One of the great heroes of the Holocaust was Reb Kalman Klonymus Shapiro, the Piazetzner Rebbe. In the prime of his life as a Rebbe he was taken into the hell of the Warsaw Ghetto. He had a work load like everyone else, suffered from malnutrition, and was surrounded by disease and death. He decided in the ghetto he had a mission. He would give his last ounce to keep Jews strong in their faith. He was a holy man who gathered hundreds of people late every Friday night for a tish (a gathering of Chassidim). He would allow only the children to sit at the table while all the adults looked on with awe.
It is hard to believe that the Piazetzner wrote three books while in the ghetto. In one of those books he writes: “The soul of a person loves to feel. It yearns not only for feelings of happiness but even for melancholy and tearful feelings. A person will listen to horror stories and watch violent horrifying scenes which actually bring him to tears, just so he will be able to feel. Emotion is the food of the soul; it is as much of a need of the soul as food is to the body. A person who fulfills this need with emotional prayer and study is nourishing the soul correctly. Prayer and study without emotion will leave a vacuum that will force the soul to search for emotion anywhere, even in sinful behavior.” (Tzav VeZiruz)
I was reviewing the laws concerning the prohibition of eating matzoh on the day of the Seder. We refrain from eating matzoh so that we don’t spoil our appetite for the matzoh that we will eat at the Seder. The Talmud gives a very graphic, almost risque, metaphor. They say,
“Anyone who eats matzoh Erev Pesach it is as if he has had intimate relationships with his bride before the wedding.”
The metaphor sounds extreme, yet it teaches us an extreme lesson. When we finally eat the matzoh at the Seder the moment should be one of ultimate intimacy with G-d! Jumping the gun and eating matzoh before the Seder would spoil “the moment”. The Seder should feel like our wedding night with Hashem!
Today, vast numbers of Jews do not see Judaism as an option for filling the vacuum of the soul. For some reason, maybe longevity and routine, a fundamental aspect of Judaism is not being accessed.
True Judaism is about the infusion of holiness into mundane reality. Our minds and our emotions are necessary for basic living, but they can also accomplish the loftiest spiritual heights. Mitzvos are not just good deeds but rather they are a permeation of the spiritual into the physical.
The task of imbuing mundane tasks with spiritual meaning is not an easy one. This is why so many Jews find Jewish ritual so distant and opaque. But attaining spiritual greatness is not supposed to be easy. It is not the quick fix of physical pleasure, or the sublime pleasure that can come with separation from the world.
The task before us this Pesach and everyday of the year is to carefully perfect the physical mitzvah environment that we live in and then to light the fire.
Imbue your matzoh, wine and bitter herbs with holiness. This is the purpose of the world.