"G-d, You have given us the festival of Passover, the season of freedom"
Passover is supposedly the festival of freedom from slavery. But it seems ridiculous to celebrate freedom by not eating bread! Aren't restrictions the exact opposite of freedom?
Well, it depends on how you define freedom. If being free means doing whatever you want, with no rules or limits whatsoever, then indeed, I am only free as long as no one tells me what to do and I can follow my every whim and fancy.
But is that really freedom? Aren't I then just a slave to my whims and fancies? What if my fancies are not really coming from me? Maybe I have desires that were placed in my head by others. Am I truly free if I follow those desires? What if I have instinctive drives that are harmful to myself? Can you call me free if I am bound to those drives? What about compulsive or addictive behaviour? Bad habits? Egotism? Can't you also be a slave to what you want?
Judaism defines freedom very differently. True freedom is the ability to express who you really are. If there are levels to your personality that have not been explored, if your soul has not had the opportunity to be expressed, then you are not yet free.
The Torah is the instruction manual to our souls. Even its seemingly restrictive laws are only there to allow us to tap in to our inner self. Because sometimes it is only through restrictions that our true self can come out.
An example of restrictions being freeing is the game of soccer. Compared to other sports, soccer is very limiting, because you can't use your hands. So is soccer a frustrating game to play? For a beginner, perhaps it would be. If you constantly focus on the fact that you can't use your hands, then it would seem pretty annoying. But once you got the hang of it you would realise that precisely because in soccer you are restricted from using your hands, you are "free" to develop other skills - like kicking, chesting and headering - that otherwise you would never have known that you had.
Similarly, the underlying purpose of Jewish customs is not to tie us down. On the contrary, they serve to quieten the noise of our mundane, everyday existence and help us tune in to the deeper messages of life.
On Pesach, we eat Matzah, the bread of surrender that liberate our true self from the clutches of ego and self-inflation, symbolized by bread. Our souls get a chance to be heard, and nothing can be more freeing than that.
WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT?
The Seder is not just a memorial to events of the distant past - it is a dynamic process of freedom from the challenges of the present.
We are slaves. Slaves to our own inhibitions, fears, habits, cynicism and prejudices. These self-appointed pharaohs prevent us from expressing our true inner self, from reaching our spiritual potential. Our souls are incarcerated in selfishness, laziness and indifference.
Pesach means "Passover". It is the season of liberation, when we pass over all these obstacles to inner freedom. On Pesach, we give our souls a chance to be expressed.
Reread the Haggada. Every time it says "Egypt" read "limitations". Replace the word "Pharaoh" with "Ego". And read it in the present tense:
"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt" =
"We are slaves to our egos, stuck in our limitations."
How do we free ourselves? By eating Matza. After eating Matza, the Israelites were able to run out of Egypt and follow G-d into the desert. Because Matza represents the suspension of ego. Unlike bread, which has body and taste, Matza is flat and tasteless - the bread of surrender.
Usually, we are scared to suspend our egos, because we think that we will lose ourselves. On Pesach we eat the Matza, we suspend our egos and find ourselves - our true selves.
This night is different from all other nights, because on this night we let ourselves go, we liberate our souls to follow G-d unashamed. We say, "I may not understand what this means, but I have a Jewish soul, and somehow that is the deepest layer of my identity."
That soul is the innocent child within us is waiting to be free. This Pesach, let's allow that child to sing:
Ma Nishtana Halayla Haze...
THE SON THAT DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO ASK
Why we need to question
Many people think that questioning and belief are mutually exclusive - that a true believer doesn't ask questions, and that a curious mind lacks faith. In Judaism, it's not like that. Questioning and belief can coexist. They are two very separate and very necessary human traits. They happen in different places inside us, so they can both exist simultaneously.
We question with our mind. We believe with our soul. Just as the hand is used to write, the feet to walk, the heart to feel, so the mind is used to think, and the soul to believe.
When someone says, "I believe", they are really saying, "I feel my soul, and it's alive". And non-belief is a sense of detachment, not from G-d, but from our own soul. Our soul knows G-d already, because our soul is itself divine. It sees G-d all the time, and needs no proof.
Our minds, on the other hand, struggle to accept things that are beyond us. The mind wants evidence, it wants things to fit into a logical picture. So while the soul may believe, the mind may not be so sure.
G-d wants a complete relationship with us. He wants us to connect to Him with our entire self - not just our souls, but our minds too. So He wants us to question and investigate. That brings our minds into the relationship. Some questions we can answer, some not yet. But we can believe even before we have the answers, because belief is higher than intellect. Just as you can walk and think at the same time - because your feet are walking and your mind is thinking - so you can question and believe at the same time - question with your mind, believe with your soul.
And you should never stop questioning. In the Haggadah of Pesach, we read a parable of four sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one that doesn't know how to ask a question. The first three sons ask questions according to their temperament. The last one is silent. He is not stupid. He just isn't bothered enough to question things. He follows blindly, and never stops to think. That's bad news, and that's why he is last of the four sons. Even the wicked son is better. He may be wicked, but at least he asks - he's using his mind, he's present.
Bob, if you think you're the wicked son, I'm not worried about you. As long as you're asking - and you really want answers - then you're in the picture. Keep asking, but don't let the questions hold you down. Look into your soul and who knows - you might find some answers.
IS THE EXODUS A MYTH?
"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt..."
Mythology is a great image booster. There's nothing like a good legend to lift a nation's confidence. That's why most peoples of the world claim to have powerful forebears, like great kings and mighty warriors. Some go so far as saying that their forefathers were demi-gods, born from cosmic mixed-marriages between divine beings and humans. These stories are self-serving, with little resemblance to actual history. But they are useful. During the lower points of a nation's history, at least they can reminisce on their noble and powerful past.
But imagine a nation claiming to come from lowly and ignoble origins. What purpose would that serve? Why would people invent an embarrassing legend about themselves? Yet the Jews proudly declare a most undignified beginning: we began as a slave nation. Every year we retell the Exodus saga, and say: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt." Certainly not a great pedigree. Even the escape from Egypt cannot be accredited to our own power: "G-d took us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." G-d had to "reach out" and save us. What an unheroic heritage!
People don't make up stories like that, certainly not about themselves. It must be true. And we can be proud of it. There's no need to cover up our humble beginnings. The Jewish belief is that greatness is not a thing of our past; it lies ahead. The Jewish story has the power to inspire, not by glorying in an illustrious past, but rather by promising a brighter future. We were slaves, but we have a destiny to bring freedom to the world.
The children of demi-gods are today subjects for archeologists and historians. The children of Israel, descendants of simple slaves, are alive and thriving. No matter where you come from and how low your starting point may be, G-d can reach out to you. You too can transcend your limitations, and become free.
EREV PESACH Friday, 22 April 2016 | 14 Nissan Shacharis 7:00 am Followed by Siyum for Fast of the Firstborn Eat Chometz until 10:03 am Burn and sell before 10:58 am
Candle Lighting 5:06 pm Mincha 5:15 pm
Pesach/Shabbos Evening Service 5:30-6:20pm
PESACH, DAY 1
Shabbos, 23 April 2016 | 15 Nissan
Morning Service 10:00 am - 12:45 pm
Children's Program 11:00 am
Priestly Blessing 12:30 pm
Mincha followed by words of Torah 5:15 pm
Earliest Candle Lighting 6:01 pm - No second Seder preparations before this time.
Evening Service 5:50-6:40 pm
Begin counting the Omer
PESACH, DAY 2 Sunday, 24 April 2016 | 16 Nissan Morning Service 10:00 am - 12:45 pm Children's Program 11:00 am Priestly Blessing 12:30 pm
Mincha followed by words of Torah 5:15 pm Yom Tov ends and Maariv 5:59 pm
CHOL HAMOED SHACHRIS Monday (Public Holiday) 25 April - 8am