This letter is dedicated to Avraham (Alan) Rosen.
When the Temple was in existence, our people fulfilled the mitzvah to ascend to the Temple for the following three festivals: Passover, Shavuos, and Succos. These festivals are therefore known as the three pilgrimage festivals. And the day after each of these festivals is called Isru Chag – the Binding of the Festival. This unique term with its reference to “binding” conveys the following message about the post-festival period:
Each of these festivals has elevating insights. We are to therefore “bind” the elevating spirit of each festival to the days which follow each festival. In other words, we are to apply the elevating insights of each festival to our daily lives during the rest of the year.
Within our prayers, we refer to Passover as, Zman Cheruseinu – the Season of our Freedom. What are the elevating insights of this festival of freedom that we are to apply to our lives during the rest of the year? We can find some answers in the following insights that we began to explore in the previous letters about our Passover journey:
When we serve the altruistic Divine purpose for all creation, we gain the freedom to become the higher and giving human beings that we are meant to be. This is because we are created in the Divine Image (Genesis 1:27); thus, we have the potential to emulate in our human way the altruistic attributes of our Creator. The following teaching of the Chafetz Chaim that was discussed in previous letters can remind us of this liberating insight:
“Scripture records (Genesis 1:27) that, ‘God created the human being in His image.’ The commentators take the statement to refer to His attributes. He gave the human soul the capacity to emulate the attributes of Hashem, the Blessed One – to do good and act with loving-kindness with others; moreover, it is written in Scriptures, ‘Hashem is good to all and His compassion is on all His works’ (Psalm 145:9), and ‘He gives food to all flesh, for His loving-kindness endures forever’ (Psalm 136:25). ”
(The above teaching is cited in the Chofetz Chaim’s work, “Loving Loving-kindness” – Part 2.)
The Hebrew word for “Egypt” is Mitzrayim – a term which also refers to a state of confinement and distress. Human beings can also experience Mitzrayim – confinement and distress – in a spiritual sense. For example, there are people who sense in their souls that they are not yet free to be the higher and giving human beings that they are meant be. They therefore need to hear the following message that Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, gave to Pharaoh.
“Send out My child that he may serve Me” (Exodus 4:23).
This is a message to every “Pharaoh” that keeps us in Mitzrayim, including the personal “Pharaoh” that each human being struggles with. A personal Pharaoh can be a poor self-image that causes some individuals to feel that they are not worthy to serve the altruistic Divine purpose, or it can be an inflated self-image that causes some individuals to feel that everything and everyone in the world was created for the sake of their self-gratification.
A personal Pharaoh can also be an enslaving drive, obsession, or addiction. And I should not forget to mention the personal Pharaoh that tells a person that he or she is only a sophisticated animal with no higher purpose within the creation. These personal Pharaohs are oppressors that prevent us from fulfilling our potential and thereby becoming the higher and giving human beings that we are meant to be. We are to therefore remember the following message of Passover:
Hashem wants each of us to be liberated from the oppression of every Pharaoh and to become free to serve the Divine purpose for all creation.
After we left the land of Mitzrayim, Hashem brought us to Mount Sinai and gave us the liberating Torah – Divine Teaching. The Torah provides us with a liberating path of mitzvos – Divine mandates – that enable us to serve the Divine purpose in every area of our existence. This path of freedom reminds us that Hashem is the Liberating One; thus, the Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai began with the following Divine call:
“I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out of the land of Mitzrayim, from the house of slaves.” (Exodus 20:2 – the first of the Ten Commandments)
As Maimonides explains in his Book of Mitzvos, (Mitzvah 1), the above Divine call is a Divine mandate to believe in Hashem. And the wording of this mandate reminds us that Hashem is the Liberating One.
When Hashem gave us the mitzvah to remember and observe the Shabbos, the Sacred Seventh Day, Hashem said:
“And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Mitzrayim, and Hashem, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, Hashem, your God, has commanded you to keep the Shabbos Day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15 – the fourth of the Ten Commandments)
Shabbos is therefore another reminder that Hashem is our Liberator. In this spirit, we sing the following words during the Shabbos day meal which refer to the liberating role of Hashem at the dawn of the messianic age:
“He will proclaim liberty for the son and daughter.” (Dror Yikra)
Have a Good and Liberating Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Information:
1. Rav Yitzchak Hutner,
a leading sage of the
used to tell his
disciples that they
shouldn’t say at the end
of a festival, “the
festival has passed.”
Instead, they should
say, “We have gained a
2. The study of Torah – the Divine Teaching – makes us aware that we are created in the Divine image with the potential to emulate the altruistic Divine attributes. This awareness gives us the motivation and strength to overcome the various “Pharaohs” that confine us, and we gain the freedom to become the higher and giving human beings that we are meant to be. Someone who studies Torah is therefore called a ben chorin – a child of freedom (see Pirkei Avos 6:2).
At the dawn of the messianic age, pilgrims from all the nations will come to Jerusalem to study Torah (Isaiah 2: 1-3). As we learned in this series, they will study those aspects of Torah which apply to all humankind.
3. There is a mitzvah to count the days and weeks between the second day of Passover and Shavuos, the festival which celebrates the gift of the liberating Torah (see Leviticus 23:15). There is a classical work on the Torah’s mitzvos known as “Sefer Ha-Chinuch,” and it offers the following explanation of this mitzvah:
“We are commanded to count the days from the morrow of the first day of Passover until the day when the Torah was given, to demonstrate our great desire towards this exalted day for which our hearts yearn” (Mitzvah 306).
The mitzvah of counting the days of our journey to Mount Sinai is known as Sefiras Ha-Omer – the Counting of the Omer. For further study of this mitzvah and its deeper significance, visit: www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/omer/ . The “Sefira Counting Page” at this site discusses the procedure of counting, and it also gives you the opportunity to register for a daily e-mail reminder on the counting of the Omer.
4. I have attached a link to recordings of songs which are sung at the Shabbos table which you may wish to listen to before Shabbos. Given the theme of this letter, I wish to recommend the song Dror Yikra – He will proclaim liberty. (Dror is an ancient Hebrew term for liberty, and it appears in Leviticus 25:10.)
Scroll down to the section of Shabbos day songs, and you will find four versions of Dror Yikra, each with a different nigun (melody). Version 4 is a nigun sung by Yemenite Jews – one which has become popular among diverse Jewish communities. To start each song, press on the right arrow.