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Reb Yoel Kahn: When We Understand

Due to the overwhelming response and demand from the community, Reb Yoel Kahn agreed to present a weekly webcast on topics that are timely and relevant. This week’s topic is titled ‘When We Understand‘.

Reb Yoel Kahn, known to his thousands of students as “Reb Yoel,” serves as the head mashpia at the Central Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in 770. For over forty years he served as the chief ‘chozer’ (transcriber) of all the Rebbe’s sichos and ma’amorim. He is also the editor-in-chief of Sefer HoErchim Chabad, an encyclopedia of Chabad Chassidus.

In response to the growing thirst of Anash for Chassidus guidance in day-to-day life, Reb Yoel has agreed to the request of Merkaz Anash to begin a series of short video talks on Yomei d’Pagra and special topics.

The video was facilitated by Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim, a branch of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch

Shabbos lends perfection to everything. When the world was created in six days, vayechulu followed; the completion and perfection of heaven and earth and all they contain arrived with Shabbos, and the same applies for everything else. Considering that Pesach ended this week, and will therefore attain its perfection this Shabbos, it seems appropriate to address a Pesach-related issue.

The prohibition of chometz is severe to an extent beyond that of anything else. Some prohibited things may not be eaten but are otherwise usable, while any sort of benefit from others is completely forbidden. But why the difference? We’re all aware of the model from Tanya whereby anything assurbelongs to the kelipos, in which case, why is any benefit ever allowed? And when it is, suggesting that the object isn’t in fact kelipah, why is eating prohibited?

Functions or Essence?

The Rebbe explains that the answer lies in the distinction between a particular form of an object and its essence. When something is completely kelipah, then any sort of use is understandably prohibited. Yet there are cases where the kelipah is only tied to a particular form of the object, specifically associated with eating, which is why only consuming it as food is forbidden, while other benefits unrelated to that particular form are permitted. Only something completely in the realm of evil is entirely unusable.

But still, none of the things which are utterly forbidden are quite like chametz, since these may all remain on Jewish property. What this means is that even benefit of every kind still doesn’t speak for the object itself, but rather its uses. When we stated earlier that objects banned from use are essentially evil, it still really only related to their functions, and the real difference lay in the distinction between something the prohibition of which is restricted to the form of food and others where all forms are forbidden; but none of this ever approaches the essence of the object itself. It is only chametz, which beyond not being eaten or even benefited from, that is itself treif, and is barred entirely from Jewish property, since its very essence is kelipah.

Yet how strange is it, that chametz which is so bad, that its every form and even its very presence is forbidden, is only disallowed on Pesach, yet once Pesach elapses may even be eaten! Moreover, come Shavuos, the korbon brought then must be chametz. How is that possible?

Free to Serve

The answer which transpires from the Rebbe’s sichos is as follows: the distinction between chametzand matzah is that chametz rises. Both are made of flour and water, yet matzah remains thin and never swells, while the same ingredients in chametz inflate, and become an entire ‘metzius.’

When we wish to be redeemed from our personal mitzrayim, the first step is bittul, which is related toemunah, and matzah is the ‘bread of faith.’ We can believe, on the basis of what we’ve heard from our fathers, who heard it from their fathers, with the tradition stretching back to Sinai. But it’s also possible that we might be convinced of our own wisdom, and demand to have everything explained and proven, and disregard everything otherwise. The foundation for all evil is gaavah; this self-regard spoils everything.

Gaavah can affect our emunah, and it can also impact our interactions. We can be so self-absorbed, feeling like we’re the point of everything, that giving becomes out of the question. Someone else might be lacking the basics, while we’re enjoying luxuries, yet due to our inflated sense of self andgaavah, we won’t consider sharing; our indulgences trump the other’s necessities. Clearly, chametzand what it represents is the foundation of everything evil.

We must be aware of the fact that we are actually avadim to Hashem, and as such, recognize the ‘boss’, without leaving room for our own inquiries. “Bnei Yisroel are slaves to me, they are my slaves, whom I took out of the land of Egypt.” Thinking highly of ourselves is mitzrayim, true slavery; “only someone who studies Torah is free.” The need to understand everything is enslavement to yeshus andgaavah. Not to be a baal gaavah is to be honest and think less of oneself, to realize that Torah is Torah and that Hashem is the boss, that we are Hashem’s avadimBittul is truly the foundation ofYiddishkeit. The first thing we said at matan Torah was naaseh v’nishma, whether we understand or not, we must act first.

When Bittul Meets Metzius

Yet while obeying is the foundation of Jewishness, it’s not quite the most ideal state of affairs. If, as slaves, we realize that we must obey our boss, yet we personally don’t agree, then this perspective hasn’t become our own, and we’re connected through bittul but not with our own metzius; as individuals, we stands apart from Hashem, and the connection hasn’t impacted who we are. Ideally, being avadim should serve as the foundation, but then nishma should follow on the heels of naaseh; our bittul to Hashem should become the way we think and feel, and should turn into our source of enjoyment, and that is the strongest connection we can have, as opposed to just acting against our own will.

Atah bechartanu mikal ha’amim . . v’keiravtanu malkeinu la’avodasecha.” La’avodasecha, we’re here to serve You, not to regard our own opinions; v’keiravtanu malkeinu la’avodasecha, Hashem made us Hisavadim, as opposed to Pharaoh’s slaves, and if we resist, it’s because we’re enslaved to our owngaavah. But when we say “v’keiravtanu malkeinu la’avodasecha”, we aren’t complaining of our poor fate; we pronounce it with the greatest joy and pleasure. “La’avodasecha” has become our identity to such a degree that we sing “atah bechartanu mikal ha’amim”, and that’s the truth.

When leaving mitzrayimchametz must be forbidden in minutest amounts; even a strand of chametz, of yeshus and gaavah, not being completely batel to Hashem is the gravest prohibition. When starting out in avoda, not only can’t it be consumed, or benefited from in any form, it has no place altogether in our domain; utter bittul to Hashem is the foundation. Only after we’ve eaten matzah, the bread of faith, is it possible to seek that our own existence, our understanding, conform as well. That’s whychametz is permitted the rest of the year, and when Shavuos arrives, naaseh v’nishma, it becomes the obligatory korbon. The avoda of an eved has pervaded us to the degree that it’s become our very identity.

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