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Shabbat Chol Hamoed / Pesach

Dedicated in Memory of Yachoua and Alice Beyda

By Charles and Renee Beyda and Their Family

Shabbat Chol Hamoed / Pesach



The Omer and Pirkei Avot

Now that we've completed the first two Seder nights and we're nearing the end of Pesach, we are commanded to count the 49 days of the Omer until Shavuot. Hashem came down from the heavens and with a strong hand. He saved us from the 49th level of tumah – impurity in Egypt to raise us spiritually so that we would be ready to receive our Holy Torah at Har Sinai.   

Tragically, during these 49 we mourn the loss of 12,000 pairs of Rabbi Akiva’s students...24,000 great Rabbis who died in a plague over just 34 days within the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. The Gemarah in Yevamot page 62b says very briefly on this topic that the reason that these 24,000 students died was..."because they did not treat each other with proper respect.” This is all that the Gemarah says, but the Midrash Rabah elaborates a little further and says that they were "Guilty of Stinginess.” The disrespect they showed towards each other was an outward manifestation of their inner flaw, a stinginess of the spirit.

Each student begrudged each other's success in their studies. They allowed themselves to feel that another student’s advancement in learning was somehow a setback to themselves. This led to a feeling of dissatisfaction that others were learning Torah at a higher level than them. The students should have viewed their Yeshivah of Rabbi Akiva as a collaborative group, where each individual helps and is concerned for the other, instead their selfishness became their ultimate final downfall.   

Immediately following this episode, the Gemarah says..."And the world was left barren of Torah until Rabbi Akiva came to our Rabbis in the south and taught the Torah to them". They were Rav Meir, Rav Yehudah, Rav Yose, Rav Shimon, and Rav Elazar ben Shamua, and it was these Rabbis that upheld the Torah at that time, or the Torah, Chas V’Shalom, could have been lost forever. 


Love Your Neighbor as You Love Yourself

We learn from this event that Rabbi Akiva then quoted the famous phrase...from the Torah in parashat Vayikra (19:18) ..."VeAhavta Lereacha Kamocha" which means "Love your neighbor as you love yourself". In Rabbi Zelig Pliskin's book "Love Your Neighbor," he quotes Bereshit (1:27), "….And Hashem created man in His own Image". The Chofetz Chaim explains that "The Image of G-d" means the ability to emulate G-d, who bestows kindness on people. Someone who performs a kind act reflects Hashem's attributes therefore, the very survival of humanity is dependent on chessed. We as Jews are obligated from the Torah to love doing chessed for others, as the prophet Michah states: "He (Hashem) has told you, what is good and what does Hashem require of you but to act justly, to love chesed and to walk humbly with your G-d.” We must always look for ways to aid others, we must always be on alert to practice chessed whenever possible. A person who loves chessed and looks for ways to help others will encourage others to do chessed as well. 

From this tragedy that befell the students of Rabbi Akiva, we have the custom of learning "Pirkei Avot --Ethics of our fathers" during these 49 days as we count in anticipation to the days of receiving our Holy Torah. We learn from our Rabbis that this is the time that we should fine-tune our character traits by learning Pirkei Avot which teaches us of our obligations to be considerate and helpful to our fellow Jewish brothers. We also learn so that we can be better prepared to receive the Torah and celebrate that event through our holiday of Shavuot! 


This concept of chessed, doing mitzvot and fine-tuning our character brings to mind a story about the Skulener Rebbe. In the precarious period, right after the Holocaust, it was very difficult to get matzot for Pesach. The Skulener Rebbe was able to get a very limited amount of matzot, and deicided to limit his generosity to one matzah per family, due to the severe limitation of matzot available. Suddenly, the son of the Viznitzer Rebbe zt”l arrived, demanding to get three matzot. Everyone was shocked that he demanded more than anyone else, but eventually, they acceded to his demand and gave him three matzot.


On Erev Pesach, shortly before the Yom Tov started, the Skulener Rebbe and Rebbitzen realized that they had given away all the matzot they had, and there was none left for their own family. Then, the son of the Viznitzer Rebbe arrived, giving back two of the matzot. He explained that his father predicted that the Skulener Rebbe would probably give away all of his matzot and would have none left for his own family. This was why he sent his son to procure three matzot, to ensure that the Skulener Rebbe would have at least two matzot for his own family!


Pesach and the Number 4


Throughout Pesach, there is a recurring theme of the number four. Pesach has four names: Chag HaPesach—Holiday of Passover, Chag HaMatzot—Holiday of Unleavened Bread, Chag HaAviv—Holiday of Spring, and Zman Cherutenu—Time of Freedom. Hashem used four terms of redemption which were said in Parashat Va’era: Vehotzeti—I will take you out, Vehitzalti—I will rescue you, Vegaalti—I will redeem you, and Velakachti—I will take you, which are represented by the four cups of wine.


The youngest asks the four questions, and we learn of the four sons. There are three matzot on the Seder table. But one is broken into two parts, which makes four! Additionally, though there are 14 parts to the Seder, it can also be split into four sections: The introduction, the story of the Exodus, the seudah—meal, and the conclusion.


There are other instances during the year where the number four is significant. A year is not complete without four seasons. There are four cardinal directions and four corners of the earth. There are four components in the world: water, wind, earth, and fire.


Birkat Hagomel—The blessing of Thanksgiving is a blessing that someone says after facing one of these four experiences: traveling the ocean, crossing the desert, being released from prison, or recovering from a serious illness. After Hashem redeemed the Jewish Nation, they experienced all four of these difficulties. Hashem released them from their enslavement, helped them cross the ocean and desert, and later cleansed them and healed them from their sicknesses at Har Sinai. The number four represents the very essence of Passover. It reminds us of our gratitude for our miraculous redemption.


The number four also represents completeness and fullness. At the Seder, we are seeking to instill in our children the realization that they are not mere individuals but rather part of a people, members of an incredible, complete nation, who only became a nation after receiving the Torah at Har Sinai.


Never Give Up Hope


The very essence of Pesach is hope. Some years, the Hebrew calendar goes so far as to add an extra month so Pesach will always occur on the cusp of Spring when new greenery pushes through a previously snowy ground. After a long winter, Pesach reminds us that even as B’nei Yisrael went through 210 years of backbreaking work, they had constant hope and emunah in Hashem that they would be freed. Charlie Harary said, “Pesach reminds us to keep our heads high and be hopeful because Hashem loves us, and miracles do happen. Our whole history is proof of that.”


Rabbi Ashear told a story in Living Emunah 5 about never giving up hope. A couple from Bayit V’gan was married 32 years without having children. Baruch Hashem, at the age of 52, the wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. At the Brit Milah, in front of an overflowing crowd, a guest who came all the way from Switzerland for the occasion got up to speak, and this is what he said.


“I used to live near the father of the baby when he lived in Switzerland. We prayed in the same Shul, and I watched how every day he would cry and beg Hashem for a baby. The years went by and nothing changed.


One day, when he had been married for close to 12 years, I approached him with genuine sympathy. I told him, ‘I hate to see you so broken; I hate to see you hoping for something that doesn’t seem to be a possibility anymore. The doctors say it can’t happen. I really feel you would be much happier if you accept that you’re not going to have children. It’s time to start a new chapter in your life so you could live on with happiness.’


After I finished, he stared at me for an entire minute, and said, ‘Be’ezrat Hashem, I will have children. It might be soon, it might be later, but I am going to break through the gates of heaven and see a salvation. I will never stop hoping and praying until it happens.’


I came home that day and told my wife about the incident. She was very upset with me. She said, ‘That’s how you talk to a broken-hearted man? You take away his hope? I can’t believe you said that!’


I told her, ‘They’re living with false hope. It’s not a healthy way to live. I’m trying to help them.’ To prove that I believed so strongly that they should try to move on, I made a vow to her that if they ever had a baby, I would sell my business, we would make aliyah and I would learn all day. That was my wife’s dream, but I would never consider doing it. Shortly after my conversation with him, my friend and his wife moved to Israel, and we lost contact.


Twenty years passed and I received a phone call from my long-lost friend. He reminded me about our conversation two decades earlier about giving up hope. Now, amid sobs, he told me he was holding his own baby boy, and the Brit Milah will be the following week. I am not an emotional person, but hearing him say those words, with tears of joy, made me cry as well. There’s always hope— Hashem is amazing!!


Then I remembered my vow. There was no way I could possibly fulfill it! My business was doing well. I wasn’t about to pick up and change my entire life. I wanted to make Hatarat Nedarim to be released from the promise, but I would first have to fly to Israel to consult with Rav Chaim Kanievsky. At the same time, I’d be able to attend the Milah.


As I told the Rav the story, he told me I had to keep the neder. I told him I’d be willing to do anything, even support two students in kollel to take my place. The Rabbi said, ‘Hashem changed nature partly because of your vow, and now you want to renege? Some of the zechut--merit from this miracle is yours! Do not break this promise.’


We learn from this story that placing emunah in Hashem can do wonders. Anything can happen, and we aren’t bound by nature. B’nei Yisrael were in the depths of darkness, but they had the hope and emunah that Hashem would take them out of Mitzrayim. And not only did Hashem bend nature, He completely turned it over, performing miracles upon miracles for the Jewish people, which He continues to do until this very day!


May we all appreciate everything that Hashem does for us all throughout our lives because everything we have is a gift from Hashem. May we always have hope and emunah, and never give up. May we all take the time to learn Pirke Avot during this time to refine our characters as learned from the Ethics of our great Rabbi’s. May we also learn from the midot of the Rabbi’s in our generations like the story of the Skulener Rebbe. May we always strive to make Hashem proud, and live, learn, and teach the Torah to our children and grandchildren for generations to come! Amen! 


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!!


Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey


Discussion Point:


  • Do we make a conscious effort to be grateful to Hashem for both the huge and quiet miracles?


Le’ilui Nishmat…


Eliyahu Ben Rachel

Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher

Avraham Ben Garaz

Sarah Bat Chanah

Esther Bat Sarah

Avraham Ben Mazal

Shulamit Bat Helaina

Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana

Rahamim Ben Mazal

Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther

Rafael Ben Miriam

Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

Moshe Ben Yael

Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

Meir Ben Latifa

Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

Malka Bat Garaz

Moshe Ben Garaz

Avraham Ben Kami

Yaakov Ben Leah

Mordechai Ben Rachel

Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal

Natan Ben Rachel

Saadia Ben Miriam

Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon

Margalit Bat Mazal

Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky

Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama

Luratte Bat Masouda

Esther Bat Menucha

Uri Ben Rahel

Rivka Bat Dona

Shalom Ben Zahra

Rachel Bat Sarah

Shalom Ben Zahra

Refuah Shelemah…


Rachel Bat Devorah


Anyone interested in dedicating this Divre Torah Le'ilui Nishmat or Refuah Shelemah or In Honor of someone, can email me at Checks can be made out to “A Life of Torah” for $101 and mailed to 2387 Ocean Ave Suite 1G, Brooklyn, NY 11229 (please put in the memo “Divre Torah”). Anyone interested in past parshiot please go to the website


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