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Friday, April 02, 2010

The Hardest Chometz to Remove (and What to do When it is Gone)

1986 was the year of the Great Matza Shortage (I think). Two key Matza bakeries burned down and people had to scramble to get three large, round, hand-baked Matzos for each Seder. I remember my father driving two hours to Toronto on Erev Pesach just to get Matzos, because all of ours were broken.

A few months earlier, in that same year, an Israeli family came to the United States to find medical help for their young daughter. One man acted as their guide and translator. After doing some research, he was able to set up a meeting between the family and a well know neurological surgeon. The surgeon diagnosed the girl and explained that he would need to perform a delicate surgery to save her life. The translator thanked the surgeon but discreetly informed him that the family had no money and no insurance in the United States. Would he be willing to perform the surgery without being paid?

The doctor, who clearly wasn’t Jewish, thought for a moment before giving his answer: He would be willing to perform the surgery to save the girls life, but he would very much appreciate if someone could get him a few of those big, round, flat, crackers that the Jews eat. He had them once but was unable to find them in regular supermarkets.

The translator agreed eagerly and promised to bring the crackers as soon as they came into season.

The Doctor performed the surgery and the girl’s life was saved.

Some months later, on Erev Pesach, the translator suddenly remembered his promise to the generous doctor. He looked around for Matzos but couldn’t find any. Nobody was willing to relinquish their three or six whole matzos for a doctor who happened to like large crackers.

Finally the translator dipped into his own minimal supply of Matzos and brought them to the hungry doctor.

A Torah scholar could probably write a responsa on the allocation of matzos to Surgeon vs. Seder, but the truth was that there was no question. This surgeon had saved the girl’s life. She would have died. How could we not give him the Matza?

Despite the beauty of the story, the fact remains that there is much more to a Matza than a large, round, cracker. Matzos are the symbol of our freedom and they represent the beginning of who we are as Jews. The fact that we are Alive is worthy of celebrating, but it does not come close to the true meaning and significance of Matza.

The Sefer Hachinuch explains that on the first day of Pesach we concentrate solely on our freedom. We thank Hashem that we are alive and no longer enslaved in Egypt. But that is only for one day. By the time the second day of Pesach comes we need to really thinking about the Matza. There is more to Matza than Life and Freedom. What is the point of being alive and free if we do not use that life and freedom to come closer to Hashem?

On the second day of Pesach we dedicate ourselves to the re-acceptance of The Torah. We count the Sefiras Ha’omer for forty-nine days and celebrate our true raison d’etre on Shavuos.

The Talmud tells us that when Rav Aleksandri would complete his Shemona Esrei, before taking three steps back, he would say a short prayer:

“Master of the world, our desire is to fulfill your desire. The only thing standing in our way is some sourdough and the [Roman] government”

What is this Sourdough, this Chometz that obstructs us from doing Mitzvos?

The Chassidic Sefarim explain that the Chometz refers to haughtiness and pride. When we are puffed up and full of hot air, they are Chometzdik. Our ego gets in the way of their service to Hasehm.

The Mussar greats explained that Chometz is the result of laziness and a lackadaisical attitude toward life. When we leave the dough for too long it becomes Chometz; and when we are spiritually lethargic we have a hard time doing the will of Hashem.

The Nesivos Shalom understands Chometz as a simple chemical process of fermentation. Unfortunately some of us are a little rotten inside. Everything that we do or say is laced with a cynicism or anger. This too stands between us and perfection.

It is clear from Reb Aleksandri’s prayer that there is more to Chometz than breadcrumbs. As we remove the Chometz from our houses and our diets, we need to remove the chometz from our Neshamos as well. In fact, the Chometz inside of us is the hardest to remove: we can’t vacuum it, blowtorch it, bleach it, or sell it. We need to work on ourselves to excise the bad character traits that become a part of our lives.

The Matza is more than the bread of our freedom. It is the beginning of our existence as Jews. We spent the first day of Pesach celebrating our newfound alacrity, humility, and purity. Now we need to begin our forty-nine day trek toward Kabolas Hatorah. We need to grow step by step by step and use the platform of our Chometz-free personalities to become the very best people Hashem intended us to be.

Posted on 04/02 at 05:45 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at