Skip to content

Parashat Pesach 5772 – 04/04/2012


Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

Note: Since Pesach falls on Shabbat this year, the 8th day of Pesach also falls on Shabbat.  Since Pesach is only celebrated for the Biblical 7 days in the Land of Israel, they will read Parashat Shemini next week, while we in chutz la’aretz will read the special reading for the last day of Pesach (Devarim 14:22-16:17).  Although there are 3 double portions till the end of Sefer Vayikra (Tazria-Metzora, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim and Behar-Bechukotai) it is the third one that is split in Israel to take up the extra week and get the entire Jewish world back in sync.  I don’t know the reason for this – it may simply be that those parshiyot are the longest, or it may be because of the tochachah (passage of rebuke) in Bechukotai, or it may be for some other reason completely.

The Torah itself teaches us the importance of understanding the Exodus: I am H” your Gd Who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be a Gd to you (Bamidbar 15:41).  Only through the Seder, the annual reorganization and re-evaluation of our national freedom, can we further the objective of the Exodus, to make H” into our Gd and bring the final redemption.  We find this point in the Haggadah: kol y’mei chayecha l’havi liymot hamashiach – [You should relate the story of the Exodus] all the days of your life to bring the time of Mashiach.  (from: The Three Festivals, Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes  Anthologized and Adapted by R. Yosef Stern)

We are very, very special. We are chosen.  Our very being brings satisfaction to the Ribono shel Olam.. Gd lifted us beyond the rest of humanity.  He permitted us entry into the spheres of the sacred by means of the commands through which He bound us, thereby bringing us close so that our lives might find expression in His service.  Moreover, He paid us the ultimate compliment.  He was willing to tie His fate to ours.  We would be identified by means of our relationship to Him and He would become known in His world through His association with us. (from: Awake at the Wheel by R. Moshe Eisemann)

Why do we hold a Seder every year?  In fact, why do we perform any of the various rituals of our faith?  We often speak in terms of these rituals’ symbolizing various concepts or constellations of ideas.  I would like to suggest that there is a deeper consideration we might want to bear in mind as we enjoy our Hillel sandwiches and four cups of wine.

The Seder is often characterized as an educational effort, to teach our history to our children in a lively manner that keeps them involved.  This is certainly correct, and it is a very necessary outcome.  What is often overlooked is that we, the adults, are also the targets of this educational effort.  We have important rôles to play in the drama of the evening.  Rabbi Chanina said (Ta’anit 7a): I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students.  As we teach our children, we learn ourselves.  In fact, any time we teach anybody anything, it forces us to think more deeply about the matter, and we therefore learn it better.  I certainly learned a lot of Physics as an undergraduate, and more as a graduate student, but it wasn’t until I began to teach Physics, often to students whose math skills were limited, that I had to get to the ideas behind the math and elucidate them, first to myself, and only then to my students.  It was at that point that I really began to feel like I actually knew some Physics.

When I was teaching I became aware that what I was attempting to do was to take an idea or a series of ideas that existed within my consciousness, and implant that structure of knowledge into the minds of the students.  In other words, education is the process of creating structures of consciousness both in the teacher and in the student through their interaction.  The medium, in my case, was words, a blackboard and chalk (I taught many years ago, before whiteboards and markers…).

In the case of the Seder, the purpose is the same – to create a uniquely Jewish consciousness in all of us.  The medium is slightly different however – along with the words there is food and drink, pillows to recline on, candles to light, songs to sing, and a treasure hunt at the end.  In other words, there are stage props and a script.  Instead of talking about the subject matter, we act out the subject matter.  We eat the same kind of bread that our ancestors ate millennia ago (some hold that the matzah tastes like it is the actual bread our ancestors ate millennia ago <g>).  We go through various symbolic actions and recitations to recreate in our modern minds the same structures of awareness that our ancestors had when they actually experienced the miracles of the Exodus – at least that is, in my opinion, the whole point of the Seder.  In other words, I believe that the foods we eat, the actions we perform and the words we say are not merely symbolic.  Rather, just as we believe that the Hebrew language reflects and reconstructs on the aural plane the underlying structures of its referents, as we have discussed on a number of occasions, so the rituals of our faith reflect and reconstruct on the physical plane the underlying structures of their referents.

Since we are all imperfect human beings, when we speak Hebrew, when we pray, when we perform the rituals of the Seder (or of any other time of year), our performance is imperfect.  That means that the structures that are created within us do not, in general, perfectly reflect the underlying structure of creation.  What this means is that we require repetition to stabilize the gains we make with each performance.  A tourist in New York allegedly met Toscanini on the street, and innocently asked him how to get to Carnegie Hall.  Toscanini answered, “Practice!”  And that is what we need – practice!  Perhaps that is why we have the English expression to “practice” a faith.  We need to be practicing Jews, aware of the direction we need to go, and confident that our path is taking us in that direction.

And what is the aim of all this practice?  It is, as the above quotes indicate, nothing less than union with Gd and the fulfillment of Gd’s plan for creation.  Gd took us out of Egypt, out of bondage to the narrow boundaries of material, sensual existence, so that He could be our Gd and we would be His people.  Through our actions Gd’s Name is to become known throughout the entire cosmos and His sovereignty is to become manifest.  If we bear this in mind through our Seder, and start to live this awareness more and more in our daily lives, then we will be giving delight to Gd and ourselves basking in the supernal light of Gd’s Presence.