by Rabbi Yaakov Klein
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov relayed the following mashal for Pesach.
There was once a pair of paupers living together in the garbage dumps of Ukraine, close friends and partners in grime. (Pun intended, I hope you can forgive me!) One was a Jewish pauper named Mendel. The other, Ivan, was a local peasant. One spring day, the Mendel approached his friend and related, with boundless joy, that a great night was approaching. “The Jews all hold a gigantic feast and everyone is invited!”, he said. “I am not such a learned Jew, so I can’t really tell you what it’s all about, but I just know it is going to be amazing! I’m sure they won’t mind if you come along with me. Prepare yourself for a feast of a lifetime!” In his anticipation for this special night, Ivan starved himself for days to build up an enormous appetite for this incredible feast.
Finally, the long-awaited night arrived, and they entered the home of one of the wealthiest Jews in the city. The table was set beautifully with the finest dishes and cutlery, almost like royalty. Ivan’s mouth began to water. He just couldn’t believe his tremendous luck! After a few songs, they were ready to begin the meal. A glass of wine was poured for all of the guests and an incantation intoned. Watching carefully so as to remain inconspicuous, Ivan waited until the blessing was completed and drank thirstily, his heart bursting with excitement for the food that surely wouldn’t be long in coming. Next, everyone washed their hands and a small piece of radish was handed out. “Strange”, thought Ivan, “But who knows! Maybe this is some kind of fancy appetizer! I’m not such a radish fan myself, but I am sure they are about to roll out the steaks!”
Unfortunately for Ivan, this isn’t what happened. Instead, all the guests broke a round cracker in half and then began to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk some more. This went on for a few hours; no food, not even more wine was forthcoming. Nothing! Growing a bit antsy, Ivan took a deep breath and resolved to remain a bit longer in the hope that the food (which was emitting a delectable aroma wafting in from the kitchen) would be brought out soon. Finally, everyone was given a new cracker and, after a blessing, began silently and rapidly chewing mouthfuls upon mouthfuls of this dry, carboard like substance. While it wasn’t the succulent chicken he was waiting for, Ivan partook with gusto. At least it was something to satisfy his terrible hunger! With hopeful eyes, he noticed that now things seemed to be moving a bit more quickly now. Perhaps the meal was finally beginning?
After a few moments, a white substance was brought out in tightly sealed bags. He couldn’t exactly make out what it was, but he was sure it was something delicious! Yes! the feast had finally begun! Everyone received another cracker with this unknown substance on it. Ivan was practically shaking from excitement – he couldn’t wait to taste what was surely a rare and expensive delicacy! Finally, after another blessing, everyone dug in. Ivan made sure to take an extra big bite (he deserved it, after all, waiting so patiently). Instantly, his smile disappeared. The shooting sensation of intense heat that erupted in his throat, spreading up his nose and burning his eyes was unlike anything poor Ivan had ever experienced before. Furious, and with tears streaming down his red and swollen face, Ivan spit out the vile substance, jumped from his seat, and ran back to the dump he called home.
A few hours later, he was woken suddenly by a kick in the leg. Blinking, he looked up to see his friend Mendel, the Jewish pauper, standing over him and smiling from ear to ear. “What are you so happy about?” he grumbled. “You Jews are crazy! That was no feast, that was torture!” Mendel shook his head from side to side, his grin stretching even wider. “You fool!” He cried. “If you would have waited just a few minutes more, you would have experienced the most incredible meal of your life! Just a few more minutes of patience and perseverance and you could have had everything you ever dreamed of!”
Friends, the nimshal is profound. So often in life, we experience challenges, difficult situations which seem to grow more and more miserable with the passage of time before culminating in a near intolerable peak of pain and frustration. As we sink further and further into addiction, unhealthy behaviors, sin, despair, shame, guilt, depression, and self-loathing etc. we reach a point where we feel as if we simply can’t go on. As the marror of life assaults our very essence, we feel as if we have failed our mission, we are ready to let go and surrender to the lowest elements of our being. With this mashal, Rebbe Nachman is teaching us that at moments like these we need to gather all of our strength and find the courage to hold on just a little bit longer. Because immediately after Marror comes Shulchan Oreich! It is directly following the darkest points in the struggles of life that the dawn of salvation breaks, spreading warmth and brilliant illumination over the entirety of our existence. In Likutei Moharan, Rebbe Nachman teaches that just before a spiritual breakthrough, the yetzer hara attacks with every weapon at his disposal.
“There are Jews who, when they are very near the door [to the halls of holiness], are accosted by the Sitra Achra (impure forces) and the yetzer hara in a very mighty assault, and they do not let him enter through the door. Because of this, he turns around. For this is the way of the yetzer hara: when he sees that a person is very, very near to the gates of holiness and is about to enter, he attacks with tremendous ferocity. Therefore, great encouragement is necessary.” (Likutei Moharan Tinyana 48)
Armed with the knowledge that we are not given a challenge we cannot handle, we are able to see the greatest obstacles as an indicator that the great feast is just around the corner – if we can only hold on for just a few more minutes.
Wishing all Yidden everywhere a chag kosher v’sameach!