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Laws of Pesach #18

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 7, 2017

There is an obligation to eat matza three separate times at the seder; motzi matza,korech (Hillel’s sandwich), and for the afikomen.

The amount a person needs to eat is as follows:

Motzi Matza and Afikomen – 1/3 of a hand-made and 1/2 of a machine matza.

Korech – 1/4 of a hand-made and 1/3 of a machine matza.

One must recline when eating the matza and should try to eat each portion of matza within two minutes and at most four minutes.

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Laws of Pesach #17

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 5, 2017

One of the major themes of the seder is a celebration of our freedom. To demonstrate our freedom, the rabbis instituted the drinking of four cups of wine at the seder.

Ideally, the cups should be of a good wine. If one is concerned that the alcohol will affect them negatively or if they really dislike the taste of wine, they can drink a wine with a very low alcohol content. If that is challenging as well, one can use grape juice for the four cups.

The cup should be at least 3 ounces. 

One should drink the entire cup. If that is difficult, one can drink the majority of the cup.

One must recline when drinking the cups of wine.

It is customary to not pour one’s own cups.

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Laws of Pesach #16

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 4, 2017

Male firstborns must fast on Erev Pesach. The reason for this fast is because the Jewish firstborns were spared on Pesach night from the plague of the firstborn. Therefore, Jewish firstborns acknowledge that they were not worthy of being saved and therefore fast as a sign of repentance on Erev Pesach.

There is another reason, suggested by Rabbi Yakov Kamenetzky Zt”l. On Erev Pesach, the entire Jewish People converged onto the Temple Mount to bring the Korban Pesach. Every family had to participate in this sacrifice and therefore to accommodate the masses of people, every single Kohen was put to work on Erev Pesach. Our tradition has it that the firstborns were supposed to be the priests but they lost their chance after participating in the Golden Calf. That being the case, the day most reminds the firstborns of their lost opportunity is Erev Pesach. Watching the Kohanim hard at work, running the ceremonies at the Temple was a sad reminder to the firstborns of what they could have been doing. It is for this reason, explains Rabbi Kamenetsky, that the firstborns fast on this day; to ask for forgiveness for their participation of the Golden Calf.

All male firstborns must fast; whether it is the mother’s firstborn, the father’s firstborn, whether it was a cesarean birth, whether the mother first had a miscarriage, and even if one is a convert firstborn.

The custom is that a firstborn may attend a Siyum, participate in the Siyum by eating some food served to celebrate, and once the fast is broken they may continue to eat the entire day. (This idea of ‘once the fast is broken it is permitted to eat the entire day’ does not apply to other fast days.)

If a firstborn was not able to attend a Siyum and knows that by fasting they will have a very difficult time participating properly in the Seder, they may break their fast but should not eat more than they have to.

According to some authorities if one is unable to attend a siyum they could participate by listening to the siyum on the phone.

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Laws of Pesach #15

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 3, 2017

One must search all their property on the night before Pesach. This includes one’s car and any office space which is owned or rented. If it is very inconvenient to check one’s office on the night before Pesach then one should search for chameitz in their office on the night before.

If one will not be home for Pesach then one should check their home for chameitz the night before they leave.

If one will be staying at someone else’s home for Pesach, it is not the guests obligation to check. However, if one is renting the room (like at a hotel), they must check the room for chameitz. If they arrive at the hotel on the eve of Pesach, they must check for chameitz upon arrival.

One only says the blessing of bedikas chameitz if they are searching for chameitz the night before Pesach. Otherwise, the search is done without a blessing.

One makes a blessing before searching: Baruch… asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosov v’tzivanu al biur chameitz (Blessed are….Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us to destroy chameitz).

Since one’s home has been cleaned thoroughly for Pesach at this time there is a concern that the blessing be made is being said in vain. For this reason, there is a custom to hide ten pieces of bread before the search so that there is definitely some chameitz that must be found. That being said, the purpose of searching is obviously not just to find those pieces. One must search for any chameitz that they may have missed.

Although some search with a candle as this was done throughout history, it is totally acceptable and, if it is more efficient, even preferable to use a flashlight. One may leave their lights on if this facilitates the search.

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Laws of Pesach #14

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 2, 2017

The Talmud relates a story of a man travelling on a boat with chameitz. Realizing that he would be stuck on a boat over Pesach with a large quantity of chameitz, he decided to sell it to a non-Jew who was travelling with him. After Pesach, he bought the chameitz back. Over time, it was common practice for businesses that dealt with large quantities of chameitz would sell their chameitz to a local non-Jew to save them from incurring a large financial loss. Nowadays, in an age of stockpiling, it would be a substantial loss for any of us to just get rid of all chameitz products before Pesach (especially after Purim!), we therefore sell our chameitz to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach.

The sale itself is rather complex due to the fact that there is no transfer of the physical items being sold. It is therefore customary to appoint a competent rabbi as one’s agent to sell their chameitz.

All chameitz food that is being sold must be placed in an enclosed area. If one could place it in a separate room that is most ideal. If not, cover in a way that makes it difficult to access. If food is in a cupboard one should tape the cupboard down.

We do not sell our pots and pans that have been used for chameitz The reason for this is that if we were to sell a non-Jew our dishes and buy them back after Pesach, we would have to tovel all of those items that we just bought from a non-Jew.

If  one will be in a time zone that is different than the time zone that the sale will take place in, one should discuss this with their rabbi. There are some complications with such a sale. For example, if one is in California, where they are three hours later than us in Baltimore, and the rabbi buys back the chameitz immediately after Pesach, the individual who is in California will be in possession of chameitz for the last few hours of Pesach.

If you have not sold your chameitz yet, please fill out this form and send it back to me or the shul office –

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Laws of Pesach #13

By: Rabbi Motzen | March 31, 2017

A few more things that do and do not need to be kosher for Pesach: Paper-ware and plastic-ware do not need to be certified as kosher for Pesach. (However, some do not use paper plates unless it is certified to be Kosher for Pesach. This is due to the fact that corn starch is used in the plate.)

Dish soap, strictly speaking, does not need to be kosher for Pesach but the prevalent custom is to use only kosher for Pesach dish soap.

Liquid cosmetics that contain alcohol, wheatgerm, or vitamin E, is a matter of debate. One may rely on those that permit using perfume, cologne, shaving lotion etc. on Pesach.

One last thing, although not typically eaten by humans but still must be kosher for pesach is pet food. (Pets may be fed food with kitniyot.)

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Laws of Pesach #12

By: Rabbi Motzen | March 30, 2017

If something is inedible we do not treat it as Chameitz. However, if one puts that item in their mouth to digest it the Poskim debate if in doing so one gives the item the status of food. In that light I would recommend the following:

Medicine: Bitter or tasteless tablets, capsules, or liquids may be taken on Pesach even though they have chameitz ingredients. (If the medicine taken is in the form of pleasant tasting tablets or liquids an alternative should be found. If none is available, check in with a rabbi before discontinuing use.)

Vitamins: Ideally, a chameitz-free vitamin should be used. If none are available, then as long as the vitamin is bitter tasting or tasteless and prescribed by a doctor, the vitamins may be taken on Pesach.

Eye drops, ear drops, nose drops, and throat sprays do not need to be chameitz free.

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Lost In A Crowd Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei

By: Rabbi Motzen | March 27, 2017

I’d like to warmly welcome the high school students from the Rae Kushner Yeshiva Academy. These young men and women are here in town because they will be spending the next three days in Washington at this year’s AIPAC policy conference. I cannot commend you enough for coming here. The rest of you have to appreciate that for Jews in the tri-state area coming to Baltimore is like going to the moon – just not as cool.

I think it’s wonderful that you’ll be supporting and participating with a lobbying group that is essential to ensuring the safety, stability, and strength of Israel.

Although I will not be in attendance this year, I have had the pleasure of participating in the conference for many years. I imagine for the students here this is the first time you’ll be attending, and I’d like to share with you some thoughts about how I have felt at the policy conference.

There are two types of feelings that I have felt at this conference. On the one hand, I have felt inspired by the talks, by the participation of such important political figures, and by the magnitude of the crowd. And at the very same time, I don’t recall ever feeling so insignificant at an event. There will be 20,000 people in attendance. 20,000! And I remember looking around and wondering, let’s say I walk out the door right now, would it make a difference? Why am I spending so much time here if I am like a drop of water in an ocean?

A while ago, I had a similar feeling. I was at a wedding of a daughter of a woman that I know. I wasn’t officiating, I didn’t know very many people there, and the few people I did know were on the opposite side of a large Mechitzah. I was eating at my table, making small talk with the person next to me, and the chosson and kallah entered the hall and the dancing started. I walked over to the dance floor – in the middle was the groom and his father and father-in-law, in the next circle was his immediate family, in the next circle were his close friends, and then there were people like me, dancing on the periphery. And again, I found myself wondering, what am I doing here? Would it really make a difference if I just leave now? Why am I dancing at this wedding?

I am sure that all of you here have felt that way one time or another. You have felt completely lost in a crowd, wondering what you’re doing there and if you really make a difference.

In this week’s Parsha we read about the Jewish People bringing forth their donations to the building of the Mishkan. The Jews were very generous in their gift-giving. So much so, that immediately after sending out the call that there would be a collection, an announcement had to go out telling people to stop. But here’s where it gets tricky: The Torah states that there was “enough/ dayom” and then a few words later, the Torah contradicts itself by stating, “v’hoser, there was too much.” Which one was it? Was there just enough or was there too much?

The simplest answer is that anyone who has ever built anything knows that you need some extra material. If you’re putting down floor for 1000 square feet, you buy 1200 feet of flooring. That’s just the way it goes.

But the Ohr HaChaim suggests an answer that is instructive and inspiring. There was enough; the Mishkan, to be built, did not need any more material. But there were Jews who contributed to the Mishkan, there were Jews who wanted to play a role in the building of this magnificent structure, a meeting place between man and G-d, how could G-d turn them away? How could G-d say to them that their participation is unnecessary? And so miraculously, G-d somehow made sure that although there was indeed more than what was needed, G-d somehow made sure that every person’s contribution made it into the Mishkan, because every person’s contribution mattered.

And this idea is not just hyperbole, some corny, cute idea that makes its way onto a Hallmark card. In Judaism this idea is real, as real as can be. It’s real on two levels and I’d like to speak about both of them.

On the one hand, it’s real on a spiritual level. There is a tale told about the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement. Apparently, he would daven Shemoneh Esrei for a very, very, very long time. His disciples, his congregants, they loved him, they loved him dearly, but what were they going to do for all that time between them finishing the silent Shemoneh Esrei and when he would finish? They wouldn’t dream of talking, of course…

So one day one of the Chassidim had an idea. When we finish Shemoneh Esrei, we’ll all slip out of the room, and in the next room, we’ll make Kiddush! We’ll poke our head in and when the rabbi finishes davening, we’ll all come back in. (The original Kiddush club!)

So the next week, they did exactly that. After they finished davening, they silently slipped out of the room one by one, and they were just about to start their Kiddush when! The rabbi finished davening, a good fifteen minutes earlier than usual.

After davening, one of the Chassidim went over to the rabbi and asked him, “Holy Rabbi, what happened? Usually your Shemoneh Esrei takes twenty minutes and today it took five minutes?!”

And the Baal Shem Tov explained, “The reason I am able to daven such a powerful and meaningful prayer is because I am strengthened by all of you standing in silent contemplation, I am lifted by your presence and mindset. But today,” said the rabbi, “I didn’t feel that strength and I had nothing to climb upon to reach the heights I normally reach.”

Now it’s a Chassidic story involving the Baal Shem Tov, so I can’t tell you if it ever really happened. What I can tell you is that it represents an absolute truth in classical Jewish thought. And that is, that you impact not only those who receive tangible help from you, not only from those who see you doing what’s right, but simply by being a good person, we are impacting our fellow Jew and the world at large.

Our souls are connected and our fate is linked to one another. What the Baal Shem Tov was teaching his Chassidim, what G-d was teaching the Jewish People by miraculously using all of their contributions is that there is no such thing as not contributing or as being unimportant. Our mere presence, our mere existence, impacts others in ways that we can’t even imagine.

I remember the first time I was exposed to this idea – the recognition that our souls are linked, the recognition of not only a carbon footprint, but a spiritual footprint that is far greater than we recognize, I remember being blown away. We don’t live in a bubble. We live in a matrix, in a web that connects everyone and everything.

But there’s a more practical side to this, something I was thinking about at that wedding. As I started to dance on the outer circle, I wondered what the dancing would look like if there were only the inner circles and not us dancing on the outside. It wouldn’t look that great, it would look a little empty. And perhaps today, the people at the center of the circle may not appreciate the fact that I am there or not there. But one day, the bride and groom will look back at the pictures and see a mass of people celebrating with them, even if they don’t recognize the individual faces, they will feel a lot of love.

When we think of people who impacted others, our mind wanders to big names, and that’s a pity. Because there are so many small initiatives, people who impact others dramatically, but in the most subtle of ways. These are people on the outer circle who may only be able to be seen in the background of a picture, but we would be so remiss without them.

I’ll give you two examples; one I’ve shared with you in the past, and one that I have recently become aware of.

After becoming president, President Truman’s advisors urged him to continue the very popular weekly radio address started by his predecessor, FDR. After deliberations with communication experts, the weekly speech was scheduled for Friday nights. A certain Mrs. Berl heard of this decision and was very disturbed because there would be many Orthodox Jews who would like to hear the President’s speech but would not be able to because of Shabbos.

So Mrs. Berl wrote a letter to the president describing her patriotism, but regretted her inability to hear him speak because she couldn’t operate an electrical appliance on Shabbos. “As a result,” she wrote. “I request that you reschedule the broadcast.”

A week later, she received a letter in the mail informing her that President Truman read her message and was seriously considering its contents. Two weeks later the president gave his usual Friday night speech on Friday night, but announced that for various reasons it would thereafter be broadcast on Tuesday nights.

Who is Mrs. Berl? I have no idea. But her name is not on any plaque, any building, she was not dancing at the center of society’s circle, but she made a difference.

The second story: There’s a young man who moved to the community a few years ago, his name is Raffi Bilek. He is a therapist by profession. Recently, he started an organization. They collect shoes. That’s right. When you clean up for Pesach, you will be throwing away old shoes. Don’t throw them away. There is a cardboard box out in the lobby, put your shoes in there. There are boxes all over the community.

Raffi comes along every once in a while and he picks up those shoes and he sends them to an organization that sends the shoes to Africa where they are used. And for each pair of shoes he sends them, they give him money. That money goes to paying therapists in the community to give highly-subsidized marriage counseling to those in need. Did you catch all that? That’s amazing!

Shoeless men, women, and children in Africa will have something to wear on their feet, couples in crisis will be helped, and you will see Raffi Bilek on the street and you will have no idea who he is. You may think he’s dancing on the outside of the circle. In truth, he’s right at the center and I sure hope he never stops dancing.

And then there are the countless people who don’t even have not-for-profit status; the countless volunteers that are in this crowd today, the people who visit the sick or call the elderly. There will never be a book written about them, but the impact they make is tremendous.

And that’s what the Ohr HaChaim is teaching us, it may seem like there is more than enough, v’hoser. It may seem like you are too insignificant, too small, too young, too run-of-the-mill-normal to make a difference. But G-d responds by saying, no, dayom. Without you, without your participation, without your creative ideas, without your simply being there, whether it’s dancing on the outside circle, whether it’s being one of 20,000 people in a crowd, or whether it’s coming to shul on Shabbos, without you, we would be lacking. You have something unique that only you can contribute. What that contribution is, is up to you to figure out. But it’s there and it’s real.

If I could ask the students from Kushner to please rise so everyone can see you. You came here today thinking you were going to be on the outer edges of this shul’s circle. You thought your attendance here meant nothing. And that’s the beauty of this idea – sometimes we think we’re on the perimeter of the circle, but really, we’re at the center. I want you to know that today you made a difference. You taught all of us that if you could schlep in from New York and New Jersey to support Israel, we can make the drive to DC. You taught us that it doesn’t matter how old or how young you may be, how renowned or how unknown a person may be, they can make a difference. And I hope tomorrow when you’re sitting among 20,000 people or maybe some other time in your life when you feel insignificant, I hope you remember that you are never extra, and without you there will never be enough.

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A Deeper Look at the Ten Plagues

By: Rabbi Motzen | March 23, 2017

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Laws of Pesach #11

By: Rabbi Motzen | March 29, 2017

One need not line cupboard shelves or drawers with shelving paper. Since they do not come into contact with hot food the only concern is cleaning the area out from any Chameitz.

One may use towels and table-cloths from year round on Pesach as long they are washed in hot water and soap before Pesach.

I want to emphasize that I am writing what is necessary by law. Jewish People from time immemorial have cleaned for Pesach with extra stringencies and it is a beautiful testimony to our ancestor’s commitment to G-d. I would advise that if one has a custom that is a stringency one should treasure it and hold on to it. If for some reason it becomes difficult to maintain, it should be weighed seriously before being discarded.

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