Rabbi Meir Kahana says it better than me. Pesach is the holiday celebrating our freedom from Galut. Apparently, many Jews don’t read to the end of the Hagaddah, or else don’t mean it when they say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Here is an essay he wrote, to help us internalize the messages of the holiday:
AND THOU SHALT TELL THY SON
The essence of Passover is the commandment of the Hagaddah, of telling and retelling, of passing on to our children, the story of Passover, its concepts and lessons and commandments. Passover is the beginning of Judaism, its very birth, hence its direction and directive to pass on to our sons and daughters its fundamentals and teachings. However, the problem with a commandment to parents to pass on lessons to their children is that so few know what to pass on. Indeed, through honest ignorance or honest receipt of confusion from those who passed that down to them, Jews of befogged confusion do not pass on but rather pass over the basic truths, and the irony of the holiday name is glaring.
For Passover is a festival of national faith, of a free people leaving an Exile for a home of their own. Jews of the ghetto and the Exile cannot understand Passover as it really is. They can only pass over it, never pass it on.
The object of Jews to understand the real and so-very-clear lessons of the holiday of Freedom, is the tragic reality of a 20-centuries-old Exile that not only brutally deformed Jews, but far worse, perverted the Torah concepts that are so basic to knowing not only who we really are and from whence we came, but what we should be doing and telling ourselves and our children, so that we may know how to reach the final redemption that is based — as our Rabbis tell us — on the first one, the Exodus from the Land of Egypt on that first Passover so long ago.
We are the victims of an agonizingly long exile that saw us change from an authentic religio-nation to a religion alone; that saw us learn to accept our crippling deformity, a religio-nation with a state of its own turned into a religion with no national or land roots. It is an exile that effectively perverted, warped and twisted Torah truth and we are the victims. That is why it is so essential to resurrect Passover and its lessons; to learn and understand them as they really are. For Passover is a festival of national faith, of a free people leaving an Exile for a home of their own. Jews of the ghetto and the Exile cannot understand Passover as it really is. They can only pass over it, never pass it on. And so, let us see the lessons of Passover, learn them, and throw off the leaven of the Exile, and hallow ourselves with the simple sanctity of the matzoh of freedom.
1) Passover is the holiday of negating of the Exile, of the throwing off of the slavery of Galut and going up to the freedom and spirituality of Eretz Yisrael.
The freedom given to the Jews by the All Mighty was more than just escape from bondage, from Egyptian slavery. The Ramban (Exodus 3:12) puts it best: “For the All Mighty said two things to Moses: To go down and save the people from the hand of Egypt and this might have been accomplished in the Land of Goshen [Egypt] itself or nearby — but G-d promised another thing: To take them out of the country entirely to the place of the Canaanites.”
And the Ibn Ezra (Deuteronomy 4:10): “For the L-rd knew that Israel could not observe His commandments properly if they remained in the lands that ruled over them.” And the Sforno (Deuteronomy 6:21): “And since in our slavery we could not acquire the completeness that was directed from Him, He did wondrously to take us out and bring us to a land where we could acquire that completeness.”
The so-obvious and basic Divine law: No people can live as a minority, a stranger in another’s land, and not be influenced by the majority’s foreign culture so that it infiltrates his mind, his views, his thought processes and makes him a different person than if he were isolated from that foreign invasion of his environment. We, the greatest of scholars — are all products of our environment, and the insidious foreign influences — newspapers, radio, streets — must influence and change us and shape us in a way that is different from an isolated, insulated Jewish state.
And so G-d did two things. He freed us from slavery, but only for the purpose of creating a holy, special, different people that would create a total Torah society in the only way possible: by leaving the influence of the foreign exile and living in cultural isolation in its own land. “Lo, it is a people that dwells alone . . . ” (Numbers 23:9).
2) Passover tells us that the Jew who can go up to the Land and does not, will not be allowed by the All Mighty to survive in his Exile Paradise.
And these are the words of the Rabbis (Shemot Rabbah 14; Tanchuma, Va’era 14): “Why did G-d bring the plague of darkness? Because there were, among the Jews, sinners who had patrons among the Egyptians, and they had honor and wealth and did not wish to leave Egypt. Said the All Mighty: If I bring a blow on them openly and they die, the Egyptians will say: Just as he struck us down so did he do to them. Therefore he brought darkness on Egypt for three days so that they could die and be buried with no one knowing.”
And indeed, that is the reason for the Rabbis telling us that only one-fifth of the Jews left Egypt, all the rest dying in the plague of darkness because they refused to leave Egypt to go up to the Land of Canaan (Tanchuma, B’shalach 1).
And the message echoes through the ages to each and every one who remains in the Exile where he enjoys honor and wealth. It cannot and will not be. A plague of darkness cometh and there will be no survival for those who despised the Holy Land and who chose their gentile patrons.
3) Faith, total faith in a G-d who is stronger than Pharaoh or even an American President.
The All Mighty comes to the Children of Israel and tells them to do nothing less than take the god of their Egyptian masters, the lamb, tie it up for four days and inform anyone who asks, that on the fourth day they will slaughter the animal-god, and then do it.
Mindboggling! Consider what the reaction of Jews would be today to a command to degrade and to flaunt victory over a sacred religious symbol of Christians or Moslems. Say, to remove the mosque from the Temple Mount . . . . One need not have much imagination to know what the reaction of Jews from left to right, from Reform to Moderdox, would be. Terror, outrage, indignation. But Passover teaches us differently.
In order to sanctify the name of the L-rd, G-d of Israel, as against the nations who mocked Him and knew Him not, the Jew is ordered not only to take, degrade, and manifest his mastery over the religious symbol of the Egyptian — he is told to do it in the most public way possible!
“And they shall eat the flesh that night, roasted . . . . Eat not of it raw, nor boiled in water, but roast with fire; its head, with its legs and its inner parts [complete].” (Exodus 12:8-9)
Why? Because you are sacrificing the god of Egypt, you might say, let us not roast it completely lest the Egyptians see us; therefore the verse says “eat not of it raw.” And if you say (for the same reason), let us boil it and put it into a pot, the verse says “nor boiled in water.” And if you say, let us cut it up so they will not recognize it, the verse says “its head, with its legs . . . ”
No nonsense about fear of agitating the gentiles, a concept of the Exile where it had its place, but utterly humiliating and a Hillul Hashem in a state where the All Mighty demands of the Jew a proclamation and demonstration of the utmost of faith, a faith in the face of apparent danger, a faith that manifests the essence of Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d, that is total and undiluted.
4) In the totality of faith and sanctification of G-d, there is no compromise — it must be complete and absolute.
Pharaoh has just refused the Israelites permission to take their children with them. Now, with the plague of darkness, he breaks and agrees. He surrenders almost totally. “Go, serve the L-rd, only let your sheep and cattle remain behind; even your children may go with you” (Exodus 10:24).
Consider, dear Jew. The Israelites have been slaves for decades upon decades. They have suffered and cried out unto G-d to free them. And now, finally, Pharaoh agrees to allow them to leave. Freedom now! And he only raises one minor condition — leave your cattle and sheep. Picture the scene: the joyful Jews, rejoicing in their soon-to-be-gotten freedom, embrace Moses and thank him. And then, to their horror, to their consternation, Moses shakes his head and tell Pharaoh, NO! You too, will give us sacrifices and offerings and our flocks will go with us. There shall not remain a hoof.
Dear moderate, non-fanatical, normal Jew. Was there ever a more fanatical, extremist, dangerous man than this Moses who refuses to compromise and insists on a stubborn policy of not one inch! Give them the sheep, Moses, give them the flocks! For freedom and peace one must compromise. Freedom now, shout the Jews, give him the sheep! But no. Moses knows what Judaism is, what Kiddush Hashem is: total surrender and capitulation before the L-rd — for only thus does the gentile admit his acceptance of the L-rd as the one and only G-d.
5) Sanctification must be open, unafraid, proud and tall.
The tenth plague strikes Egypt. Panic, terror. In every home there is death. Pharaoh surrenders totally. There is no thought of anything except total surrender. Go, go but above all, leave now, immediately. At midnight he races to Moses and cries out: Get up, get out of my people! You and the Children of Israel . . . take your sheep and cattle, too. Finally. Surely now, Moses is satisfied. Even the worst of extremists and fanatics must surely now accept this capitulation. Hardly. Thus says Moses: “Are we then thieves that we go out at night? We shall only leave with a mighty arm, before the eyes of all Egypt” (Tanchuma, Bo 7). And: “G-d said to them [the Egyptians]: You take My children out in the middle of the night? You will not take them out at night but rather openly in the middle of the day!” (Shemot Rabbah 18). And: “Moses said to Pharaoh: We have been warned to leave only openly” (Mechilta, Bo, 13).
The lesson is so clear, even to all the gentilized and Moderdox. Sanctification of G-d’s name, by its very essence, is a declaration that He is supreme, that no power on earth can touch Him or those who trust in Him. That the slightest thought of hidden or quiet, non-provocative sanctification is a contradiction in terms. That an admonition to do things quietly carries within it the seed of fear of gentile reaction and that, by its essence, is the very antithesis of Kiddush Hashem.
How many lessons there are in Passover! How many lessons that we pass over. Let us instead learn and pass them on.
May 9, 1986