By Shmuel Sackett
Manhigut International Director
I am a very optimistic guy and always look for a way at making sure the glass is half full... even if it is almost empty! The problem, however, is that in many cases I just can't figure out a way to make things seems right, no matter how hard I try. I realize that Hashem is testing us - and I accept these tests - but somehow I don't see the tests ending. Lately, it seems that everywhere I turn there is another challenge and another hurdle to overcome. Since "quitting" is not an option, I just keep pushing and trusting in full faith that Hashem will not let us down. It is not easy but where in the Torah does it say that being Jewish is "easy"? If it's there, I must have missed it.
Recently, one of my biggest concerns has been with our Jewish youth. I don't see the excitement anymore. I don't see the enthusiasm or the happiness for being Jewish. I see many of them keeping Mitzvot, but out of habit not passion, and this tends to end over time.
What has become of us - the proud and chosen people? Why do we feel the burden of being Jewish but not the privilege? As we approach the days before Pesach, how many of us will literally curse the work we do as opposed to thanking Hashem for a chance to rid the physical and spiritual chometz from our homes and lives? What an opportunity we have to cleanse ourselves - and not only our ovens and closets! Yet, we kvetch and have sour faces for weeks before this amazing holiday. We complain about Pesach prices, about the back-breaking cleaning and about how jealous we are of our neighbors who go each year to one of those fancy shmancy hotels. And worst of all, we pass this sad, bitter pill to our children and are then amazed why so many of them look elsewhere.
I am not a Rabbi nor am I as knowledgeable as I should be in halacha [Jewish law], but I have the feeling that it is better to relax some of our "chumras" [obligations in Jewish practice above the requirements of Jewish law] in order to make Pesach enjoyable and educational. Of course I am not saying to violate halacha, but lately, so much of what we do is not even close to halacha. It is a chumra on top of a chumra on top of a chumra. Every year there's new kitniyot [legumes] rules! Every year the amount of matza we must eat becomes larger and larger in less and less time. Every year we have to clean more than the previous year and every year there are more rules such as not eating "gebrokts" [matzah that came into contact with water], even though you ate it the last 50 years! I remember growing up, there was one family in the neighborhood who didn't eat gebrokts. Fine - that was their custom and we all respected it...but today? I tell people that I like matzo balls in my soup and they look at me like I just ate a cheeseburger!
I am not afraid to say that this craziness has to stop! Adding on all these chumras to an already challenging holiday does nothing but add pressure and stress. Actually, that is incorrect. It does a lot more than that - it takes away the fun of Pesach that we all had growing up. It turns this week, and the month prior, to a time we all can't wait to end. Sad, but true.
I have noticed this trend for a long time but never said anything until now because after assessing the situation, I came to the conclusion that it is negatively effecting the young generation. Our children are mirrors and tape-recorders and not only when they are 2-5 years old! Our teenagers look to us for guidance, direction, emotional support and - yes - also in how to be good and proud Jews. We must teach them that Judaism has much more than just a brain. Judaism has a heart and a soul as well A Torah way of life is not restricting - on the contrary! A Torah Jew is one who is truly free, happy all the time and full of life and vigor. Yes, we follow rules but just like a young driver follows rules in order to reach new destinations, a Jew follows rules to touch the Heavens! These rules are not boring or dry - they are life itself and just as our young driver follows them to stay alive so does the young Jew follow them to reach places most people on this world will never get to!
Dearest readers - please put down some of the chumras and turn the clock back to when you were a child. Remember those days when you ate Streits matzah and not just shmura the whole week? Remember the days when you actually made a "mezonnos" bracha during Chol Ha'moed? Let your kids have those memories as well. Give them the freedom of Pesach and not just the slavery. I promise you that they will cling to yiddishkeit [Jewishness, Judaism] more than ever and will love every minute of the holiday! Make them some matza brei and throw some "kneidels" in the soup on Seder night. Invest some time putting a little neshama [soul] into this - and every day of the year - and this investment will pay you dividends beyond your
Happy Chodesh Nissan to one and all