblet of Eliyahu HaNavi, stands for והבאתי I will bring you to the Promised Land, representing the Ultimate Redemption, a time in which a sighing land filled with the captivity and blood of our brothers and sisters will be transformed into a rejuvenated land flowing with rich milk and sweet honey; a time in which the cries of our hearts will be replaced with the laughter of our mouths—as we repeat the words of our predecessors, אז ימלא שחוק פינו . After every Shabbos or yom tov meal, we recite the words that our ancestors once uttered on the tragic banks of the Euphrates River, after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash and the massacre and cruelty they had all witnessed, including the barbaric murder of babies. When we have nobody else, all we have is our people and our faith in a good future.

As the late Naomi Shemer wrote in the lyrics of her hit “Al Kol Ele,” she beseeches HaShem to protect our nation—our soldiers, our daughters, and our infants. Back in 1981, she debuted this lyrical prayer for our people and ended with the words אל תשכח את התקווה/ השיבני ונשובה אל הארץ הטובה,  about Israel and its people not to forget their hope, and about HaShem to bring us back to the Land of Plenty. Ironically, Shemer uses the singular form of “returning” and then the plural form of “coming back to our Land,” which illuminates the Mussar idea mentioned earlier of first making change within ourselves as individuals, in metamorphosing our national suffering and dreams of better times into a new era of joy and celebration.

About the Author
Este Stollman is a Yeshiva English teacher and has a Master of Arts in Jewish History from Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies. She has a small sushi-making party business and lives in Lakewood, NJ with her husband and children.
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