In Mom’s nursing home, there’s an automatic bicycle machine. All you have to do is strap the old timer’s feet onto the pedals and turn on the motor. The machine does all the work. It gets the blood circulating, even though the cyclist is just going through the motions, but of course it’s not like riding a real bicycle.
Just going through the motions.
For a lot of people, that’s what Seder Night is like. They go through the motions of reading the Haggadah, eating matzah, and drinking four cups of wine, but they don’t internalize the message of the Seder and act on its teachings. Like with the automatic bicycle, there’s a lot of action, but they really aren’t going anywhere.
With Pesach approaching, it is appropriate to ask what is the message of Pesach and the Passover Seder?
Pesach is called the holiday of freedom. It commemorates our freedom from galut. That initial galut (exile) happened to be in Mitzrayim (Egypt), but it could have been in Brooklyn, Toronto, Manchester, or Melbourne as well. For a Jew, exile means living outside of the Land of Israel. Some exiles seem worse than others, but as long as a Jew is living outside the Land of Israel, he or she is in exile. He’s living in someone else’s land. He is a stranger. A minority. Nothing is his. Everything belongs to the gentiles who rule there. Sure, there are Jews who will protest and say, “I’m an American just like everyone else,” or “I’m a Canadian just like everyone else,” but this is just a delusion. A Jew is a Jew. He is a member of the Children of Israel. He may have a birth certificate from the United States and a US passport, but those are external to his true essence, like the travel decals you stick on a suitcase.
Wherever he wanders, a Jew is just passing through.
Because he is a Jew, he has an eternal, inner attachment to the Torah and its commandments. Just as he can’t say, “I don’t believe in the Torah, therefore I don’t have any obligation to keep kosher,” he also can’t say, “Because I was born in America, I don’t have any connection to Eretz Yisrael.” No way. Because he is a Jew, he is part of G-d’s gift of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People. He is a part of the Divine commandment to live there. Eretz Yisrael is the Land of the Jews, not Canada or Japan. As long as he is outside of the Land of Israel, he is in exile. And if he thinks that it is not exile, because he feels free there and the gentiles accept him, it is exile all the same. Ironically, the worse an exile is, the better it is for the Jew, because at least he realizes that he is in exile. When the exile is comfortable, like in Brooklyn and Toronto, a Jew can easily fool himself into thinking that he isn’t in exile at all, and that’s the worse bondage there is.
So, first and foremost, the holiday of Pesach comes to teach us that G-d chose us as his special Nation and freed us from bondage to take us out of exile and establish us in Eretz Yisrael, as the Haggadah begins:
“This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Mitzrayim. All who needs may come and eat, all who need may come and share in our Pesach meal. This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free men.”
This means that the goal of our lives should be to leave the galut and live in the Land of Israel. Our Sages are teaching us that no matter where we recite the Haggadah, whether it be in Warsaw, Moscow, Berlin, New York, or sunny Miami Beach, we are in exile. We are in bondage in a foreign land, in a foreign culture. Only when we live in Eretz Yisrael are we free men.
This teaching is repeated at end of the Seder when we declare, “Next year in Jerusalem!”
Therefore, this year, make your Seder Night meaningful. Make it real. Don’t just go through the motions. Strive to internalize its teachings. In the great Divine illumination that comes on Pesach night, understand with all of your being that you are living in bondage in exile amongst the gentiles, in a foreign land, and all you have to do to get free is pack up a few clothes and hop on a plane to Israel. Everything else is here waiting.
Next year in Jerusalem!
It’s as simple as that!