Pesach: Something to Chew On

Pesach: Something to Chew On

Onthe heels of the Seder night and all of its exaltedness we settle in to the remaining days of the Chag HaPesach and prepare to eat our way through the holiday. Many people have a chance to spend quality time with their families, learn a little bit, or take little trips. But in truth there is a much greater opportunity lingering in the balance during this Chag. Our sages embedded in the Amidah of Pesach that this festival is called “zman cheiruseinu” – the time of our freedom. The Rambam teaches in the Guide for the Perplexed that the three festivals Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos are all festivals built on the unit of seven. Pesach and Sukkos are one week festivals –seven days, and Shavuos is at the culmination of the seven weeks of S’firas H’omer. He establishes that the Torah’s purpose for having a Holiday built on the idea of seven is because seven is a number which represents completion. The world was originally created in seven days. The seven-day cycle represents a complete cycle of time. The Torah, by mandating a seven-day festival, wants that we should celebrate these festivals for seven days in order to reach “completeness” in inculcating the specific personal growth available during each festival. If Pesach is called “zman cheiruseinu” – that means that freedom is in the air during Pesach and we can inculcate it into our being completely.

What is freedom? The Torah defines freedom as “having the ability to know what is true and right and living up to it”. Unfortunately there is no shortage of people in the world who profess to know what is right or to believe in what is right. However the overwhelming majority also admits that they have no idea how to actually do what is right, or even if they have an idea how to do what is right they don’t manage to actually do it.  What is responsible for this grotesque schism in our reality? Knowing what is right and not doing it would be defined as a kind of mini-torture in this world from the Torah point of view. Who wants to live in torture or subject themselves to torture? When we focus on this gap between what we know and what we do, which happens for many people in their more penitent moments, one stark observation stands out above the rest. That observation is that we could just have easily kept sailing along without realizing the pain in that moment of truth. How is that possible? How can it be that we could just as easily sail through life and miss the boat and not be struck by the pain that is surely generated by not living according to our beliefs and ideals, as is evidenced by the fact that we are struck by this pain when we recognize that we are so far from doing and living what we believe to be right and true? Moreover, what is the cause of this feeling of pain altogether? Sadly there are many today who argue that this whole dynamic is merely superimposed on human beings by the nurture principle and culturing. Of course we all know that according to this line of thinking, freedom MUST be defined differently. Freedom would have to be defined as the state of being one experience when he rids himself of any vestige of conscience imposed by cultural norms with regards to moral and ethical issues. On the heels of this comes the immediate need to define one’s moral code as HE sees fit. Why is that the reaction? Why redefine the moral code but subjectively? At that point morality itself is nothing but an arbitrary constellation in a person’s life to be modified and restructured to fit whatever whims his more primal state of being called freedom dictates at any given moment.

Essentially the Torah definition of freedom and the Neo-Darwinian definition clash at the core. The Torah system defines freedom as the ability to understand the pure absolute truths of our reality and live up to them without allowing our base animalistic lower selves steer us away from that path. The Neo-Darwinian definition of freedom is really the polar opposite, where we slough off every vestige of truth and absolute morality in order to give freedom of expression to the base animalistic lower drives of the person, for after all at that point what is really left? As Janice Joplin so eloquently put it “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”. Morality truly becomes a totally arbitrary and completely malleable constellation in the decision making of a person in that system. The Jews have been a thriving moral nation for well over 3500 years. Our definition of freedom has stood the test of time through pagan cultures, through the middle ages, and in to the modern day renaissance. We have challenged all other definitions of freedom presented by humanity throughout the history of mankind and proved the power and relevance of our definition of freedom. So too will we stand firm against the winds of today and ultimately the edifice of New-Darwinian “freedom”, which is nothing more than a thin veneer over the deeper point of espousing that humanity should return to the law of the jungle, will whither away in the dust.

Looking for a moment at the Torah definition of freedom we notice that there are really two elements to it. The first element is “having the ability to know what is right”. What does this mean? The Torah teaches us that man was created in the Image of G-d. Our sages teach us that when G-d breathed the living soul into the man he was imbued with the faculties of intellect and speech. In this way man was inherently and essentially set apart from the animal kingdom. Any faculties of “speech” and “thought” which can be observed, as trace elements in the animal kingdom do not compare to that of a human being. A monkey can be trained to tap a keyboard and make letters on the screen and a parrot can be trained to say “have a nice day”, but only a human being can perceive the deeper realities of our universe and express his understanding of them in speech. This is the sole domain of man. A human being who is so caught up in his animalistic lower self could be oblivious to the fact that this capacity is available.   The second element of our definition of freedom is living and doing what we perceive to be true and right. This is a crucial element of our definition because freedom cannot be limited to the mind. To the extent that a person has mere access to the truths of our reality he is only partially liberated. To the extent that a person remains unable to fully align his thought, speech, and actions with this awareness and understanding he is still a slave to his lower base elements of character that are holding him back from doing what he knows is right.

When Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt it was explicitly for this purpose and no other purpose whatsoever. The verse says “And G-d said I will be with you and this will be the sign that it is true, for behold I am sending you to redeem the Jewish people form Egypt and when you come out from there you will serve the Almighty G-d on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). The entire overturning of Egypt with plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Mannah, and all of the miracles in the desert were all a prelude to this one point. We the Jewish people were chosen and taken out of Egypt in order that we would make a covenant with Hashem for all of eternity that we will dedicate our lives as individuals and as a nation to this purpose. We are in this world to educate others about what true freedom is. Religion has a bad rap. Organized and formalized service of G-d is seen as an ancient artifact of a world that has moved on to show its irrelevance. This is a grand illusion. That notion is promulgated by those who espouse the belief that true freedom is to be an unbound animal in the jungle of society. Morality as an arbitrary constellation is not just dangerous because it allows people and society to shift and sway their beliefs to whatever suits the day or the moment, it is more fundamentally flawed because it does not satisfy the Divine Spark of our soul that is within us. It is for this reason that this misguided definition of freedom will ultimately lose its appeal. It doesn’t appeal to the entire person on all levels, it only appeals to the lower animalistic self. Those who espouse this other definition are acutely aware of this flaw and make every effort to artificially and arbitrarily fill that void with tones of new age spirituality, meditation, or pure theoretical scientific exploration with the agenda of supporting their conviction that the world was in fact a cosmic accident and there are no moral absolutes at all. Others just posit that there is no Divine Soul at all. This last position is based on a very weak foundation. The fact that we have been imbued with a Divine soul is self-apparent. One time a famous heretic came to Rav Yeruchem Levovits the great Rosh Hayeshiva of the Mir in Poland. He said to Rev Yeruchem, how is it that you Jews are so convinced that we are not all just evolved from monkeys? Rev Yeruchem answered him in the following way. You dear sir never had a chance to see the great Rav Yisroel Salanter. It is for this reason that you are able to entertain this possibility. I however saw Rav Yisroel Salanter and therefore I am absolutely positive that a human being is not evolved from a monkey.

Our sages teach us that there is no one in the world who is free to the same degree as one who is immersed and toiling in the study and fulfillment of Torah. Initially this statement would have seemed a bit strange and off key. What do a bunch of sheltered, drab, narrow minded Talmudic scholars know about freedom? But when we look a bit deeper into the matter we see that these scholars poses the two crucial elements needed to have true freedom. Firstly they are immersed and toiling in the study of Torah. This process is what provides a person with access to the unadulterated truths and foundations of the absolute morality that G-d presented to the Jewish people and via the Jews to humanity at Mount Sinai. Secondly these scholars are bent on this pursuit of truth in order to live it and integrate it into every aspect of their beings, thought, speech, and actions, not merely to play mental gymnastics. In deed there is no greater freedom in the world than being able to fathom the depths of our Divine Soul and understand its yearnings which are nothing more than to fulfill the Supernal Will of the Almighty completely. This is the most liberating experience there could ever be. This liberation of discovering what we truly want at the core of our souls and following the wisdom of the Torah, which guides us as to how to live in line with these yearnings, is the ultimate.

On a deeper level we can ask why is it that there are really two elements to this process of gaining freedom Torah style? Why is it that we can have access to total truth and clarity and still be slaves? The answer is that when Adam Harishon ate from the Eitz Hada’as – the tree of knowledge he transformed himself in the most drastic way from being a lofty unified being whose creative potential and the vitality that he was blessed with in order to bring Divinity into the world and his identity and perception of self were painfully separated from one another, The sin of eating from the tree of knowledge was to drive a stake of separation between these two elements of a man. Once a person’s identity is no longer integrated fully with his creative potential and vitality then his identity becomes skewed and twisted. It is possible now for a person to identify himself as separate from his deeper creative potential, his spiritual vitality that is rooted in the Divine. Because of this schism in our persona that we have inherited from Adam Harishon it is possible to know a tremendous amount of wisdom and yet at the same time pour creative life force and vitality into something completely at odds with that knowledge. Before the sin this wasn’t really a part of our world altogether. Once the identity of a person becomes separate from his spiritual root and vitality that is poured into him from Hashem than in place of that higher form of identifying ourselves as extensions of Hashem’s Divinity in the world, we rather see ourselves as separate entities from Him and also separate our creativity from Him as well. We build edifices of meaning that are purely subjective and tainted with all kinds of lower drives.

In essence through the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil Adam chose a path for all of humanity who followed after him to struggle and deal with this challenge. Will we fall prey to the whims and currents of the day and be drawn to build artificial edifices of meaning and purpose that are nothing more than derivative of our raw animalistic or instinctual natural drives, or alternatively will we see beyond this façade and realize that although there is a temptation to want to identify ourselves through our own man made constellations of meaning nevertheless we need to restrain ourselves and only allow that creative life-force full of vitality to express itself in a way which is in total consonance with Hashem’s Will. This is now the essence of our choice. It is a two-step process. If we decide to go on the Derech Hashem than we will need to toil in Torah to discover what the Will of the Almighty is in any given situation. But we won’t be able to stop with that move because even after knowing what Hashem’s Will is, our legacy from Adam Harishon is still to decide whether we are going to subjugate our identity to being a vessel to bring that Supernal Will down into this world or rather to pursue some other direction in which we can experience our identity in a significant way in this world while remaining totally unauthentic about our knowledge of the Supernal Will.

The Arizal teaches us that eating matzah on Pesach is a rectification – a tikkun- for the sin of Adam. How exactly does this work? What is the connection even? The Midrash also teaches us that there is a strange juxtaposition of verse in the Torah. One verse refers to keeping the Chag of Pesach and the next verse refers to making cast molten images. The Midrash points out that anyone who eats chametz on Pesach is as if he made a cast image of an idol. What could possibly the connection between these two concepts? The answer is that the only difference between chametz and matzah is “the leavening process”. This is exactly the point. The ingredients of chametz and the ingredients of matzah are exactly the same – flour and water. What is the leavening process? It is a transformation of the basic nature of the original ingredients in to an expanded even exaggerated form. Our sages refer to this element of our experience which we call the yetzer ha’rah as the se’or sh’bisa – the leavening agent in the dough of our experiential reality that will cause us, if we don’t exercise self control and restraint, to be totally expanded and exaggerated personalities and even stuck in these positions and edifices with no way out. By eating matzah we go back to basics. We willingly make the statement that we are not interested in having erroneous expanded identities, which are permanently not aligned with Hashem’s Supernal Will. That is the equivalent of being a cast image. We don’t’ want to pour our vitality and spiritual creativity into artificial constellations of meaning that don’t align with Hashem’s Supernal Will. We are only interested in discovering the path in life, which leads to our identity becoming subjugated to the Supernal Will and ultimately aligned fully with it.

When we chart out this path and set a course to reach it there is a very interesting phenomenon that occurs. We run into a brick wall. The Jewish people walked out of Egypt and ultimately came to the Red Sea where they were cornered. They couldn’t go backwards. Our sages say that they couldn’t go to the sides because there were lions and bears. There was no way to turn back. They were stuck. The Jews realized they had to go forward but couldn’t see how to do that. When Nachshon ben Aminadav walked into the Red Sea it split. This is the only way out of Egypt and out of this schism in our personalities that is a remnant from the sin of Adam Harishon.  When we face this challenge and subjugate ourselves to the Supernal Will of Hashem then in turn the natural order begins to fade and the reality of Hashem’s Divine Will becomes fused with our own. This is what our sages teach make your will like Hashem’s Will and He will make His will you will. This is the climax of Pesach. When the Jews walked through the Red Sea they healed this schism to an extent because they were able to recognize that their potential, their creativity, their vitality, etc were all pointless if they were not functions of the Supernal Will. They not only believed in Hashem and knew that it was His Will to achieve this state of being, they did it!

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