The first day of the month of Nissan is an important day because it is when Moses completed the Tabernacle's construction and when G‑d's Presence began to dwell there. The Tabernacle was G‑d's first dwelling place on earth, and its vessels were used by the Jewish people to serve G‑d for over 1,000 years. Secondly, Rosh Chodesh Nissan reminds us that Pesach, the birthday of the Jewish people, is just two weeks away. One central mitzvah of Pesach is to eat matzah, unleavened bread. In Chasidic thought, leavening corresponds to haughtiness and pride. Eating matzah renews within us the self-nullification that the Jewish people felt when they were freed from slavery over 3,000 years ago. From this self nullification comes our ability to serve G‑d with humility the entire year.

A person should strive to…avoid using pride and pleasure as a spiritual technique….

The most proper way to serve G‑d is by ridding ourselves of pride and ulterior motives - to become like a loyal subject of a king or a loving son to a parent. Chasidic thought recognizes that this is not always easy and that most people have yet to achieve selflessness. But we should still have some realistic way to serve G‑d. A child, for instance, needs to have some imminent factor to motivate him to do something not for his own immediate benefit. Similarly, for a person who has been off the spiritual track, the way to turn him around is usually not through deep theological discussions about G‑d and what He expects from us. Rather, presenting Judaism in a way that the person sees personal benefit in it is a much more effective route. Even a person who is spiritually focused must sometimes use this method to overcome his evil inclination. But once he gets himself restarted, he must immediately work to become selfless again.

…honey represents pleasure, a person's connection to the desires of the world.

This is illustrated in teachings from a verse in this week's Torah portion, which always falls near Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Concerning the spice offering in the Tabernacle and Holy Temple, we are commanded not to include any leavening or honey in its ingredients (Lev. 2:11). Leavening represents the haughtiness that prevents a person from recognizing that without G‑d he cannot succeed. Just as bread dough rises, haughtiness makes a person's heart swell, blinding him to G‑d's continuous assistance. Similarly, honey represents pleasure, a person's connection to the desires of the world. The exception to the prohibition of offerings with honey is "first produce" – called "korbon raishit".

The Baal Shem Tov tells us that this type of offering is compared to the first rapprochement by G‑d to a person who experienced some level of pride, self interest, and personal pleasure. (This even includes subtle self interest, like actions motivated because you feel you deserve to be rewarded, or because you want a place in the World to Come) Although there is a principle that from acting in self interest, a person will eventually act for G‑d's sake (Pesachim 50b), it is nevertheless important to recognize that this is a temporary allowance. A person should strive to achieve the higher level and avoid using pride and pleasure as a spiritual technique. If a person lets his interests continue to govern his G‑dly service, this is tantamount to adding leavening or honey to the spice offering, making it unfit!

Rebbe Zev of Zabriz made a similar point about moving from self interest to G‑dly interest. He said that this can work in reverse, too. Getting too comfortable with worldly matters with which we come in contact for G‑d's sake (like extra sumptuous Shabbat meals) can lead us to wanting them all of the time if we are not careful.

The Kotzker Rebbe interprets the prohibition of leavening and honey differently: Leavening and honey are in turn sour and sweet. Serving G‑d in a sour way is like a country bumpkin, going through the motions but without any thought; serving G‑d in a sweet way is becoming too familiar, taking things for granted, feeling always at home, and, as the Talmud says, "Who can be a friend to Heaven?" (Megilla 25a)

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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