An opportunity to free ourselves from bondage

In these days of isolation, we have an opportunity to break free from the enslavement restricting us. It seemed that modernity had rid us of epidemics, but now it turns out that precisely advancement, globalization, and economies are under threat.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

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פלאש 90

Pesach in Times of Crisis

It is an opportunity to re-design our lives, to recognize our own enslavement to a certain standard of living or a specific area of ​​residence, and leave them for spiritual, family, and economic freedom.
Humanity is presently dealing with a new/old enemy – a virus threatening the lives of numerous people, along with worldviews that have guided them. It seemed that modernity had already rid us of such epidemics, but as it turns out, the ones under threat are precisely the developed countries that promised their citizens prosperity, and built elaborate economic systems. The overcrowded cities and globalization are what accelerated the spread of the epidemic.

Every crisis dismantles, and also builds. Institutions, factories, and businesses that were not succeeding in any event - will fold, and new ones will emerge. However, not everything that grows out of a crisis is good. It depends on choice, and choice depends on inner will. When the inner will is good, things built are good in any case. And this is exactly the idea of Pesach - to re-establish the foundations of emunah (faith) in our consciousness, and by doing so, emancipate ourselves from all unnecessary dependences, so we can grow from the strength of redemption from Egypt, to the future Redemption.

The Meaning of the Prohibition of Chametz

Chametz (any one of the five species of cereal grains that came into contact with water and fermented) alludes to man’s ability to take raw material, enhance, and develop it. Throughout the year this attribute, by means of which man, created in the image of God, participates in the development and improvement of the world, is very positive. However, God gave us the holiday of Pesach so we can return to the foundations of emunah, and to do so, we must be extremely cautious about any trace of chametz.

The foundation of emunah is that God created the world and determined its purpose, and that the roots of all things depend on Him alone. Although God gave man the ability to improve and develop the world, this is limited to manipulating and developing the outgrowths of the root elements of creation; man has no power over the root elements, which are divine creations. God created the world and mankind, chose the people of Israel to be His Am Segula, His treasured nation, and it is He who gave humanity the quest to be moral, and to Israel, His Torah. Anyone who mixes petty human thoughts into the foundations of emunah, harms them greatly.

This is hinted at in the prohibition of chametz. By means of biur chametz (disposing of chametz), we are able to reach the holiday of Pesach and Seder night, designed to instill in us the foundations of emunah, namely, that the world has a Creator, that He watches over His creatures, and that He chose the people of Israel to reveal His name in the world.

Whenever a Divine foundation is revealed in the world, it appears in a completely miraculous fashion, to indicate that it is not a human endeavor. Thus, the Exodus was accompanied by signs and wonders, to publicize that the choosing of Israel was a Divine matter. Similarly, the Torah was given with evident miracles, to a generation that lived miraculously for forty years in the desert, so as to make known that this was an absolute Divine matter. In other words, we internalize the fundamental principles of emunah – we do not invent them. Whoever mixes some human aspect into these basic principles of emunah is guilty of idolatry. This is alluded to in the Zohar’s statement that chametz on Pesach is idolatry (Vol.2:182:1).

May it be that out of assimilating the foundations of emunah, all our endeavors emerging out of the crisis will be constructive.

The Significance of Eating Matzah

Matzah is the opposite of chametz; it symbolizes our humility toward Heaven, and therefore, it must remain simple and thin throughout its baking process, without rising. By fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah, we internalize the emunah first revealed at the Exodus from Egypt. Matzah comes to remind us of faith, and is therefore called meikhla de-mehemnuta, the “bread of emunah” by the Zohar (Vol.2:183:2). By eating matzah on the Seder night with the proper intent, one achieves emunah, and by eating matzah all seven days of Pesach, that emunah is firmly implanted in one’s heart (Pri Tzadik, Ma’amerei Pesach 9). Since matzah signifies faith, it is understandable that its entire manufacturing process must be performed with extreme care.

“Teach Your Children” In Times of Isolation

The central mitzvah on the Seder night is to convey to our children the foundations of the faith of Israel: they must know how the nation of Israel was formed, that God chose Israel to be His special nation, and that He gave them a special duty to receive the Torah, and rectify the world. Parents, of course, do not live forever. The next generation will have to bear the torch of tradition, the great and awesome task that God intended for Israel, until the world has been fully repaired. This is the lesson of the Seder night. Since children's characters differ from one child to another, the Torah clarifies the way in which parents should convey the Seder's legacy to children in four forms - to four different types of sons. The Seder night should act as a model for the entire year, namely, that education should be tailored to a child's unique character.

Due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, parents often find it difficult to spend a significant amount of time to talk to their children, to identify each child's uniqueness, and nurture and direct them in their own special way. These days of isolation afford us an opportunity to broaden the enlightenment and inspiration of Seder night over entire weeks, from which we will emerge better.

The Goal: A Life of Faith and Blessing in the Land of Israel

In order to fully understand the mission of the Jewish people, which we want to convey during Pesach and Seder night, we must consider the question of the wise child, and the answer he receives according to the Torah (Deuteronomy 6: 20-25). 

The wise child poses a detailed question, as it is stated: “When in the future your child asks you, ‘What are these testimonies, laws, and principles that the Lord our God commanded you?’” The answer initially addresses the Exodus from Egypt, but then broadens to include the overall purpose of the Jewish people: to come to Eretz Yisrael, to adhere to God, to fulfill all of His mitzvot, and to earn His benevolence:

“Say to your child, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. God brought great and terrible miracles and demonstrations upon Egypt, Pharaoh, and his entire household before our very eyes. He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustain us as we are today. And it shall be considered our virtue to observe and perform all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He commanded us.’”

We see, then, that the aim of Seder night is to impart to our children, by telling the story of the Exodus, the desire to belong to the people of Israel, to inherit the Promised Land, to adhere to God, and to fulfill all of His mitzvot.

Freedom from Bondage

During these days of isolation, in which our movement is restricted, we have the opportunity to free ourselves from distractions, to contemplate about our lives, re-program them, and free ourselves from all the dependences restricting us. Some people are dependent on a standard of living, to the point where it seems to them that if they earn a little less, their world will collapse. In truth, however, if they spent thirty percent less than they usually do, they would simply return to the way they lived twenty years prior.

For the race to buy a more expensive apartment, car, clothing and entertainment, is it worth giving up so many principles – on dreams of dedicating more time to Torah study, giving charity -ma’aser kesafim, helping others, and the like?

There are people who live in a location unsuitable for them, but because they are enslaved to their habits, they pay huge sums of money for their apartment which eats up a significant percentage of their income – not realizing that the location is unbefitting for their family and spiritual aspirations, and for their children’s education. Perhaps as a result of the isolation they will be able to free themselves, to choose to move to one of the high-quality communities in Judea and Samaria, and thus, all at once, improve their spiritual, family, and economic standard of living, and become partners in the grand mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel).

Torah for Its Own Sake Bestows Freedom

The Torah gives a person the ability to be free, and consequently, the continuation of the Exodus from Egypt is Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). As our Sages said: "For man is never freer than when he occupies himself with the study of Torah" (Avot 6:2). This is because only by the absolute and eternal word of God can man be freed from the bondage to his inclinations and public opinion.

But the truth must be told: only a straightforward study of Torah can make a person free, whereas a twisted type of study can make a person more enslaved to warped conceptions and false notions. As our Sages said:
Some people are enslaved to a distorted Torah belief, according to which a person who wants to be a tzadik (righteous) must alienate himself from science and work, and live in poverty. Such a position is sometimes necessary in galut (exile), but to continue it in Eretz Yisrael? God forbid!
"What is the meaning of the Scriptural verse: ‘And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel’? — If he merits, it becomes for him a medicine of life, if not, a deadly poison” (Yoma 72b). They also said, "Whoever occupies himself with the Torah le’shma (for its own sake), his learning becomes an elixir of life for him, for it is said, ‘It (the Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp it’; and it is further said, ‘It shall be as health...’; and it is also said, ‘For whoever finds me, finds life. But, whoever occupies himself with the Torah not for its own sake, it becomes a deadly poison for him” (Taanit 7a).

What is Torah Study for Its Own Sake?

The meaning of Torah study le’shma, is to fulfill the aim of the Torah - to add goodness and blessing in the world, and as we were instructed to teach the wise Son on Seder night: "He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustains us as we are today” (Deuteronomy, ibid.).

Some people are enslaved to a distorted Torah belief, according to which a person who wants to be a tzadik (righteous) must alienate himself from science and work, and live in poverty. Such a position is sometimes necessary in galut (exile), but to continue it in Eretz Yisrael? God forbid! On this Chag Ha’Herut (Festival of Freedom) – it should be for the good – we have the opportunity to free ourselves from bondage to this constricted concept.

The Land of Israel

When Torah study is done out of alienation to the nation and the land, against our will, it becomes lo le’shma (not for the sake), and becomes a deadly poison. After all, the entire purpose of Yitziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) was to enter Eretz Yisrael, as written: "I have come down to rescue them from Egypt's power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3: 7).

In Eretz Yisrael, one must work and fulfill the Torah and mitzvot, merit blessing and prosperity, and be an example to all peoples of the world, who will say about the nation of Israel, that it is wise and understanding in all the sciences, walks in the ways of God, and God helps him to rectify the world in the kingdom of the Lord.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.