15 Nissan 5760
From the Desk of: Rabbi Yosef Azar
The Secret Behind Hagalas Kelim
One of the main features of pre-Pesach preparations is hagalas kelim, when we kasher many of our utensils for Pesach, usually those which became treif during the year. As a child, it was always a thrill to collect stones in my backyard and watch my father place the stones in a boiling pot and hopefully see my kitchen blow up. Yet as we grow older, hagalas kelim takes on a much greater significance, so let’s try to understand the seemingly coincidental relationship with Pesach.
The source for hagalas kelim is found in Parshas Matos 31:21 following milchemes Midyan – “Vayomer Elazar hakohen el anshei hatzava haba’im lamilchama zos chukas haTorah asher tziva Hashem es Moshe” – Elazar says to the men who returned from battle that the mitzvah of kashering the utensils of the Midyanites is “chukas haTorah”.
Why does the Torah speak in such broad terms and state that this is the chok of the entire Torah instead of being a chok for the specific mitzva of hagalas kelim (as the Torah uses the local expression in reference to the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb, “zos chukas haPesach”-Shemot 12:43)?
Perhaps we can understand the deeper meaning of hagalas kelim by reexamining yetzias Mitzrayim 3,300 years ago. When looking at the ten makkos, we see that in the first five makkos the Torah uses the lashon of “Vayachbed Paroh es libo” (Shemot 8:28)-Paroh hardens his own heart. However, after the makka of shechin (the sixth makka), the Torah states, “Vayechazek Hashem es lev Paroh” (ibid 9:12)- Hashem hardens the heart of Paroh. If Hashem would have allowed Paroh the opportunity, he would have chosen to send out the Bnai Yisrael right then and there. Why was it necessary to have an additional five makkos?
Obviously, one answer is that the first five makkos were not enough of a punishment for the heinous crimes of the Egyptians. Another five makkos were needed to justly punish them. The Bais Halevi, however, offers a different explanation. Paroh and the Mitzrim inflicted two evils on Klal Yisrael. The first evil was the physical enslavement of mortar and bricks. The second and more significant evil was the spiritual contamination of the souls of Klal Yisrael. One of the reasons for the makkos, says the Bais Halevi, was not only to punish the Egyptians, but to instill in Klal Yisrael a sense of yiras Hashem, and uproot the evil planted in their hearts during their long period of enslavement. After the first five makkos, much of the evil instilled in them was still present. Therefore, the Egyptians had to suffer an additional five makkos in order to cleanse the souls of Bnai Yisrael which they had contaminated. In this light, we now see that hardening Paroh’s heart for the last five makkos was more for the benefit of the Jews than for harm to the Egyptians!
However, just as Bnai Yisrael felt they were on the road to perfection and went on to accept the Torah, the sin of the golden calf occurred. What happened? If the ten makkos had refined Bnai Yisrael and the last five makkos came to specifically wipe out the poor values and morals of Mitzrayim, then how can we explain this fall? With another insight from the Bais Halevi we can understand what happened. After the sin of the golden calf, Moshe says to Hashem, “Lamah Hashem yechereh apcha b’amecha asher hotzeisa m’eretz Mitzrayim” (Shemot 32:11)- Why are You, Hashem, angry against Your people whom You took out of Egypt? The question seems to have an unnecessary phrase attached to it. What does “asher hotzeisa m’Mitzrayim” tell us? What does that have to do with Hashem getting angry at Klal Yisrael?
The Bais Halevi infers what Moshe was expressing. Even though on the surface yetzias Mitzrayim and the 10 makkos wiped away the idolatrous and immoral nature of Klal Yisrael, You, Hashem, still took them out too early! There still remained in Klal Yisrael a small trace of Egyptian culture and foreign values that every now and then rose to the surface. If only Hashem would have performed a few more makkos, then any trace of tumah would have completely left them and Bnai Yisrael would have reached their full perfection.
Now we can understand the relationship between Pesach, yetzias Mitzrayim and hagalas kelim. Baruch Hashem, our utensils are clean, free of any treif or potentially treif food particles. Everything seems like it’s fine. Yet hiding beneath us, inside the pores, there sometimes remains the foreign culture and distorted values to which we were exposed . The idea which hagalas kelim expresses is that we very often don’t even realize that the danger or impurity is there! How can there be a piece of treif in a pot washed three times! But the Torah tells us that it is there, and to truly eradicate these anti-kedusha concepts the Torah instructs us “kol davar asher yavo ba’esh ta’aviru ba’esh” (Bamidbar 31:23) – anything which comes in with fire, which comes with such force as the western culture of today, we must pass through fire, i.e. we must fight with effort and mesirus nefesh, to find the tumah within and kasher our bodies and souls. In this way we can achieve a complete yetzias Mitzrayim without the golden calves in the closet and may we utilize this Pesach to be mechazek ourselves and be zocheh to reach the final geula bimheira b’yamenu.
Chag kasher v’sameach!