One of the most celebrated Jewish holidays is, undoubtedly, Pesach.
It has been 3,335 years since those who left Egypt and their descendants have been celebrating this event around the Seder table, eating Matzah and eating around the Seder table, eating Matzah and Maror, drinking wine, reading and chanting passages from the Haggadah that narrate the story and its meaning.
The date is celebrated with more or less religious rigor. In addition to those of us that celebrate Pesach because that is what G-d commanded us to do in His Torah, there are those who see Matzah as nothing more than cultural and symbolic, representing the food that the Israelites ate when they escaped from Egypt in haste.There was not enough time for the dough that they carried on their shoulders to leaven. In fact, that reason is recorded in the Bible itself. (We find in the same Bible, however, that G-d commanded the Israelites to eat Matzah in preparation for Exodus...)
There are those who gather around the Seder table simply as an opportunity for an annual family get-together, to catch up with family news and exchange recipes and experiences. And then there are those who see the Pesach Seder as a celebration of human freedom, beyond anything particularly Jewish.
There are probably as many ways of understanding and celebrating the Pesach Seder as there are people who celebrate it....
I would like to share with you my personal perspective.
Man is a composite of body and soul, of ballast and buoyancy. Our time is divided between days and moments in which we load up with fuel and others in which we spend it.
During vacation, for example, we recharge in order to be able to work until the next break.
During the year we generate money in order to have what to spend on vacation...
We stop at a service station in order to replenish different needs. Fuel, water, oil, air. The same is true on a spiritual level. Our calendar has specific dates for loading up with the different various provisions necessary to be able to travel the path of life. On Pesach we recharge the energy of freedom. In order to fulfill one's life mission more fully, one must be free. On Pesach, we not only remember the fact that at some point, thousands of years ago, our ancestors were freed from the tyranny of Pharaoh; we are meant to try and free ourselves from the tyranny of an even greater and crueler tyrant than Pharaoh. Look at yourself in the mirror to meet him or her.
We have the capacity, and often the tendency, to torture and enslave ourselves as no one else can.
Pride, laziness, anger and envy are but a few of the many tools that we use to enslave ourselves.
On the Seder night we are meant to focus primarily on our own inner "Egypt" and "Pharaoh", evaluate them and work to free ourselves from their tentacles.
What are the most effective tools to achieve the freedom from ourselves in order to be ourselves?
There are many, to be sure. The main ones among them, however, are: the Matzah, the Marror and the four cups of wine.
Matzah: Matzah is made of flour and water in a way that does not allow it to become leavened, unlike common bread or Jametz. Matzah represents humility. True personal freedom is achieved by freeing ourselves from our ego rather than by defending and expanding it. The one who clings to his ego, often basing facts on his opinions, will never free himself from his own tyrannical limitations. 1) He will not recognize his faults, 2) will attribute the blame to others, or 3) if proven guilty will just shrug it off and say “so what”?
The result? His situation will go from bad to worse.
The first step necessary in order to achieve true freedom is to recognize one's personal limits and be willing to overcome them.
Matzah must not contain anything that adds taste to the flour and water. In addition to representing humility, Matzah also represents tasteless discipline. In order for one to be willing to fulfill the necessary steps to achieve freedom, he or she must be willing to submit to discipline, to do what is needed even if it does not cause any pleasure and even if it is very difficult.
But discipline is only the first step. It is not enough to do things just for the sake of discipline. It is also necessary to experience the "wine"; to enjoy the varied and sophisticated tastes that the process provides.
When G-d offered the Torah to the Jewish people, they said Naaseh venishmah, "we will fulfill
and we will understand". Both things are necessary and in that order: Naaseh, to fulfill by discipline and Nishmah, to appreciate and enjoy.
Marror: The bitter herbs at the Seder table teach us the importance and role that feeling pain plays in the process of freedom. When we feel pain, that is a good sign. It would be much worse to step on a piece of glass and feel no pain... Pain pushes us to do something to address its cause.
Pesach is for me also the festival of "connections". All the precepts and the traditions connected to Pesach help us connect with G-d, with our family, with our fellow, with our past, our future and with our very own essence. On Pesach we connect with our Neshamah —Divine Soul— we activate it and allow it to express itself more fully, even if for a while, with the hope that it will continue to inspire us long after we have concluded the formal Seder program.
On a personal note, all the preparations for Pesach in the interest of serving the community, such as importing the Matzah Shmurah, the preparation and distribution of the Pesach Guide and the Kesher magazine that reach thousands of households, promoting and processing the sale of Chametz, and so many other details aimed at facilitating and motivating the celebration of Pesach on the community, family and personal level, culminating —when possible— with the presence of our dear children and grandchildren at the Seder table, serve to further enhance the presence and impact of these holy days in my life.
Every year I manage, to a greater or lesser extent, to get out of my own personal Egypt and help others free themselves of theirs. And every year there are more and more colleagues doing the same as me in their respective communities all over the world. I am certain that this concerted effort helps us get closer and closer to the day when we will reach the critical mass needed to get out of the collective exile we all find ourselves in, not only physically, but also spiritually and truly.
Remember: every day that passes and the Mashiach has not arrived means that there is one day less left for it to happen.
Leshanah haba'ah biyerushalaim!