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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Eternal Skipping 1

What is most right about Pesach is that it is all wrong. Pesach violates all the rules, dashes every expectation regarding how things are supposed to happen. Therein lies its essence.

Let’s start with the name. Why “Pesach?” Why has this name, taken from G- d’s “passing over” the Jewish houses, won out over the names used by the Torah itself, and the themes reflected in our liturgy?

The Torah calls it the “Festival of Matzos”, or sometimes the Festival of the Spring. In the popular mind, as well as the Siddur, it as a holiday of freedom. To be sure, we recall that G-d “passed over” the houses of the Jews while killing the Egyptian first-born. It is hard to see, though, why this image is so much more striking and enduring than all others. Why did it stamp its imprint so thoroughly, and confer the popular name on the holiday for all time?

The answer can only be that passing over and skipping are the most essential and fundamental characteristics of Pesach. They sum up the essence of the holiday. Indeed, without some all-important passing over, there never would have been an Exodus.

Redemption is only secondarily about the oppressive weight of our chains and shackles. Chiefly, it is about the inner nature of Man. Man is redeemed when all the forces that keep him small, narrow, limited, and constrained are removed. Most of those work within him, and are harder to break than the restraints of the taskmaster.

Man can only be redeemed through awareness and enlightenment. The Egyptian experience, explains the Ari z”l, was so steeped in the darkness of tumah, that the chitzonim had seized hold of Da’as itself. Man’s understanding was compromised at its root. He was not simply challenged by conflicting claims to truth. His ability to discern truth was fundamentally impaired. Repairing the ravages of tumah never takes place in an instant. Man must ordinarily take small, incremental steps, raising himself arduously from one level to the next. He climbs higher one step at a time, and no steps can be missed.

So it is in regard to glimpses into the nature of Hashem.. They do not come as disconnected impressions, arriving willy-nilly to one who seeks G- d. Deeper comprehension of G-d follows a precise order – following in lockstep with the sefiros. Each successive Divine light that He reveals to us comes after the one that precedes it, and is more basic than it.

By all ordinary measures, whether looking at where Man was, or the road the Divine Light had to take, redemption should have been impossible, coming when it did, to a Klal Yisrael without merit and without enlightenment, and mired in tumah.

G-d, however, is not fazed by what we regard as impossible. By its nature, tumah functions only in places that are hidden from the clear, manifest illumination of His Presence. He brought the redemption by causing such illumination of His Light, that the beclouding forces of tumah vanished in its presence.

On the verse in Shir Hashirim [2] “He [Hashem] skips over the mountains,” a Midrash [3]sees an allusion to a dialogue between Moshe and the enslaved Jews.

Moshe: “In this month, you will be redeemed!”
Jews: “How can we be redeemed? Egypt is full of the ugliness of our idolatry!”
Moshe: “Because He wishes to redeem you, He pays no attention to your idolatry, but �??skips over the mountains.’ ”

The sense of this is that G-d revealed the extent of His love for the Jewish people by skipping! G-d’s attribute of Love was ignited through israusa de-leayla, an awakening from above, manifesting itself in great love for His people.

When Hashem says, “I carried you on the wing of eagles,”[4] He means the revelation to them of His love by calling them “my first-born (i.e. cherished) son.”[5] This revelation instantly catapulted them to a reaction they would not have ordinarily been capable of – they responded with a powerful love that welled up in the Jews for G-d. The Jews to whom Moshe came were frustrated and despairing of redemption, sensing themselves so distant from any merit. With mutual love in place, however, the previous indiscretions of the Jews lost all significance. “Love covers all iniquity. “[6] Moshe’s answer to the incredulity of the Jews was that their idolatry would be washed away in the presence of Divine Love.

This sequence itself required skipping and passing over. The Zohar [7] calls reverence for G-d “the primary commandment,” and love of G-d the second, which can only follow in its wake. Without reverence for Hashem, it is all too easy to pervert love, to take it and attach it to objects that will diminish him, rather than elevate him. His lower impulses must first be purified and elevated through the corrective of constant awareness of Hashem as Lawgiver and Judge.

We see now why the word “Pesach” is so fundamental to the holiday. No word could better characterize the deeper meaning and significance of the miracle behind the miracles. G-d smashed the Egyptian deities and tore asunder the laws of nature, but not before He had violated rules even more basic. To redeem the Jews, Hashem redrew for the moment the road map of human service to G-d, and disturbed the rhythm of the sefiros. In both areas, He passed over all that was expected of Man and of G-d Himself, and allowed love to conquer all.

The paytan wrote, “You lifted up Pesach to the head of all the festivals.” With but a single exception, all festivals follow some isra’usa de-lisasa, some awakening within us. Pesach, however, is the head, the source of all these festivals, the font from which all awakening draws. The israusa de-leayla of the original Pesach not only made the Exodus possible, but it nurtures Man’s quest for connection whenever he reaches towards Hashem. To this day – in all places and under all conditions – when we inspire and arouse ourselves to closeness with HKBH, we are in fact drawing from the great, holy Love that Hashem aroused within Himself at the first Pesach.

Shabbos, too, is a consequence of israusa de-leayla. As “an eternal sign between Me and the children of Israel,” [8] Shabbos arouses the great Love Hashem has for Israel, and through it, the love Israel has for Hashem. Love, as we have seen, banishes all remembrance of wrongdoing. It is in this sense that we can appreciate Chazal’s contention that “he who observes Shabbos is forgiven, even if he had worshipped idols like the generation of Enosh” [9]

A widespread custom also points to the sharing of this theme of the display of Divine Love. On two occasions we recite Shir Hashirim, the perfect expression of the love between Israel and G-d, and between G-d and Israel. The night of Pesach is one of them. The other, not unexpectedly, is Friday afternoon, just before Shabbos is ushered in.

The power of redemption revisits us each year at Pesach. “This night is safeguarded by Hashem for all of Israel for all generations.” [10] In all times, for all Jews, in all situations and conditions in which they find themselves, redemption beckons anew on Pesach, and reveals the great Love Hashem has for us. Through the holiday of Pesach, a Jew can tap into that love, and draw redemption upon himself, freeing himself from his own personal limits and blockages. He can, if he wishes, extricate himself from any and all of the forty nine levels of tumah and degradation.

We can explain in this manner the mystifying introduction to the Haggadah. Ha lachma anya – this is the bread of poverty. Generally, Man’s actions have a precise and measured impact upon the hidden spiritual worlds. Our mitzvos, our good deeds, our prayers create new patterns and combinations of the elevated spiritual forces. In a sense, we earn our keep, we help sustain the universe, we support its existence and well- being, through our spiritual productivity.

Pesach is different. Like the poor man begging for food, we receive something without paying our way. We were redeemed in Egypt, despite lacking the spiritual currency with which we are usually expected to compensate Hashem for what we take. Each Pesach provides us as well with the same gift-basket of Divine awakening, undeserved and unearned. We therefore announce, “All who are hungry, all who need, let them come.” We invite all those who find themselves spiritually needy and wanting to partake of G-d’s offer. It is a rare opportunity for us to skip over the usual plodding steps we usually need to take. We can avail ourselves of His Great Light, even if we are not deserving of it. IV

We are by no means finished uncovering what the name “Pesach” teaches us about the fundamental character of the festival. The Kedushas Levi finds a remarkable clue in the difference between the names assigned by HKBH, and by Klal Yisrael.

Hashem calls attention to the matzos, while we refer to the “Pesach,” the skipping over. Each emphasizes the love and appreciation that one party in the relationship has for the other. To G-d, the matzos represent the willingness of the Jews to follow His lead to an unknown and inhospitable wilderness, without thought of the next meal for themselves or their children. The speed with which they sallied forth into the unknown speaks eloquently in praise of their faith, trust, and love for their Creator.

The perspective of the Jews, of course, was quite different. They would point in awe at G-d’s incredible sign of His love for them. The skipping over the Jewish homes during the plague of the first born displayed a Divine providence and concern that was effective on the scale of each individual. The Jews were not only saved, down to the last individual, but their redemption was custom-tailored and micro-managed. How appreciative they were of the love and concern that accompanied this all- important and final plague!

Mutual admiration creates successful relationships. Taken together, the two names of Pesach – including the one that Klal Yisrael substitutes for the earlier, Torah given name – tell one of the most important stories about the nature of the festival. G-d wished to create His people through the Exodus, but insisted on forging a relationship based on mutual love. We had to choose G-d as much as He chose us.

Here we discover another sense of the notion that Pesach stands at the head of all the Festivals. The reciprocity of love between Hashem and His people expressed by the names of Pesach defines not only a single holiday, but lays the foundation for the practice of the others. “You chose us from all the nations. You loved us, and were satisfied with us. You called Your great and holy Name upon us…Give us, Hashem our G-d, this holiday with love and willingness” is an oft-repeated refrain of the Yom Tov davening. It accentuates our most important goal of the holidays: to implant, deepen, and nurture within us the feeling that Hashem has chosen us.

This, too, is what we seek with the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov, the holiday rejoicing and celebration. Through the Yom Tov joy we declare that we are completely satisfied with Hashem’s conduct of his life. (The Opter Rebbe used to stress that Creation is fulfilled in a Jew’s feeling complete satisfaction and joy in the way Hashem conducts his life.) When we are pained and troubled with the vicissitudes of everyday life, our natural feelings are deadened or masked. We lose sight of our basic satisfaction with Hashem’s ways, frustrating our ability to feel our natural joy in our relationship with Him. Through the Yom Tov celebration, and the opportunity for peaceful contemplation of our lot with a settled mind, we remind ourselves of the essential joy that owes to being close to Hashem.

That closeness, too – like so much more – owes to the revelation of love for us that expressed itself in that first skipping, the first Pesach.

1. Based on Nesivos Shalom, Pesach, pgs. 240-244
2. Shir Hashirim 2:8
3. Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2 s.v. medaleg
4. Exodus 19:4
5. Shemos 4:22
6. Mishlei 10:12
7. Introduction, 11B
8. Shemos 31:17
9. Shabbos 118B
10. Exodus 12:42

Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and

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