Mar 30, 2012
By Rabbi Marshall Gisser
Passover conjures up many associations; the 10 Plagues, matza and maror, the four cups, Mah Nishtanah and the Haggadah and much more. But if asked what the essence of this holiday is, what would you say?
To recap, the Jews descended into Egypt by Joseph’s invite to provide during the famine in the Land of Canaan. After Israel (Jacob) and his 12 sons passed, the Children of Israel were pressed into slavery by a new Egyptian dynasty that “new not Joseph,” who has served the prior rulers so well.
God promised Abraham the Land of Israel for his seed to spread monotheism. A land identified by monotheists accomplishes this. But the Egyptian Jews first required repentance. The Egyptians too required lessons, as God is concerned with all His creations.
The 10 Plagues were intended to demonstrate to Pharaoh and his people that their beliefs were false. The three sets of plagues revealed that God alone rules over all. He rules over the Earth’s primary elements of water and soil (blood, frogs, lice), over events (mixture, animal deaths, boils), and over the heavens (hail, locusts, darkness). This comprises all of creation, teaching that God alone created and rules the universe. (Firstborn Deaths was intended to eliminate the leaders and continuation of that idolatrous culture.) The plagues exposed Egypt’s idols as false, as Pharaoh never summons his astrologers, but always calls Moses to remove the plagues. Some Egyptians saw the light; others paid a hefty toll.
Prior to their exit, God commanded the Jews to reject the Egyptian gods by killing a lamb which was holy to the Egyptians. They were also commanded in circumcision. These commands corrected the Jews’ religious ideas and restrained harmful lusts adopted in Egypt. Now the Jews were ready to be freed. But the danger existed that they would indulge freedom, without recognizing the objective of the Exodus: to accept a rational religion upon Mount Sinai.
Rashi teaches that the Jews trusted God would provide for them in the desert into which they journeyed. Yet, in that very verse (Exod. 12:39) the Jews were baking the dough they carried out of Egypt. We wonder how Rashi can say they trusted God, while also baking the dough! And why did God oust the Jews with such speed, that the dough didn’t rise, limiting it’s potential to matza and not bread? The answer is that the Jews did not take the dough primarily for consumption; they desired to embody the image of a free people. Eating real bread was merely the means to this image.
However, freedom per se was not God’s plan, so He rushed the Jews out and inhibited the dough from rising. Thereby, matza became the icon of this holiday. It embodies God’s thwarting of the Jews’ desire to embody an image of freedom, without religious direction towards the true God. God desires mankind to follow his mind and what experience teaches is true. We must follow what is “real,” not what is imagined, like the Egyptian society did.
“Exodus” means to leave. God advises us to leave false notions that “cannot harm and they also cannot do good” and follow God’s words:
“So says God, ‘To the ways of the nations do not learn, and from the signs of heaven, do not fear, for the nations fear them. For the statutes of the nations are futile, for a tree from the forest they cut, the work of an artisan with an adze. With silver and gold they adorn it; with nails and pegs they strengthen it so it does not disconnect. They are like a sculpted palm tree and they cannot speak, they are carried about for they cannot walk: do not fear them, for they cannot harm and they also cannot do good.” (Jeremiah 10:1-5)
Jeremiah unequivocally rejects powers existing, other than God. God freed us from the clutches of an idolatrous culture outlined by Jeremiah. Passover then takes the next step…
Quite interesting is the unique nature of Passover: it is the one holiday that’s actually two holidays! There was the Egyptian Passover and the Passover for Generations. What’s the idea behind God’s design of this duality?
The Talmud requires that we commence the Haggadah with our bondage and only afterwards, recount our freedom. We eat the matza to recall the dry, hard bread fed to us in slavery, but we must also recline while eating it. Another contrast. These contrasts generate a deep appreciation for the Creator who emancipated us. A true feeling of thankfulness comes about only through realizing our previous state of deprivation, and our ultimate redemption through God’s miracles. To create this appreciation, God commanded a First Passover “in Egypt” highlighting our bondage; to be contrasted with the Passover today, as a freed people. The dual nature of Passover intends to present us with “before and after” snapshots. Eating matza recalls poor man’s bread, but drinking four cups of wine highlights our freedom, and our Redeemer: each cup correlates to a term God used describing His planned redemption. Again, we commence with our history as slaves so when we finally discuss our freedom, we again personally appreciate what God has done for us. This expression of freedom takes on the form of reclining, and our appreciation is expressed through singing the Hallel. We also have an obligation to view ourselves as if we each exited Egypt. This all drives at engendering sincere thanks to God for His many kindnesses.
This appreciation must be transmitted to future generations. So we take time at the Seder and explain to each child – on his and her own level – the story of the Exodus. In fact, so important is our appreciation, many Torah commands are “remembrances of the Exodus.”
With this appreciation, we feel compelled to understand the goal of the Exodus: receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. God took us out, so as to give us a system that will be most rewarding.
This Passover, let us attain this focus that our freedom was intended to offer us unburdened lives where we can engage in studying God’s Torah and fulfilling its laws, realizing its benefit, and marveling at His great wisdom throughout our lives. Happy Passover!
Filed Under: Passover 2012
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