I once called Rav Avrohom before Pesach and asked if he could share a d’var Torah. He told me that if you take the words hamez and mazzah as they are spelled in the Torah, they practically share the same letters except that the hey of mazzah and chet of hamez have a slight difference. The hey (ה) doesn’t quite connect to the top whereas the chet (ח) fully connects. Therefore the difference between hamez and mazzah is a miniscule protrusion of space. He said that in life the difference between living a life of hamez or mazzah is comparable to the minuscule opening that exists between the letters; teaching that through miniscule action one can transform his existence.
Rav Avrohom told me a drash in relation to Pesach that I believe has relevance to Rosh Hashana and all holidays. He said regarding the words in the Haggadah, Rebbi Yehudah haya nossen bo simanim, desach adash ba-achav. He said that the word desach comes from the words desa u’rena; merriness, adash, refers to the lentil bean that Esau sold his birthright for and ba-achav, if broken into two words would mean ba chov, the debt will be repaid. The explanation of the drash is that one who engages in worldly happiness and merriment similar to the type that Esau did will have to repay the debt for such conduct (perhaps it may be said all debts may be released year to year on Rosh Hashanah).
The Kotzker Rebbe had a famous thought when discussing Teshuvah. Often our eyes look at the wrong things. How then do we avoid looking around at our environment and become ensnared in seeing the wrong things? The Kotzker says to be involved in Torah “Beiyun.” Learning Torah in great depth,using all the faculties of the mind, prevents the eyes from roaming as the mind is so preoccupied and it brings real Teshuvah. (How appropriate at a time such as Pesach where we are trying to eliminate all the Chametz from our being). Rabbi Orlowek recommends to write the main points you learned in a sugya on an index card before you finish. This way you can take it with you and continually review it in the “street.”
Isra”el” and Ishma”el”both embody G-d’s name (“el”). This is a frightening proposition! If Yishmael contains Hashem’s name within it, how are we supposed to beat them? The answer must that we can’t only match them in their strengths, but we must surpass them. What are the strenghts of Yishmael? The first is tefillah. Hagar prayed to G-d and an angel assured her of safety and a future generation. It’s no coincidence that Yitzchak who was the first prototype to battle Yishael came from the exact place that Hagar davened when he went to beseech G-d with prayer. Secondly, Yishmael has the natural inclination of Mesirath Nefesh. Throughout history, they wiped out Jews with barbaric tactics. Today it manifests itself in the form of suicide bombers. How can we counteract this? What is our Mesirath Nefesh that is necessary? Well Nefesh doesn’t only mean “body” – it also means “ratzon” desire. We must place G-d’s wishes before our desires. It must be “He” before “Me.” To win, we need prayer and the placing of G-d’s will before our own.
Today Rabbi Nagen (Genack) came to the OU office to visit as he is in from Israel. My uncle and I were overjoyed. He brought his new sefer, Nishmat HaMishna, with him. He told us a moving story – that on the Friday night before Dafna Meir a”h was murdered, he gave a drasha on the importance to not let time “machmitz” – elongate – but rather to take action and effectuate change immediately. The next morning Dafna Meir a”l told my cousin that his “drasha” had a great impact on her and that she now adapted such a stance realizing the need to take action immediately with the knowledge that every moment counts. Indeed, for the last full day of her life she mastered the moment and must have lived every moment to the fullest. (How many of us even contemplate this in our lifetime?) The next day she was murdered. Rabbi Nagen dedicated the book to a few people and she was one of them.
Rav Avrohom told me the following drash on the Gemara in Sukkah 21b. The Gemara says that “where do we know that you can learn from even the ordinary talk of talmidei chachamim” – and the Gemara brings a verse as a proof. Rav Avrohom said based on drash we can say the Gemara is also saying – “what is the ordinary speech of talmidei chachamim?” – “that one must continually learn.”