Post-Pesach: There is One Thing You Definitely Should Not Eat

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov once told the story:

The king’s star gazer saw that the grain harvested that year was tainted. Anyone who would eat from it would became insane. “What can we do?” said the king. “It is not possible to destroy the crop for we do not have enough grain stored to feed the entire population.”

“Perhaps,” said the star gazer, “we should set aside enough grain for ourselves. At least that way we could maintain our sanity.” The king replied, “If we do that, we’ll be considered crazy. If everyone behaves one way and we behave differently, we’ll be considered the not normal ones.

“Rather,” said the king, “I suggest that we too eat from the crop, like everyone else. However, to remind ourselves that we are not normal, we will make a mark on our foreheads. Even if we are insane, whenever we look at each other, we will remember that we are insane!”

The World of Galus

This perspective has, for the past two-thousand years, been the view of our nation in exile.

There was once a time when the world was sane, when the Jewish people lived securely in our own land, when we were cultural leaders of the world. There was a time that Yerushalayim was the center of morality, ethics and law for the world – כי מציון תצא תורה – from Tzion came for the wellsprings of wisdom.

But then the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, we were sent into exile and the world became insane. Instead of looking at Klal Yisrael as a source of divine wisdom, moral understanding and compassion in the world, we began to be viewed as vermin, the embodiment of evil, emissaries of the Devil. This insanity became our new reality. The grain of the world became tainted with the poison of exile, with the sickness of anti-semitism.

And we Jews had only one choice. We were forced to eat from that same crop. We too became insane. From being princes of the universe, we became scum of the earth. Dirty Jew, they called us, greedy Jew. And slowly but surely we started to look at ourselves and each other in the same light; desperate, lonely and sad.

As time went on, we longed for the embrace of the nations of the world. Some of us gave up, some of us gave in. Sometimes, we were consoled by their tolerance. We were grateful for the kindness of our saviors, the compassion of our protectors. All the while lamenting how it could be that we became so needy.

But every now and then, we turned to each other, and noticed there was a sign on our forehead, a “Yiddishe Kop”, that reminded us that this was not the way it was meant to be. And so, in secret, the majesty of the Jewish people continued. It was found in the “four amos of Halacha”, in the great writings of Mikra, Mishna, Talmud and Agados. As the Beis Yosef said: מאן מלכי, רבנן – The place of kingship is with the sages. The sign on our heads reminded us that the we were the only sane ones in a world that was growing increasingly more insane.

Every time a Jew was beat up or killed for being Jewish, every time a shul was desecrated, a city destroy, a cartload of books set aflame, we drew further inwards, trying desperately to hold onto sanity, remembering that the world is crazy. We looked to the signs on each others foreheads, and dreamed of a time that we could live beyond the insanity of a world where October 7th was an even an option.

The World of Geulah

But Rebbi Nachman also told a different version of this story (שיח שרפי קודש (ברסלב) א-רעא):

In this version, it was the star gazer who suggested that they would have to eat from the tainted grain, but the king vehemently rejected this. He explained that just because the whole world was crazy, they do not need to, and should not be crazy. And if they would appear to be crazy to the rest of the world, so what?! That is no reason to eat the grain that makes people crazy. Instead, they would prepare what meager grain that could manage for themselves.

This version of the story has had far fewer adherents throughout our history. But in every generation there have been Jews that never gave up on their own majesty, and have insisted on the majesty of the Jewish people. There have always been those who subsisted on tiny amounts of grain from the ancient fields of Yerushalayim rather than eating from the tainted grain of the world. They reached deep into the store houses of the Beis HaMikdash Shel Maalah, and ate meager, lonely meals of Jewish pride.

For these brave souls, every single Jew has always been and will always be a בן/בת מלך – princes and princesses of the King of the Universe. We have never stopped being an אור לגוים – a shining light to the nations of the world.

For those who have never tasted those tainted grains, when faced with the horror, shock and pain of blatant, violent anti-semitism, they did not give up, they did not give in. No excuses were ever accepted.

They gathered together, dreamed of and worked on building a world where Jews were not simply safe in our assimilation, but beacons of hope and light for the world.

In their eyes, “safety and security” were tropes from the world of Galus and equivocations, where we are ashamed of our nation, our Torah and our God.

In the world of majesty, safety and security are not granted by a benevolent host society, they are expected, assumed and obvious.

What Are We Eating?

The question then arrises: How do we know if we have eaten from the tainted grains and gone mad, or if we are still sane?

In this crazy world, I believe there is a simple test; a single question we need to ask ourselves:

Of the myriad opportunities and activities we are offered and engaged in, which ones get our our love, effort and attention? What gets us excited and energized?

A sane Jew is one who knows that Torah and Mitzvos are inherently beautiful, wonderful and amazing. A sane Jew sees themself as privileged to be an Eved Hashem, changing ourselves and the world with every word of Torah and Tefillah. A sane Jew lives with the knowledge that this dollar to tzedaka is meaningful beyond measure. That this perek of tehillim and this daf of gemara in this moment brings us a little closer to Yerushalayim.

The Shelah HaKadosh (תורה שבכתב, משפטים, דרך חיים) explains that the obligation in our Parsha – וחי בהם – “to live with the words of Torah”, means:

אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם, רצה לומר זריזות, ובכלל זה לעשות בשמחה. אלא הזירוז לעשות אף שאין בידו לגמור כולו

To perform mitzvos with life; with eagerness and joy even if one is fully aware that one will never be able to perform the מצוה in its entirety.

As Pesach ends and we rush for our favorite Chometz, our Avoda is to remember that Matan Torah, the festival of the new grain harvest is just a few weeks away...

Hashem should help us to hold on just a little longer. To escape the madness, abandon the cynicism, to turn away the smorgasbord of tainted grains around us.

He should help us to live as exited, passionate, sane Jews with the knowledge and confidence that the new harvest is just a few weeks away.