The glorious holiday of Pesach is upon us once more. With all of its rituals
and wonder, Pesach marks the uniqueness of the Jewish people – a people
delivered from centuries of bondage through miraculous Heavenly
intervention. So, one of the main functions of Pesach is to connect us to an
event that occurred millennia ago in a distant land.
The natural inclination of people is to feel disconnected to that event.
This is implicit in the questions raised in the section of the Hagadah
devoted to the four sons. Their basic question is: “What is the relevance of
this long-ago event to me?” And this has remained the basic question in all
of Jewish life throughout the ages.
The enormous number of Jews who are completely disconnected from their faith
and their people, from their homeland of Israel and from the values and
observances of Torah, testifies to the intensity of doubt and difficulty
posed by this question. If the Exodus from Egypt does not speak to me, then
the rest of Judaism is pretty immaterial to me as well.
And that is basically the statement and question of the evil son in the
Hagadah. In effect he is saying that the whole rite of Pesach as well as all
of the other rituals of Judaism are meaningless because he has no connection
to the Exodus from Egypt or to Jewish history generally. It is this
disconnect that creates rampant assimilation and a constantly diminishing
connection to the past and destiny of the Jewish people.
The answer of the Hagadah to the seemingly irrelevance of the Exodus from
Egypt to our current world, three thousand, three-hundred, twenty-six years
later, is difficult for us to understand. We tell that evil son that had he
lived at the time of the Exodus from Egypt he would not have been redeemed
and would have died in Egyptian captivity.
Midrash teaches us that a majority of the Jews in Egypt did not survive,
spiritually or physically, to participate in the Exodus. The clear message
here is that Exodus denial means spiritual annihilation as far as the
individual Jew is concerned. In order to be able to achieve freedom – inner
and lasting freedom – as a Jew, one must first feel connected to the Jewish
people and to its past and committed to its future.
Ritual is one of the proven methods to achieve such a connection. Every bite
of matzo brings me closer to my people and to its eternal mission in world
civilization. One of my grandsons when he was a little boy said to me at the
Seder: “Zaidy, tell everyone to be quiet I want to hear what the matzo is
saying to me.” In his wise, childlike way he encompassed the message of
Pesach to all of us.
We have to listen to what the matzo is saying to us. By so doing, we connect
ourselves to the Exodus from Egypt and thereby to all of Jewish history and
Judaism itself. Without listening to the matzo, we will be disconnected from
our past and all of Judaism will appear to be irrelevant to us.
Pesach teaches us many basic lessons about life generally and Jewish life
particularly. It teaches us that we are a unique people and therefore have
to behave in a unique fashion. It teaches us that the past has to always
live in our present and that memory is the key to wisdom and survival. It
teaches us never to despair and to always hope and trust for better times
and salvation. It teaches us of the power of an individual – even one
individual alone, such as our teacher Moshe - to affect and alter all of
It points out to us the inherent danger of Jews not feeling Jewish and
distancing themselves from their people and their own individual destiny. It
proclaims for us God's rule over nations and the omnipresence of His Divine
hand, so to speak, in human affairs. Many times this guidance is an unseen
force but there are times in history, such as the Exodus from Egypt and
perhaps even in our time in the miraculous resilience of the Jewish people
after the terrible events of the past century, when God's direction of
events is more visible to us.
Pesach and its matzo have a great deal to say to us if we are prepared to
listen and understand the message. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was reputed to
have said: “Every step that I take brings me closer to Jerusalem.” We can
also say that every bite of matzo that we take brings us closer to the
experience of the Exodus from Egypt and to the great redemption of Israel
that yet awaits us.
A happy and kosher Pesach to you and yours