Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pesach – Living by the Law of Covering our Nakedness

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Acharei Mot
The Challenge of Recreational Swimming for the Religious Family
Here in Israel, summer begins right after Pesach with the opening of the public beaches. Swimming is a great, gentle, healthy sport that doesn’t need to be shun by the G-d fearing. Yet, in Denmark where I grew up, the women would go topless to the beach in order to soak in the scant summer sun. That may have changed today, due to fear of skin cancer. Still, I cannot take my son to any beach when we visit my parents in Denmark this summer. Mixed swimming is not an option for the Torah observant family. So, where can I go on vacation and swim together with my family? My husband and I used to go to isolated beaches without people, where I still wore my ‘Princess Modest Swimwear,’ just in case a man would pass by. However, after almost drowning in the undercurrent of the Mediterranean Sea, we discovered that at beaches where there are no people there is also no life-guide. The religious Kinar beach of the calm serene Sea of Galilee saved our day. There, we have a choice between separate swimming at the men or women’s beach respectively and swimming together at the mixed modest beach where all the women are fully covered like me. In addition, the guesthouses in Israel that are geared toward the orthodox sector offer the pampering of a private swimming pool. I feel very fortunate to live five minutes from the separate pool of Alon Shevut that only has separate hours for men and women. Thank G-d for the Holy Land!

Sunrise Swimming Sisterhood
Every Monday morning I arise at times while it is still dark, and grab my swimming bag, heading for the 6-7 AM women’s pool hour. It is such a powerful, liberating feeling to beat my tired, laziness through the strength of healthy routine. As the first mitzvah in the Code of the Law instructs us, “Be strong like a lion to wake up in the morning to serve the Creator” (Shulchan Aruch 1:1). At the pool, I join the silent, stout, sisterhood of swimmers, swimming against the stream of sluggishness. We place our bags on the yellow plastic benches, hang our jackets on the hooks and ignore the peeling ceiling and the dusty glare of the florescent lights, which hasn’t been cleaned for Pesach. As a choreographed cluster, we calmly make our stride into the cool pool-water to swim our morning laps. Most of the women have the determination to repeat this routine every morning and they pay a monthly membership fee. This, I discovered when I missed my weekly Monday routine and had to make up on a Wednesday, while meeting mostly the same women. Over the years, I have come to know my fellow swimmers and grown fond of our tacit comradery. I accept that Chaya has tenure on the only hairdryer that works without turning on and off. I eagerly await the enjoyable healing scent of Shira’s natural oils, which fortunately overpower the caustic smell of chlorine. She is a strong, avid swimmer with suntanned skin fitting tightly on her lean, muscular body. I exchange morning greetings and friendly smiles with Yael the physical therapist who helped me after my car accident 25 years ago. Miriam, who always brings a suitcase filled with clothes, various body-lotions and who-knows-what-else, involves all of us with her engaging friendly conversation. She may also join in with Daniella’s happy, high-pitched singing in the shower. No wonder I always return invigorated not only from the swim but also from the positive energy generated by my female pool friends.

Avoiding Immodesty without Compromising our Health
With easy access to such enjoyable separate pool, mixed swimming holds no enticement for us early rising swimmers. I have only compassion for the poor insecure woman who gets her self-confidence from a handsome man noticing the skin of her flat stomach between the two parts of her bikini. This week’s parasha discusses the prohibition of inappropriate sexual relationships. In this context, the Torah literally uses the expression, “do not uncover the nakedness” of the various women that a man is forbidden to marry (Vayikra 18:4-19). This expression alludes to the fact that uncovered nakedness is a main manifestation of sexuality, and we can therefore deduct that the covering of a woman’s nakedness from the glares of inappropriate men through separate swimming is a mitzvah from the Torah. Certainly, a Jewish man may not go to a mixed beach where women are exposing their nakedness. The halacha goes as far as to prohibit a man from passing by a place where women are doing their washing because they used to stand in the water with their legs uncovered. If there is another way to pass (even through a detour) a man must not pass by women doing their washing. If there is no other way, he must close his eyes and look away (Aruch HaShulchan 21:1). However, Rav Moshe Feinstein does give one exception to this rule for a person who is in need of the healing at the sea. Such person is permitted to go to a mixed beach even if there are uncovered women, as long as he knows himself that it won’t lead him to improper thoughts (hirhurim). This is on condition that there is no beach available with separate hours (Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:56). I recall going to the pool in my modest swim-dress when we lived in Memphis TN, where I was surprised to meet an elderly rebbetzin in her bathing suit. She told me that her rabbi had given her a heter (halachic permission) because she needed to swim for health reasons. The rules of the Torah are for us to live by to the highest degree rather than to be a detriment to our health. Thus, caring for our health is so important that it even at times overrides the important mitzvah of modesty.

No Need to Compromise Modesty to Enjoy Healthy Recreation
I’m proud to live in the Holy Land where we can follow Hashem’s mandate to keep separate and holy rather than being enticed by the temptations of the immodest fashions and customs of the nations of the world including mixed swimming. Rashi explains that to be holy implies not only avoiding forbidden sexual relationships, but moreover to keep the extra fences that distances us from improper sexual energies: “Wherever you find a command to fence yourself against improper sexuality mentioned in the Torah you also find the mention of holiness” (Rashi, Vayikra 19:2). We see an example of this in the sequence of the end of this week’s parasha that elaborates on the forbidden sexual relationships juxta positioned to next week’s parasha, which opens with the command to be holy. To reach holiness we need to care more about keeping the Torah than following the culture and latest fashions of the world. As an introduction to the list of forbidden sexual relationships in this week’s parasha we are directed to stir clear of the extraneous influence of exile so we can be free to keep the laws of Hashem:
ספר ויקרא פרק יח
(ג) כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ: (ד) אֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי הָשַׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם :(ה) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי הָשַׁם:

“You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I’m bringing you, nor shall you follow their statutes. Mine rules alone shall you observe, and walk faithfully in my laws: I am Hashem your G-d. You shall keep My laws and My rules, through which humanity will keep and live by them: I am Hashem” (Vayikra 18:3-5).

From the last words of this quote we learn that in spite of all the prohibitions of the Torah that seemingly restrict our lives, keeping all of these laws and rules actually brings us both holiness and true life as it states, וָחַי בָּהֶם/v’chai bahem – and live by them. All of Hashem’s laws in the Torah actually enhance our lives, even if it doesn’t always feel that way on the surface for those of us who may be accustomed to the practices of the nations where we were exiled. Here in Israel we are fortunately to live enriched Torah observant lives without having to compromise neither our standard of modesty nor our standard of healthy and enjoyable exercise and recreation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pesach – The Holiday for Extended Family Celebration

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Shabbat Pesach
Break Up in the Family Tradition
The countdown to Pesach is winding down and my head has consistently been in the kitchen cabinets the entire week. As I emptied the entire contents of the drawer filled with assorted knives, wooden spoons and spatulas, deciding which ones I no longer need, the jarring ring of the phone interrupted me. “Do you have a few minutes,” I heard my friend Alona’s teary voice ask from the other side of the line. “Sure, of course, I’ll always make time for you,” I replied with my most comforting voice. “What’s going on?” My friend’s voice was cracking up, “I don’t know….eh…” I could hear that Alona was trying very hard to control herself from breaking down into uncontrollable sobbing.

“It’s ok, it’s ok, tell me what’s the matter,” I encouraged. Alona is a very dear friend. We have a lot in common, being Ba’alei teshuva (returnees to Judaism), who left our family abroad to live a Torah life in Israel. We are both blessed to have a sister who also lives a Torah life in Israel. “I don’t know where I will be having the Pesach Seder,” Alona blurted out. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I know that each year, you and your sister get together for the first day of Pesach, every second year by you, and every other year by her. Weren’t you by her last year? Why wouldn’t she be coming to you this year?” I asked with disbelief in my voice. “I did invite my sister and all her children and grandchildren, like two years ago, when it was so special to host everyone together,” answered Alona. “But, now, she told me it was not convenient for her children to come to us since they have more children. They want to come to her and stay a couple of days, which I totally understand but...” “So couldn’t you go to her then?” I interrupted Alona. “I got the feeling that she wanted to be alone with her children, this year. Then, I tried to invite good friends to our home, but when no one could come, I turned to my sister again and offered to find our own place to stay, if only she would include us in her Seder,” Alona explained. “It was really hard to have to beg her like this, but it was even harder to receive her cold rejection. For more than 25 years, we have celebrated Pesach together. It was wonderful for our children to have a close relationship with their cousins. I believe, like my grandmother, in the importance of bringing the cousins together. I thought my sister did as well, but I was in for a surprise when she told me, ‘For the Seder, we are full!’ With these words, she broke our decades long family tradition and withheld the opportunity for our family to celebrate Pesach together.” I could hear the throbbing pain in Alona’s voice and I wished I could put my arm around her and give her a consoling hug. “You are more than welcome to join our Pesach Seder” I consoled Alona. “Celebrating Pesach with close friends is the next best alternative to a family Seder.”

Make an Effort to Get Together with Family During the Holidays
Why is it so important to celebrate Pesach with our family? Originally, we would slaughter the Pesach sacrifice and share it with our extended family as the Torah commands:
ספר שמות יב (כא) וַיִּקְרָא משֶׁה לְכָל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מִשְׁכוּ וּקְחוּ לָכֶם צֹאן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶם וְשַׁחֲטוּ הַפָּסַח:
“Draw out, and pick out a sheep for your families and slaughter the Pesach sacrifice” (Shemot 12:21).

A lamb feeds many mouths. Since we are not supposed to keep any leftovers from the Pesach offering, on a practical level, the sacrifice had to be shared with the extended family. There is something special about family. Not just brothers and sisters, children, parents and grandparents. We also have a special bond with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember fondly the Pesach Seders at my Aunt Busse and Uncle Moses’ home, with the gefilte fish made from scratch and the special kosher for Pesach candies. Most of all, I remember getting together with our cousins and even playing with our cousin’s children. Today, nearly fifty years later, I am still close with some of my cousin’s children and we make an effort to call each other every year before Pesach. Whereas, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are solemn holidays for internal reflection, and Sukkot is a time where many Torah observant Jews remain in their own Sukkah and focus on the nuclear family, Pesach and Chanukah afford the main opportunities to get together with uncles, aunts and cousins. Today, in our fast-paced society, we hardly find the time to spend with our immediate family, let alone with our extended family, unless we make a special effort to get together during the holidays.

Include Whoever is Hungry and Lonely in your Pesach Seder
The Pesach Hagaddah opens with raising the tray of matzot while proclaiming: “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and join the Pesach Seder.” With these words, we declare that anyone off the street is welcome to our Pesach Seder. We learn from these words of the Hagaddah, that it is a special mitzvah to include the hungry and the poor in our Pesach Seder. Witnessing my friend Alona’s predicament, I realized that being hungry and poor is not limited to physical hunger. Especially today, spiritual and emotional hunger is rising in the world. In spite of having a network of friends on social media, an increasing number of people, whether young or old, find themselves lonely and left out when the holiday comes around. It is, therefore, a special mitzvah to reach out and invite extended family, singles, and those who live away from family for Pesach. Next time, when anyone asks to come for our Seder, even if it is not someone in the family, we may think twice before answering, “For the Seder- we are full.” Otherwise, how can we recite the opening words of the Hagaddah, “Whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder” without feeling like a hypocrite?

Family Unification Brings Redemption
Rabbeinu Bachaya confirms the importance of inviting our relatives for the holidays, in his commentary on the verse describing the Pesach sacrifice that we cited above:
רבנו בחיי על שמות פרק יב פסוק כא למשפחותיכם. מכאן שחייב אדם לקרב קרוביו כדי שישמחו עמהם בימים טובים, וכן בימות הגאולה הבטיחנו הקב"ה להתקרב איש אל משפחתו שנאמר (ירמיה ל, כה) בעת ההיא נאום ה' אהיה לאלקים לכל משפחות ישראל:
From here, we learn that we are obligated to bring our relatives close in order to rejoice together with them during the holidays. Likewise, in the time of geulah (redemption), Hashem promised to bring each person close to his family as it states, “At that time, says Hashem, I will be a G-d to all the families of Israel” (Yirmiyahu 30:25); (Rabbeinu Bachaye, Shemot 12:21).

There is nothing as important as family, even if we may have different values. As Rabbeinu Bachaya teaches in connection with Pesach, we need to get together with the family since this is Hashem’s will. Then He “will be a G-d to all the families of Israel.” Perhaps, we can understand from this verse in the prophets, that Hashem will only bring redemption when we are connected with our extended families. Since our extended family has other extended family and so on ad infinitum, thought connecting to our extended family we will ultimately unify with all of Israel. In the merit of reaching out to family around Pesach time, we eagerly await redemption during this month, as it states, “In Nissan we were redeemed and in Nissan we will in the future be redeemed (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh HaShana 11b). 

May we merit to become unified families sacrificing the Pesach sacrifice at the Temple!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Spiritual Spring Cleaning

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Metzora
The Scattering of My Extended Self
I feel a bit frazzled as I sit here in my office, writing, while all the bookcases stand gaping with their contents piled up on the floor, blocking passage through our hallway. Soon my husband will return from services and complain that it’s impossible to pass here. My porch is graced with assorted kitchen furniture and utensils in various stages of being cleaned and dried. In the garden, the crabby crabgrass, that was always yellow in the winter, while in the summer aggressively penetrates the stone terrace to find its way into the vegetable garden, has been partly removed and awaits replacement. In the greenhouse, the buggy parsley is on its way to the chickens. The planters wait to be exchanged with new potting soil and basil plants. It is hard for me to focus on anything when it feels like parts of my extended self are scattered in so many different places, waiting to be put back together in a new way. I wonder if that is similar to the experience of having one’s home diagnosed with tzara’at (spiritual skin or wall disease). In that case, “The Kohen orders the house to be cleared” (Vayikra 14:36), and the homeowner similarly must remove all his possessions from inside his home. Although the Torah doesn’t obligate us to air out every book, toy, pot and pan in preparation for Pesach, I’m finding support for this minhag (custom) of Jewish women in the kabbalistic understanding of the procedures for healing tzara’at of the home as described in this week’s parasha – the last one before Pesach.

The Hidden Treasure within Our Broken Walls

ספר ויקרא יד (לד) כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם לַאֲחֻזָּה וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת בְּבֵית אֶרֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶם:
“When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I will give an eruptive plague of tzara’at upon a house in the land of your possession” (Vayikra 14:34).

One of my friends called for advice about the sores on her five-year-old son’s body. Now beginning to dry, they were itching even more, and her son was suffering terribly. I told her that itching is a sign of healing. It often gets worse before it gets better. We can apply this principle to tzara’at of the home. Rashi notices that it states, “I will give the plague of tzara’at…” Lesions of tzara’at are good news for them, because the Amorites had hidden away treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that the Israelites were in the desert. In consequence of the plague, they would be required to pull down the house and thereby discover the treasure. (Rashi, Vayikra 14:34). It is known that when we suffer loss there are often gains to be reaped, if only we can see with our spiritual glasses. Many of us have experienced times when our lives seemed unmanageable, yet, ultimately, brought great blessings. As we sit in the wreckage of a broken relationship, a disease or lost job, we need to strengthen our emunah that there is a treasure of gold hidden within our broken walls.

Clearing Out Spiritual Impurity from their Homes

There is an even deeper lesson to be gleaned from the procedures of tzara’at of the house. The Zohar teaches us that our intentions and words when beginning to build a home affect the spiritual state of the home. “Come and see, ‘All the women whose heart stirred them…’ (Shemot 35:26), when they were doing their work, they used to say, this is for the Temple, this is for the Tabernacle that is for the curtain. All the artisans did the same, so that holiness would dwell on their efforts and the workmanship was sanctified. When they brought it to its place, it turned into holiness. In the same way, whoever creates something for idol worship or another unholy purpose…the spirit of defilement dwells on it… The Canaanites were idol worshippers and used to build edifices for sculptures of faces and for abominations from the side of impurity, where they would worship idols. When they started building, they spoke words of impurity that caused the spirit of impurity to rise over the building” (Zohar, Tazria 50b). The Zohar continues to explain, that when the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan, Hashem desired to let His Shechinah dwell on the land. Therefore, He inflicted tzara’at on the impure houses, in order that the Israelites would break down the buildings of wood and stone made in impurity, and rebuild them in purity. If the purpose of the afflicted homes was only in order to find treasures, they could have returned the stones back into their prior place and the dust to its place. Yet, scripture states, “They take away the stones” (Vayikra 14:30), “he shall take other mortar” (Ibid. 42). Thus, the spirit of impurity became removed so that Israel could dwell in holiness and the Shechinah dwell among them. (Rabbi Rahmiel-Hayyim Drizin, (

Spiritual Spring Cleaning in Preparation for Pesach
The halacha (Jewish law) dictates that we only remove physical chametz made from one of the five grains that can be made into bread or matzah (wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye) from our homes and possessions. The source of this halacha is in the Torah:

ספר שמות יב (טו) שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם:
“You shall eat unleavened bread for seven days, on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses… (Shemot 12:15), see also (Shemot 13:7).

Yet this week’s parasha alludes to a spiritual reason for removing more than chametz from our homes in preparation for Pesach. Pesach is a time of renewal on all levels: physical, emotional and spiritual. Perhaps, some of our possessions have absorbed spiritual impurity from our negative thoughts and intentions, words of lashon hara (evil speech) and gossip? When we remove our stuff from their shelves, drawers and hangers and air them out, we may not only find hidden treasures that we forgot we owned. We furthermore may clear out any possible negative energy and infuse everything we own with Divine renewal. Although, I agree that “dust is not chametz, and the children are not Pesach sacrifices,” still dust and cobwebs hold much negative energy and clean windows clear our perspective. The Torah has compassion for the busy supermom and does not obligate us to clean away more than the actual chametz, which can be taken care of with little effort. If our situation does not afford us the health, time or energy to do any of the extras, Ruchi Koval cleverly teaches us How to Clean for Pesach in One Day. Nevertheless, those of us who are in the position to do a little more than the bare minimum, have no reason to feel guilty to ask our family members to chip in and give a hand to clean out more than just chametz. There are certainly deep, spiritual reasons for the Jewish women’s minhag of spring-cleaning in preparation for Pesach. As long as we engage in the cleaning work with the happiness of the mitzvah, we infuse new positive energy into our homes and belongings. By clearing out stuff in the process, we certainly contribute to the Pesach spirit of renewal on all levels for our families and ourselves.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Time to Clean Up Our Speech

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Tazria
Choosing Words of Kindness and Emunah over ‘Junk-Speech’
As we enter the ‘transition stage’ of our Pesach cleaning labor, let us not forget to clean out our speech. “Pesach” – Peh- Sach means ‘the mouth speaks’ and in order to come to the Seder with rectified speech of emunah, we need to first clean out all the junk. ‘Junk-speech’ includes all kinds of negativity and judgment in both spoken and written words, such as Facebook, What’s App and Twitter. It is not coincidental that we read Parashot Tazria and Metozra concerning the spiritual disease that affected gossipers and slanderers, during the month of Nissan, which is all about rectifying our speech. It is through elevating our power of speech that we best express and actualize our human potential. I recall reading a story by Agnon that touched me. I think it was called Tehila. The main thing I remember from the story is the notion that we all have a certain amount of words allotted to us in our lifetime. When we have used up our words, our time is up. This is to remind us how precious our words are and how we must use them wisely. I believe that when we speak positive words of kindness and emunah we may tap into an unlimited store of bonus words which can prolong our lives.

Generating Positivity
I pray that one day my emuna will be so great that I will never ever have to complain- even if people don’t keep their promise, don’t take responsibility, don’t include me in their Pesach Seder, speak disrespectfully or make unreasonable demands on me and my time. I know that there are ways to respond positively to every difficulty life deals out and remain assertive about what needs to be done in each situation. There are times when we need to pass judgments and give constructive criticism. Then, especially, is it crucial to focus on the good and increase the love in our heart for the person we need to rebuke. We learn the importance of generating positivity and love in our heart when declaring “impure” from this week’s parasha. Even if an expert had confirmed that a person has tzara’at, he would not actually be ritually impure until a Kohen utters the words, “You are impure.” Thus, the authority to diagnose someone with the spiritual skin-disease of tzara’at fell solely on the Kohen. This idea is repeated several times in our parasha, for example:

ספר ויקרא פרק יג (ב) אָדָם כִּי יִהְיֶה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ שְׂאֵת אוֹ סַפַּחַת אוֹ בַהֶרֶת וְהָיָה בְעוֹר בְּשָׂרוֹ לְנֶגַע צָרָעַת וְהוּבָא אֶל אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן אוֹ אֶל אַחַד מִבָּנָיו הַכֹּהֲנִים : (ג) וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן אֶת הַנֶּגַע בְּעוֹר הַבָּשָׂר… וְרָאָהוּ הַכֹּהֵן וְטִמֵּא אֹתוֹ:
“When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his flesh the plague of tzara’at, then he shall be brought to Aharon the Kohen, or to one of his sons the Kohanim. The Kohen shall look at the plague in the skin of the flesh… and the Kohen shall look at him, and pronounce him impure” (Vayikra 13:2-3).

ספר ויקרא פרק יג (ח) וְרָאָה הַכֹּהֵן וְהִנֵּה פָּשְׂתָה הַמִּסְפַּחַת בָּעוֹר וְטִמְּאוֹ הַכֹּהֵן צָרַעַת הִוא:
“The Kohen shall look, and, behold, if the scab be spread in the skin, then the Kohen shall pronounce him impure: it is tzara’at” (Vayikra 13:8).

Pronouncing Impurity with Compassion
Why is the Kohen, rather than the professional physician selected to make the diagnosis that renders the patient impure? Why does the Torah emphasize this fact by repeating it several times? The Kohen is considered a man of kindness and love. Today, all that remains of the service performed by the Kohanim is to bless Israel with love, on Shabbat and holidays (in Israel in the morning prayers daily) as they express in the blessing- prayer that precedes their blessings: “Blessed are You G‑d… Who has commanded us to bless your nation with love.” Feelings of love and brotherhood are so essential to the Kohen and his blessings, that failure to infuse the Kohanim blessings with genuine goodwill may affect the Kohen’s health, G‑d forbid! (The Alter Rebbe, Code of Jewish Law, Ohr Hachaim, chapter 128:19). Moshe calls the Kohen “a man of kindness” (Devarim 33:8) Heartfelt kindness- not just acts of kindness- but actual feelings of love, were central to the personality of the Kohen. The ability to pronounce a fellow-Jew impure was entrusted to the Kohen precisely because of his heightened sense of love and benevolence towards others. Who could possibly be more suited to utter the crushing verdict of “You are impure” than these men of compassion? Who is better to administer a sentence of solitary confinement? (Rabbi Mendel Kamenson, The Rules of Judgment and Constructive Criticism).

Prepare for Pesach with Rectified Speech of Love
It is not just what we say- the selection of our words- but the feelings behind them that count most. Even when people have justified criticism of others, if not given over with love, it will only cause dissention and make people defensive. Pesach is not only about rectified speech. Pesach is also about love. It was with the greatest love that Hashem took us out of Egypt even when we were absolutely un-worthy. Therefore, on Pesach we read Song of Songs about the love between Hashem and Israel. So, as we clean out our Pesach cabinets, let us remember to clean out the chametz of negativity, resentment, disappointment and anger. Let us replace this chametz with the matzah of emunah, patience, tolerance, benevolence and compassion. May we be able to integrate these elevated character-traits to the extent that they will be infused in the choice of each and every one of our words!