Passover must be celebrated in the springtime, when nature is in bloom, and love is in the air.
It is no coincidence that on Pesach it is customary to read the love song, Shir HaShirim written by King Solomon, describing a man and a woman in an elusive courtship leading to affection and intimacy. Shir HaShirim is considered by our sages to be the” Holy of Holies” because of its deeper meaning and its allegorical love story representing the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People, as husband and wife.
The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt was an extraordinary event that ignited a historic and challenging transformation from slaves of Pharaoh to free men and women. This is a process that began about 3000 years ago and continues to this very day. Freedom is far greater and far deeper than mere physical emancipation to do as we please. The highest accolade given by Hashem to Moshe is the description, Moshe “avdi,” my servant in heart and soul. Moshe’s entire purpose in life was in carrying out his mission and choosing to do what Hashem designed him to do. Similarly, when Moshe informs Pharaoh that the Israelites will be leaving Egypt, Moshe transmits Hashem’s hope, request and mission statement to us His chosen people: בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת-הָעָם, מִמִּצְרַיִם, תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה –When you bring the People forth from Egypt, they will serve me on this Mountain. Matan Torah requires our obedience to the King of kings, which results in total benefit to our own development, unlike the slave whose efforts totally benefit his master. Matan Torah was a pristine encounter that established us as a People committed to revealing The Truth and revealing The Light leading to the ultimate redemption of the entire world.
That freedom attained by the Israelites upon their Exodus from Egypt, unlike most liberation and emancipation movements, was clearly not the final goal. Their 49 day journey through the desert was a preparation to galvanize and rouse the fledgling Jewish Nation to overcome their slavery mentality and refine their debased character traits in order to become a fitting vessel, able to receive the Torah on Shavuot the culmination of G-d’s miraculous intervention that forever changed the course of history. Hashem chose us to be his bride and we responded on Mt. Sinai with a mutual love with the words: “we will do and we will listen,” choosing Him as our groom.
Yet, in each generation the Jewish people face various challenges and tests, be they physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual. As we read in the Hagaddah: “it is not only one that has risen up against us to destroy us. Rather, in every generation, they rise against us to annihilate us.”
“They” needn’t necessarily be a group of individuals. “They” can include all the “isms” that become globally trendy like socialism, materialism, feminism and even narcissism, expressed in the rampant media advertising that leads to self-worship and self-indulgence.
Those “isms” enslave us as we become addicted to them; societal norms subliminally yet consistently dictate our thoughts and behavior be it in fashion, pursuit of status, money and power by becoming workaholics to live the “American dream.” Young people are encouraged strongly to spend the better part of their first 25 years gearing up for a lucrative and prestigious career, often at the expense of finding the right partner, marriage and building a Jewish home.
In order to enter into a loving and meaningful relationship, one must be free and have the ability to make choices, unlike the slave who is both physically and emotionally confined and restricted. The slave thinks only of survival and getting through today; as free spiritual beings, we must access our capacity to transcend our mundane desires and yearn for a higher purpose and tap into the Divine spark within.
Our current “shidduch crisis” coupled with the alarming rise in divorce can be attributed to our unconscious but real lapse back into slavery. One of the norms pertaining to a slave is his inability to enter into a marriage. Rav Soloveitchik zt’l asserts in his essay on Slavery and Freedom:
“To marry means to cut down the barriers that separate individuals from each other, to substitute for egocentricity and self-concern the bright spaces of joy and spiritual experience. Marriage is supposed to precipitate the transition from an individual to a communal existence. Only people who recognize themselves as created in G-d’s image, people who transcend themselves, who are capable of thinking in terms of others, in terms of an existence above and beyond their natural one- only they are able to perform the forward movement, to surge toward another person, extend their concerns, and create a covenantal community.”
To fortify this argument the Rav points out the Korban Pesach is the symbol of herut and redemption and is the only one of its kind requiring that it be eaten as a family; it is referred to as the “seh le-veit avot, seh la-bait, because freedom expresses itself in the realm of “bayit, of community, of being together. Bayit is a new category which was revealed to the Jews as the gained their freedom.”
The home is the only arena which requires each of us to stretch our limits (mitzraim) by performing constant acts of chesed, whether it is convenient or not. The home is the domain in which one bridges the gap between ani (my ego), and ayin,(self-nullification) as we attach ourselves to the Infinite. (Both words contain the same letters in different order.) By becoming a Giver, by loving unconditionally, I have the distinct privilege of being a partner with G-d in creation. Putting others first, symbolized by the flat and unassuming matzah, is an exhortation to be humble with the balanced self-evaluation. In the Shirat HaYam we sang: “zeh keli v’anvehu,” this is my G-d and I shall glorify Him. Another interpretation, according to some commentaries is that I will be like Him. “As he is compassionate, so too, I will be compassionate” etc. and as we know that more similar that we are to someone, the closer we are.
We are living in a world where slavery is virtually unheard of, yet the challenge of achieving genuine dveikut with Hashem is increasingly difficult. Many of us have unwittingly become spiritually compromised and depleted. We must be exceedingly wary of the persuasive Madison Avenue advertising, dictating what is beautiful, insisting that we deserve the best and the most luxurious of any and every item conceivable. It is the modern day test to overcome the enormously seductive distractions that often become addictions, be it to Iphone, Ipads, Facebook and all the technological gadgets that prevent us from focusing and single mindedly doing what we were designed by Hashem to do. We must fiercely guard against our tendencies and natural inclinations for “creature comforts” that are inversely moving us away from Hashem and the spiritual lifestyle and bond that is our destiny.
Let us internalize the deepest messages of the Festival of Freedom imparted by their 3 names: zman cheiruteinu, (Festival of Freedom), Chag HaMatzot, (Festival of Matzah) and Chag HaPesach, (Holiday of Redemption/Transcendence).
Let us renew our appreciation for our religious liberty to worship Hashem and our freedom to embrace our unique relationship with Him by dedicating our lives to our holy mission here on earth:
The Home is where our strength lies and where we transcend our limitations by interacting with our spouse with patience and humility, (the unassuming matzah) transforming our home into its designed purpose, a beit mikdash me’at, where Hashem’s Presence can dwell.
Worshiping Hashem is expressed through surrendering our will and creating a space for Him to dwell in. We practice this through the trait of humility and by reigning in our arrogance and inflated ego re-kindling the love between us through the joy and challenges of marriage, children and a strong Jewish home. Even our arch- enemy, Bilam understood that the home is the ultimate Jewish weapon of all time as he blessed the Jews inadvertently”: Ma tovu ohalecha Yisrael,” (How G-dly are your tents O’ Israel.)
Chag HaPesach is a most propitious time in which we are given the extraordinary opportunity to transcend and surpass our limits by tapping into our infinite potential and make a dwelling place for Hashem on earth, so that all will recognize and accept His Oneness.
May we be worthy of our sacred mission and be successful in restoring our loving and eternal bond with our Creator who will join us this Pesach in heralding Mashiach Tzidkeinu!
Many waters cannot quench love; neither can the floods drown it. (Shir HaShirim 8:7)
Sherrie B. Miller, MA. is co-founder of Bechirat Halev, an organization that promotes marriage education in Israel. Sherrie is a certified Kallah teacher and marriage counselor with a private practice in Jerusalem.