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לימוד תורה

And they could not delay - lest we should miss a fateful moment

Parsha and its realization - for Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach and Shvi’I Shel Pesach - 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

The 'right timing' of any action is an important element in human conduct, of the individual and of the public. In the past and present. In every action plan, in making and managing processes.

First and foremost, the 'right action', or the right answer to the problem that has arisen is required. If they are wrong the goal will not be achieved. Furthermore, if great effort and resources are invested, these will go down the drain and it will cause great frustration. However, the 'right timing' is just as important. If the 'correct action' is taken too soon, or if it is taken too late it will not achieve the goal, especially if there has been damage, or when the action will no longer be useful as 'the horses have already fled the stable'. It will 'miss the moment' and cause frustration and a severe feeling of missing out.

Various reasons can be listed that cause us to have delays and 'lose the timing'. Difficulty in 'foreseeing' and identifying opportunities or risks. Not understanding the timing or the danger severity. Real or imagined fears of acting at the appropriate time. Laziness and unwillingness to make an effort. In all of them, when it “downs on us” it is already too late. We all know examples from the past, of fatal national missed-opportunities that became a 'weeping for generations’.

The 'right timing' for everything is determined by the Divine leadership.

לַכֹּל זְמָן …כִּי לְכָל־דָּבָר יֵשׁ זְמַן קָבוּעַ מָתַי יִהְיֶה:

“For everything there is a season… only the time has not yet arrived, for everything has a set time when it will be" (Rashi Kohelet 3:1).

However, a person has the free choice to adapt the 'timing' as much as possible to when it suits him, as it is written:

וְדָבָ֖ר בְּעִתּ֣וֹ מַה־טּֽוֹב

“And how good is a word rightly timed!(Proverbs 15:23)

Anything that is not 'at its time' will not succeed.

The importance of the 'right action' at the 'right time' is one of the foundations of Passover; of the mitzvot of eating matzah and the prohibition of chametz, and of the future redemption.

The historical timing of the exodus from Egypt יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם was very important; it had to be done precisely on this date, and it was necessary to leave before the Egyptians had time to come to their senses. The people of Israel were not allowed to miss out on this opportunity. That is why they were ordered to be ready for a hasty departure from Egypt:

וְכָ֘כָה֮ תֹּאכְל֣וּ אֹתוֹ֒ מׇתְנֵיכֶ֣ם חֲגֻרִ֔ים נַֽעֲלֵיכֶם֙ בְּרַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וּמַקֶּלְכֶ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֑ם וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ בְּחִפָּז֔וֹן …

This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly… (Shmot 12:11)

They were not allowed to be delayed whatsoever: וְלֹ֤א יָֽכְלוּ֙ לְהִתְמַהְמֵ֔הַּ

“…and could not delay…” (Shmot 12:39)

כי גורשו ממצרים שומע אני מאליהם (שנאמר) [תלמוד לומר] ולא יכלו להתמהמה

"…for they were driven out of Egypt": I might think (that they left) of their own volition. It is, therefore, written ("for they were driven out of Egypt) and they could not tarry." (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 12:40)

They were not allowed to delay even to complete the leavening of the dough, in order to stock up on bread for the journey.

וגם צדה לא עשו להם להודיע (הקדוש ב"ה) שבחן של ישראל (עד) שלא אמרו למשה היאך נצא למדבר ואין לנו צדה לדרך, אלא האמינו והלכו אחר משה.

They did not say to Moshe: How can we venture into the desert with no provisions for the road, but they believed and went after Moshe” (ibid)

The Matzah and the prohibition of Chametz remind us of the importance of being careful about the timing of the exodus from Egypt, the importance of haste and the prohibition of delay:

לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם …

“You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter, you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress—for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly…” (Devarim 16:3)

Anyone who stumbles upon a Matzah factory, while Matzah is being baked is impressed right away by the haste - the need to complete the process of making the matzah within eighteen minutes. Lest the timing should be missed G-d forbid!

The same is true of the future redemption. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote after the Holocaust his important article "Kol Dodi Dofek” (It Is the Voice of My Beloved That Knocketh) as a parable for chapter 5 of the ‘Song of Songs’. And out of hope that we will hear G-d's 'knocks' on our door for redemption, which opens a 'window of opportunity' for us, so that we act accordingly and advance the redemption before these close, and so that we do not miss the chance:

היהדות הקפידה מאוד על איסור חימוץ השעה וכו'. שהייה כלשהיא נחשבת על ידה לפשע. האדם מפסיד לפעמים את עולמו בשל חטא אחד – ויתמהמה"

"Judaism has been very careful about not missing the appointed hour. It has a very sensitive time awareness; any delay is considered sinful. Man may sometimes lose his entire world for but one sin — that of tarrying. “But he lingered”. (Kol Dodi Dofek - Missing the Appointed Hour 5)

This principle is also found in other commandments:

"מהו איסור נותר – אשר לא איחור השעה? מהו עוון חילול שבת – אם לא עשית מלאכה רגע אחד אחרי שקיעת החמה שמותרת היתה רגע אחד לפניה? במה מתבטא ביטול מצוות, אם לא בהתמהמהות של דקים אחדים, כגון: קריאת שמע לאחר זמנה, נטילת לולב אחרי ביאת השמש?"

“What is the desecration of the Sabbath, if not the performing of prohibited actions one second after the setting of the sun —‎‎ work that just one second before was permitted? How does the loss of the ability to perform a ‎‎mitzvah occur if not for the tarrying of a few moments, such as reciting the passages of the ‎‎ Shema after its appointed hour or the taking of the Lulav and Etrog after sunset, and the like?” (Ibid)

The relation between the 'right timing' and the 'right action' is also expressed in a special category of Mitzvot: מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁהַזְּמָן גְּרָמָהּ "all positive, time-bound mitzvot" (Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7). Mitzvot that their obligation depends on the 'right timing' - on the validity of certain times, that their very existence requires the observance of these mitzvot at specified times.

And in general:

כל הקורא פסוק בזמנו מביא טובה לעולם שנאמר במשלי - ודבר בעתו מה טוב

“Anyone who reads a verse at its appropriate time and in the appropriate manner introduces good into the world, as it is stated in Proverbs 15:23: “And a word in its season, how good is it”. (Sanhedrin 101a:3)

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