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2010-04-10 Post Passover Special by Rabbi Smason
Post Passover Special - Sermon from last week

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 might think.  


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 People."


I'm referring to the man who was on the cover of last week's Time MagazineSteve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc.


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 change something."


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 Macintosh computer, 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 desert.


"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)


 The Talmud 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 fired.


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)