Skip to content

Pesach 5779 — 04/20/2019

Pesach 5779 — 04/20/2019

R. Goldin does not have chapters on the holidays, so I will use R. Jonathan Sacks’ recent book, Ceremony and Celebration, although I will barely scratch the surface of what he has to say. Needless to say, don’t blame anything on R. Sacks or R. Goldin!

On Pesach we celebrate our liberation from Egyptian bondage. R. Sacks points out that there are numerous prefigurations in Genesis of the exile and Exodus: Avraham goes to Egypt and is almost killed for his wife, Sarah, and undergoes the same test in the land of the Philistines. Then he has a vision in which he is guaranteed that his offspring would know exile. Isaac is spared Egypt, but has the same trouble his father did with the Philistines. Ya’akov is exiled to the household of his uncle Lavan, and, in the end, does go down to Egypt where his descendants will stay for 210 years before the actual Exodus. It seems that the exile and redemption are an integral part of our story. In R. Sacks’ words:

The story of Pesach is thus understood by the Torah not as just a historical event, not even an event that involved signs and wonders and miraculous deliverances. It always was meant to be part of the journey, prefigured five times in advance by four exiles and a nighttime vision before there even was a Jewish people. The way to the Promised Land passes through Egypt and exile. This was not a detour but part of the route itself, anticipated at the very outset. Why so? The answer lies in the inner logic of the Torah as a set of commands and a way of life, not just for individuals but as a nation in its land.

R. Sacks expands on his last point by showing that Pesach has a political dimension:

The journey to the Promised Land had to pass through Egypt because Israel was to construct a society that would be the antithesis of Egypt. Therefore they had to know Egypt, experience Egypt, feel it in their bones, carry it with them as an indelible memory that they would hand on to all future generations. They had to experience what it was like to be on the wrong side of power: strangers, outsiders, metics, apiru as they were known in Egypt in those days, people without rights who were subject to the whim of a merciless ruler. The taste of that affliction was never to be forgotten.

These explanations have always left me with the question, why do we need this circuitous route through suffering, ignorance and darkness to get to the light? Gd wants an ideal society? Why couldn’t He just create one, rather than first creating its antithesis and forcing us to suffer under it, just so we know what we don’t want? In other words, why was mankind not created perfect, enlightened, close to Gd? Why do we, as individuals, as a nation, as a species, have to suffer estrangement from Gd (exile) and reunion with Gd (redemption)?

Needless to say, I am not the first to ask these questions – they are the most basic questions with which people, and therefore people’s religions, must deal. Wiser souls than I have proposed various answers, none of which I find really satisfying. I offer my own take on the issue, which I also don’t find terribly satisfying, but it’s the best I can do.

Physics tells us that creation is structured in layers. On the surface there is all the diversity we see around us, but we understand that that diversity is made up of just a few dozen elementary particles. These particles are actually vibrations of different fields, abstract entities that fill space and time and have vibratory modes. Over the past several decades, physicists have worked out a way to describe all these fields as aspects of a single, unified field. All the particles and all their interactions, and therefore all the intricate structure we see around us, from the greatest galaxy to the tiniest atomic nucleus, is simply a rich, complex pattern of vibration of this Unified Field. Just like two fingers appear to be separate entities, but are actually two aspects of the same hand, so all differences in creation are not really separate one from the other, but are simple different expressions of the one unified field. Nothing in creation is other than the unified field.

In the same way, all of creation is Gd’s expression of Himself. There is nothing other than Gd. Although the Kabbalists talk about Gd’s “contracting” Himself to “make room for creation,” we recognize that this is just a metaphor that allows us to understand the process of creation from the level of differences. From Gd’s level there is no contraction, and creation, and difference, and in fact all processes, including exile and redemption, are internal, virtual processes, within Gd’s nature.

The process of exile and redemption, then, is the process of waking up to the ultimate reality of life, that Gd alone exists, and “there is none other.” At that level Gd and Creation are One, never to be put asunder.

Perhaps at the Seder we can ponder why it is that we have to wake up to this reality.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach


Commentary by Steve Sufian

After the plague of the first born Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron to leave with all their people and their flocks to “worship the Lrd as you have spoken”. He does not say “worship your Lrd”; he says “worship the Lrd.” As with all of Torah, many interpretations might be given of this. I take it straightforwardly: he has become, at least for the moment, a monotheist. The king of Egypt, Mitzraim, restrictions, fragmentation has become a worshipper of Wholeness.

In support of this interpretation, consider that Pharaoh concludes this command with the statement “You shall also bless me.” Rashi interprets this as meaning that Pharaoh is requesting divine blessing because Pharaoh is also a firstborn. Perhaps. But since Pharaoh has already been spared, this doesn’t seem to hold up.

Better is that Pharaoh genuinely, for a moment, realizes that Moses and Aaron have access to Totality and they can invoke that power to bless Pharaoh, to fill him with holiness. Pharaoh had realized this, for a little while, earlier when after a plague he requested Moses and Aaron to entreat Gd to remove the unpleasant creatures from his land. Moses and Aaron did so, and Gd complied.

Since Gd is all there is and Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron are but roles He plays, it is perfectly reasonable that Gd can soften and open any heart that He has hardened, dissolve any restriction He has created, and make all first born dedicated to Him, not only people, animals, but also the first-born seeds of thought and desire, the sprouting of Totality into individuality.

And this certainly goes for any doubt, limits, thoughts and desires left in us.

When we conclude the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem”, we mean “next year in full blessing, in Wholeness, no sorrow left, only the Joy of Totality, of Oneness”.

No need to wait.

Now! Now! Now!


Baruch HaShem