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What gestures can transform a slave into a free man? The Or Hachaim (Rabbi
Chaim Oter, Morocco, Istanbul, 1696-1743) proposes that a slave can attain
freedom in one of three ways. He must either; purchase his freedom, revolt
against the master, or, the master must set the slave free. But these
conditions were not the case during the original Pesach (Passover) in
Egypt. There was no purchase of freedom, nor was there any slave revolt,
and as we all know, Pharaoh did not graciously allow the Israelites to
leave as freemen. So what does this festival of freedom really represent?
Pesach is observed by reenacting an event that emphasizes both redemption and deliverance which at the Seder are symbolized by eating Matzah (unleavened bread). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh (Frankfurt-on-Main, 1808 - 1888) in an essay from his famous work HOREB, brings together a number of enlightening concepts about Pesach and Matzah that are usually taken for granted and rarely thought about.
Matzah represents a very unusual relationship that helped forge a commitment between a specific people (Israel) and their G-d. The Seder (with varying degrees of sincerity that we put into it) is almost universally accepted and observed as Judaism's most cherished and loved ceremony. The reenactment of that night of the tenth plague, can transform a Jew's relationship with his or her G-d. But in order to take a healthy step toward spiritual liberation, we must also appreciate our role AND Hashem's role in the actual exodus.
Let us use Rabbi Hirsh's own words to explore these ideas.
"The main teaching of the festival of Passover, which we observe in memory of the Exodus from Egypt, is that we should remember that it was G-d Who delivered us from Egypt by His own might and without human aid. You are to "remember" that the L-rd led you forth from there with a mighty arm.
Do not deceive yourself that a new spirit took hold of your fathers after their centuries of slavery that they rose up against their oppressors of their own free will, fought battles and wrested freedom from their tyrants by their own victory. Consider this carefully: it was only through the Word of G-d alone that Israel's prison burst open and they, who had been sunk in slavery and had been bereft of all physical and moral strength, went forth free, revived by the wonders and miracles of G-d. It was the Word of G-d that gave them freedom and raised them up to become G-d's nation, a particular creation which would survive all changes of time. Testify to this, O sons of Israel, for yourself and for others, on the day of deliverance, by eating no leaven but only unleavened bread.
That bread of affliction, which the barbaric masters would give their slaves to eat, this bread of affliction and slavery, should now serve the Jews as a symbol of the time of deliverance.
At that solemn moment of their redemption and deliverance they were supposed to know and to proclaim that they alone had done nothing on behalf of their liberation, because they regard themselves as servants [of Hashem] even now. They still eat the bread of affliction and poverty, the bread of slavery, until the Word of G-d will come and create anew the freedom which has been wrested from them. And when the time of redemption comes, Israel does not go forth slowly like victorious heros and freedom fighters, rather, they go forth in haste; their oppressors drive them out for fear of G-d's mighty hand, so that they do not even have time to prepare their bread, but must carry away the dough in its unleavened state and continue to eat the bread of affliction.
All these commandments, then, are testimony for the Children of Israel for all times to know that the redemption from Egypt was brought about by G-d alone and not by human or natural forces, for truly the nation of Israel did not attain their freedom by their own struggle; indeed, their exodus depended so little on their strength and foresight that they could not even prepare themselves with bread, that staple food, for the journey but had to continue eating the bread of affliction . . . "
So Matzah symbolizes that we were passive in the story of the exodus and that Hashem was the active One. Understanding this relationship with Hashem is to come to grips with life in all situations and at all times. Hashem is the Rebono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe). He guides, He acts, He causes us to choose whether or not we will submit or not submit to His will.
We are the descendants of those Israelites who chose to place the blood of the Pascal lamb on the door posts and the lintel of their homes, and sat during a night of absolute terror eating their meager Matzah and bitter herbs while the Angel of Death brought destruction to every Egyptian household. Those Israelites who refused to do this small act, were never liberated with their brethren.
Has anything changed? Are we not still slaves to our jobs, our egos, our positions, our fears, or will we allow Hashem to liberate us through His redemptive and liberating power? Ultimately, we must all come to the realization that life is not in our control and that only He is in control. When we appreciate this, we can come to the realization that at certain times passivity IS the active role.
In our home this lesson is very obvious. My wife's condition is now in the hands of Hashem and we have come to realize that her future and any relationship that we might have had with her is not in our control, but the present is. May our passive actions of prayer and charity bring a Refuah Shelaymah (complete recovery) to our dear Kathy.
For those of you saying prayers and requesting prayers in the synagogue, we have added a name to my wife's Hebrew names. Prayers should be directed to Chava Chaya Gitel Tzirel bat Devorah.
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