At every turn, life connects us to HaShem. Anyone who has lived very long will agree that life definitely has its ups and downs, its twists and turns, yet there is an opportunity to connect with our Creator at each and every turn…and if we follow the cycles of the seasons and the G-d given festivals as set forth in Torah, we find that a whole new avenue of connection opens up and we have the opportunity to begin to see things with fresh eyes!
The Festival of Passover provides us with one such amazing opportunity…for it is a time when we can look back and see the mighty workings of the Creator to deliver His people, amidst all odds, and to redeem them from slavery and those narrow straits that kept them bound and enclosed in Egypt…Mitzrayim. Passover was their path to freedom and it can be ours as well!
Bondage, as we brought forth in our previous article, is not limited to the physical…it can take many forms, including the emotional and the spiritual…it is an entity that has followed us down through the centuries…
From generation to generation it comes to us and with each generation, HaShem bids us join Him in this mo’ed¸ this Divine appointment, this Mikra Kodesh…Holy Convocation, so that we might discover more of those hidden sparks beneath the surface, and with them, fresh insights designed to bring us to a higher level of awareness, of understanding, of da’at…Divine consciousness.
Passover – A Night of Watching
Whether we will be doing a traditional Jewish Passover Seder or simply gathering ‘round a table with friends and family to celebrate this ancient festival, partake of some matzah while we read, discuss, and meditate upon the text from the Book of Exodus and its implications for us today, it is important to keep in mind that HaShem had an order and a purpose for ordaining this festival to be observed in every generation, dor v’dor, for all time. It was to be a memorial and a night of watching, a night to commemorate HaShem’s Passover. In Hebrew, it is referred to as Pesach, passing over (actually skipping or jumping over) the houses of His children who followed His commandment to place blood on their doorposts, thus sparing their firstborn sons from death (Exodus 12:24-42).
There is a lesson for all of us in this and that is that we must acquire the art of skipping, leaping, jumping over the obstacles which are confronting us…we must take a giant leap of emunah/faith and move forward towards our goal. And with this giant leap of faith, we must also skip over negativity…first in ourselves and then in others. In practicing this mitzvah, we are better able to temper our judgmental tendencies which drag us down and enable us to become better equipped to emulate HaShem in his chesed and show compassion to our fellow.
The Seder- The Order, the Haggadah and More
When you ask an Israeli how they are, they will typically reply, “B’seder!” We usually take that to mean they are okay, but it means much more! “B’seder” literally means that “everything is happening according to an order…like the Seder…according to a purpose! One rendering of the meaning of Haggadah is “telling,” and is taken directly from the Torah. It comes from the word, vehigaadato…“And you shall tell, to your son on that day [the eve of Passover], ‘’’It is because of what HaShem did for me when I went free from Egypt’” (Exodus 13:18).
The Talmud takes this concept a bit further when it states, “In every generation a person is obligated to view themselves as if they personally left Egypt” (Pesachem 116B). In the Haggadah (the guidebook to the Seder) we read, “And even if we were all wise, all men of understanding, all elders, all knowledgeable of the Torah, it would be incumbent upon us to speak of the Exodus from Egypt.”
In fact within the word Pesach itself, we find a direct connection to this “telling,” which is one of the major components of the festival… Peh = mouth and sach = speak. So Pesach means, “to speak with the mouth.” And is not that what we are commanded to do from generation to generation…dor v’dor?
Again and again, the story is told by the parents to their children and by their children to their children’s children, and despite the countless attempts to destroy the Jewish people, the spark within the Jewish people has not been extinguished….like the moon, it waxes and wanes…but its light continues to shine in the darkness.
We know that HaShem chose Abraham because he knew that he would teach his children (Genesis 18:19). This appears to be one of the keys HaShem uses to ensure the survival of His chosen people. We see evidence of this in the story of the Exodus and HaShem’s admonition to the fathers to teach their children when they inquire regarding the meaning of the Pesach observance (Exodus 12:26-27). The Haggadah is an excellent example of how this is carried out for it directly involves the children, who towards the end of the Seder open the door in hopes that they will find Eliyahu (Elijah the Prophet) who is prophesied to come to usher in the final redemption (Malachi 3:23)!
The Haggadah tells the whole story of the journey from slavery and bondage to freedom and redemption! This telling of the stories has kept Judaism alive through the centuries. The Chassidic Masters give us another meaning of the Hebrew term, Haggadah which ties in perfectly to the secret to Jewish survival…and that is to “draw down!” As we participate in going through the Passover Seder each year, we are “drawing down” its order for each step has a vital lesson to convey. The challenge here then is not only to draw down, but to kabbalah, to receive… to receive, to internalize it, to take it all in and incorporate its lessons into our lives…beyond the Seder!
The Symbolism in the Seder
In creating mankind, HaShem in His amazing wisdom gifted us with five senses…the sense of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. As a former teacher of young children for many years, I have found that the more we can allow the student to utilize all five of these senses in the learning process, the more readily the student can grasp and internalize the concept we are undertaking to teach. This is active rather than passive learning. It has been my experience that this method holds true in teaching adults as well as children.
Perhaps this is why the Jewish sages designed the Pesach Seder in the manner that they did, for all five of the senses are involved!
The traditional Jewish Seder begins and ends with wine which is symbolic of joy…from the Kiddush, the 1st of 4 cups of wine to the Hallel and the 4th cup. In between our joy is mixed with hints of bitterness as we partake of the unleavened bread of the matzah and go from the bread of affliction or slavery to the bread of hope and freedom.
There are 15 steps of the Seder, steps which correspond to the 15 steps of ascension going up to the temple, the 15 steps of holiness.
If you will be participating in a traditional Seder this year, I would encourage you to take a look at the Haggadah prior to the Seder and review these steps for yourself, for each step carries with it deep symbolism and is integral to the whole. There are many symbols, but to keep it simple, we will just review a few.
One of the major symbols of the Seder is the matzah which, like wine, is used intermittently throughout the ceremony. Matzah is a baked cracker-like wafer made only of flour and water…no leaven to make it rise or have the appearance of being puffed up. Matzah represents many things…among them is our quick departure from Egypt and the dryness of the desert. It, like us, changes during the course of the Seder as it moves from the bread of affliction and slavery to the bread of hope and freedom.
The bitter herbs or maror (usually horseradish and bitter romaine lettuce) are symbolic of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.
The charoset (a chunky mixture of chopped nuts, apples, honey, sweet wine and sometimes a touch of cinnamon) is symbolic of the mortar in the brick building process of slave labor, but are also symbolic of the sweetness of redemption.
Sometimes our days may seem like matzah days…when we go from being or feeling afflicted to overcoming that affliction and through faith, feeling full of hope… while other days may seem to be completely bitter days with no hope, like the maror…and still others a mixture…like the charoset.
All of this symbolism has been intricately and purposely designed to encourage us to look inwardly and to help us to see where we are at any given time…and once we do, step forward courageously in faith and strength to face our challenges victoriously which will serve to elevate us to a higher level of living…a level of G-d Consciousness…
Laila Seder – the Night of the Seder and Beyond
Rebbe Nachman of blessed memory suggested that prior to the celebration, those who be participating in a Passover Seder should read through all the steps of the Haggadah and choose the one step that really seems to resonate within and focus upon it. On a personal note, the one that jumped out at me at my very first Seder over 3 decades ago was and still is Step #10, Korech, known as the Hillel Sandwich.
Very simply, we make a sandwich and eat it…but it is a sandwich like no other. It is a physical act, but with a very deep spiritual and practical meaning for it represents what I believe to be the very key to living a productive life.
We take a piece of matzah, put some maror (horseradish) on one end and some charoset (the sweet chunky mixture of apples and nuts) on the other end, and then place a piece of matzah on the top.
We say a blessing and then we take a bite…horseradish end first…the horseradish gives us a burning sensation both in our mouth and nose to the point that it can seem to be difficult to breathe…be careful not to overdue this part!
The key is to keep eating…DO NOT STOP…no matter how much it hurts…because the next bite is the charoset, the sweet mixture…and it is the antidote! All the pain and bitterness and hurt are then alleviated as we press on through to the sweetness, the joy!!!
So it is with our lives…often we use the term, ‘bitter-sweet’. The bitter and the sweet are both a part.
Menachem Freedman in his article on Chabad.org entitled Understanding the Sandwich, sums it up quite well by saying that, “The ‘free’ person is one who is not enslaved by life’s difficult challenges, but rather grows from them. The bitter experiences of life, when approached with faith and courage, can bring out the greatest potential of the human being”
And the preparing of a simple sandwich in the Passover Seder where we force ourselves to push through the bitterness of the horseradish into the sweetness of the charoset can prove to be an unforgettable and powerful real life lesson that we can carry with us beyond the seder…for it can remind us how we can push through the tough times.
One thing we know for certain is that HaShem, our G-d and Creator, is always with us and will see us through…even in the most painful and the darkest of moments, for it is in those darkest moments that He is preparing the light that will break through in its time!
In the beginning when HaShem first began creating the world, we are told there was darkness…yet His Divine Presence was there…then He flooded that darkness with Light and beauty and all creation began to take on a purpose and an order…including the creation of mankind. This is the key for us… for represents our journey…the journey from darkness into light where everything has a purpose and an order.
Passover – Past, Present and Future
The message of Passover is clear…its message of redemption and deliverance that calls out through the ages has now come full circle to us once again…may we let it penetrate deeply into our innermost beings…as we endeavor to discover even more of those Hidden Sparks Beneath the Surface, those sparks of chochma, binah and da’at (wisdom, insight and knowledge) all around us, just ready for us to embrace, those sparks of hope and renewal that have the innate power to propel us forward through all the difficult and heartbreaking times…as we look forward to the Great Coming Redemption!
(And in the interim…at the close of the Seder, we begin counting the Omer which will bring us to Sinai and the Giving of the Torah!!! Baruch HaShem!)
“Therefore, behold the days are coming says HaShem that it shall no more be said: As HaShem lives, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, but: As HaShem lives, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the countries whither He had driven them’; and I will bring them back into their land that I gave unto their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14)
La Shanah haba’a b’ Yerushalayim!!!!
Next Year in Jerusalem