Parshas Shemini 2010
"After Pesach: Should Life Return to 'Normal'?"
In case you didn't notice, last Friday night we
had challah instead of matzah. The Pesach dishes have been put away
for next year. And macaroons are only a distant, fading
memory. Last week we concluded our celebration of Pesach,
with our eyes now upon Lag B'Omer, Shevous and the warm weather
of spring and summer. However, a minor holiday took place last week
that probably slipped under your radar. You might not have noticed it,
but last Wednesday was Issru Chag.
Issru Chag is the day AFTER Yom Tov. What
does Issru Chag mean? Literally, it means 'tied up.'
Issru Chag is the day that is 'bound' to Yom Tov, the day after Yom
Tov. Not surprisingly, we observe Issru Chag by having more
food and by not fasting It's a special day. We observe Issru
Chag after Pesach, Shevous and Shemini Atzeres. Issru
Chag is certainly a minor holiday -- but a holiday nonetheless.
It's of interest to note that the halacha of Issru Chag
appears in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) in
the beginning of the section of the laws of Pesach. Since
Issru Chag occurs the day after Pesach, one would think that the details
of its observance should appear at the END of the laws
of Pesach? On the surface this question might appear to be simply an
arcane technicality. But the question is more important than one
First, though, I'd like to tell you about a remarkable man.
His biological mother was an unwed grad student who when he was
born, decided to put him up for adoption. She felt very strongly
that he should be adopted by college graduates,
so everything was set for him to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his
wife. But at the last minute the couple decided that they really wanted a girl.
So the baby wound up being adopted by a different family.
His biological mother later found out that his
adoptive mother had never graduated from college and
that his adoptive father had never graduated from high school.
She refused to sign the final adoption papers until the new parents promised
that he would someday go to college. Seventeen years later he
did go to college. But after six months, he couldn't see the value in
it. So he decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out
OK. He said it was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one
of the best decisions he ever made.
I think it's fair to say that that young man's decision
worked out well. In 1985 he was awarded the National Medal of Technology
by President Ronald Reagan.
In 2007 he was named the most powerful person in business by Fortune Magazine.
In a 2009 survey he was selected the most admired entrepreneur among
teenagers, and named CEO of the decade by Fortune Magazine. He is
currently ranked # 57 on Forbes list of "The World's Most Powerful
I'm referring to the man who was on the cover of last week's
co-founder and CEO of Apple
In 1995 Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. In that speech he told three remarkable stories
about himself -- stories that contain lessons for us to learn from, and lessons
that touch upon themes from our recent holiday of Pesach.
Jobs said that when he was 17 he read
a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your
last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on
him, and from that point on every morning he looked at himself
in the mirror and asked himself: "If today were the last day of my
life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the
answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to
I can't be certain a seventeen year old Steve
Jobs studied Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers), but in the
second chapter it says "...v'shoov yom echad lifnay
mi'sas'cha..." -- "repent one day before you die."
How, our rabbis ask, is someone to know the day that they'll die?
One never knows, of course. Therefore do tshuva (repent) each
day, in case tomorrow be that day.
Living each day and getting the most out of each day is a
traditional Jewish concept. Don't put your faith, hope and trust in what
might happen tomorrow, because even tomorrow itself isn't guaranteed. When
the manna fell for the generation of the desert after we left Egypt,
that manna had a shelf life of only a day. What fell in the morning was
yours to eat until you retired to bed. If you tried to save it in the
cupboard for the next day, it spoiled and became wormy. If you had a
family of four, or ten, or thirty, you went to sleep with a refrigerator that
was completely empty. G-d provides each day, so use each day
enjoyably and productively, and don't dwell excessively in the past or obsess
about the future.
Steve Jobs said that remembering that he would be soon be
dead was the most important tool he ever encountered to help
him make the big choices in life. Our time is limited, and we can all
benefit from living each day to the fullest.
A second story Jobs told at the commencement address
concerned what he did when he dropped out of college. At the time he
was going to a major university, Jobs said he had no idea what he wanted
to do with his life and how college was going to help him figure it out.
So, following the advice of Mark
Twain, he dropped out of college to continue his
education. Jobs dropped out of the required classes that didn't
interest him, and began dropping in on the classes that looked
interesting. He took a course in calligraphy simply because he was
interested in the subject, and he enjoyed it. And even though at the time
calligraphy didn't have even a hope of practical application, ten years
later it paid off in a very big way. When he was designing the first
Jobs said that its unique typefaces and fonts were the direct result of
the influence that the calligraphy class had upon him a decade before.
Following your dreams even when there's a risk involved is a
very Jewish concept. The Almighty spoke with great fondness of the
loyalty and devotion that our ancestors displayed by following Him into the
"Zacharti lach chesed ne'urayich..."
I remember with favor the devotion of your youth, when you followed Me in the
wilderness in a land not sown (Jeremiah 2:2)
makes a provocative statement in claiming that "one who goes for seven
days without dreaming is a wicked person." The Vilna Gaon explains
that this passage refers to one who lives without desires, aspirations and
future goals. Having the courage to dream, set goals, create a plan to
achieve those goals and take the necessary risks is a key to achievement,
success and happiness in life.
Like our ancestors in Egypt,
we shouldn't give up on our dreams. And when the opportunity
comes, we shouldn't be afraid to follow them.
Finally, Steve Jobs related that he started Apple
with a partner in his parent's garage when he was twenty years
old. He worked hard, and in ten years Apple had grown from just two
friends in a garage into a $2 billion company with over four thousand
employees. Jobs had just released his finest creation — the Macintosh
— a year earlier, and he had just turned 30. And then, he said, he got
I won't go into the details of how a person can get fired
from a company that he, himself, started -- but Jobs described himself as
having been devastated, and looked at himself as a public
failure. He said, though, that that getting fired from Apple was the
best thing that could have ever happened to him. He felt that the
heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner
again. He had an opportunity to embark upon a new beginning.
And, he said, it freed him to enter one of the most creative and productive
periods of his life.
During our 210 years in Egypt, we experienced untold
suffering and misery. What good could possibly have resulted from the slavery
and oppression? Helen
Keller once said:
If we were allowed to go through life without any
obstacles, we would be crippled. We would not be as strong as what we
could have been. And we could never fly .....Only through experience of
trial and suffering can ....success be achieved. Silver is purified in
fire and so are we. It is in the most trying times that our real character is
shaped and revealed.
Our sages refer to our experience in Egypt as a "koor ha'barzel" -- an iron furnace. A
purification occurred that transformed us from "Bnai
Yisrael" (the Children
of Israel) into "Am Yisrael"
(the Nation of Israel). Seven weeks following the Exodus we
stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah from G-d.
We became His Chosen People and embarked upon a 3000 year mission to
become a light unto the nations. We have been blessed with a unique intimate
relationship with the Almighty. Without the Egyptian experience, the
Jewish people could not have been formed.
Let us now return to our original question about Issru
Chag. Why is this minor holiday stated in the Shulchan
Aruch BEFORE the laws of Pesach...and not after?
After Passover ends, for many people life returns
to normal. The Pesach dishes are in the closet. We ate chametz
on Shabbos. Not a macaroon can be seen for miles. And now, it
seems we're back to 'normal.' However, that's not the way
religious life should be, and that's not what life after Pesach should
be. The entire purpose of a holiday is to create a deep
impact upon us. Following the Yom Tov we should be different,
better people. Our spiritual lives should be at a higher level
than it used to be. The purpose of every Jewish holiday
is that our entire 'normal' life should be affected by the lessons we learned
during that holiday.
The law of Issru Chag -- again, meaning
"the day after Yom Tov" -- appears before the laws
of Yom Tov to teach us to make sure to bring Yom Tov with us into our
regular lives. On the day after Yom Tov you should have a special
meal, and aren't allowed to fast. Your life shouldn't be 'back
to normal.' For the remainder of the year carry with you the special
lessons of Pesach that you learned. And like the personal
stories Steve Jobs shared with the Stanford graduates, we can take from Pesach
three lessons for living;
Pesach taught us to live each day as if tomorrow we'll
die -- which will lead us to live each day to its fullest.
Pesach taught us to follow our dreams, even when there
are risks involved.
And Pesach taught us that the disappointment and
difficulties we've experienced in life may have been some of the best things
that ever happened to us.
Pesach is over, but it shouldn't be forgotten.
Rabbi Ze'ev Smason (adapted from a Torah lecture given
by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg)