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Thought for the Day: Laudable Goals Take a Back Seat to Obligations

When I was in graduate school (many decades ago) we would frequently discuss the philosophical implications of our knowledge of the world.  Modern physics, in fact, is built on work started by Liebnitz (among others), who wanted to prove that this was the best of all possible world.  Being a natural philosopher (in those days physics and philosophy were one field), he first invented a rigorous definition for "action", then invented calculus to solve max/min problems, then worked on various editions of the action function and minimizing it.  Nearly all physics since that time uses that basic premise and structure.  I don't expect you to actually follow that Wikipedia link from action, but if you did, you would see some (in the midst of the text) integral and partial differential equations; none of which looks anything like "exploration of alternate realities in search of the best possible existence".

I bring this up note the following crucial points: (1) the goal of physics is very easily understood; (2) the implementation of that goal looks nothing like the stated goal to someone who is not an expert.  That means that if you are not an expert, you just have to trust the experts that the complex mathematical equations and the stated goal are, in fact, one and the same.  It would be foolhardy to take the goal, make your own definitions of the concepts, and then create your own "physics".  You can't make up reality.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the Torah, non-experts have done just that.  The very laudable goal of תיקון עולם/perfection of ourselves and all of reality has been co-opted and criminally distorted beyond recognition by Reform Judaism and Christianity.  Of course, we are able to recognize that easily.  However, the temptation is very great to "tinker just a bit" with halacha to fit one's own ideas of what's correct.

For example, the seder is an incredible vehicle for inspiration and to begin the training of the next generation who will be carrying on the job of תיקון עולם.  It is tempting, therefore, to be lax in certain requirements in order to get to that goal.  While there are many obligations seder night, one of the most important is to eat the afikomen by midnight; in fact, it's really, really best to have the seder completed by midnight.  (Midnight here means halachachic midnight; about 12:50 AM this year in Chicago.)  One who does not finish by that time risks not fulfilling the mitzvah of matzah at all; right up there with eating on Yom Kippur (both punishable by spiritual excision).  As tempting as it is to say all those beautiful divrei Torah at the seder, most of that should be saved for the day meals.

This year has another challenge.  Since the first day of Pesach is on Shabbos, that means there is an obligation for shalosh s'udos.  Normally we want to not eat matzah in the afternoon before the seder -- even the second seder -- so that the matzah at the seder will be eaten with vigor and appetite.  None the less, there is a real live obligation of shalosh s'udos -- with a two k'zaysim of matzah -- on Shabbos afternoon.  The Mishna Brura notes that the possibility of fulfilling shalosh s'udos without bread in only if one does not have bread; but if you have bread, then you are obligated to eat a bread/matzah meal for shalosh s'udos.

Real תיקון עולם means nothing less than strict adherence to halacha, as codified and transmitted by our sages from generation to generation.


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