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Pesach 5780 — 04/11/2020

Pesach 5780 — 04/11/2020

Or haChaim’s commentary on the Torah does not have chapters on the holidays, so I will use the book The Three Festivals, which is an anthology of the writings of the Sfas Emes, R. Yehudah Aryeh Alter, the second Gerrer Rebbe (1847-1905). Naturally, I will barely scratch the surface of what he has to say. Needless to say, don’t blame anything on anybody but me!

The Pesach offering eaten by our forefathers during the period when the Temple stood – for what reason was it eaten? Because the Holy One, Blessed is He, passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt (Haggadah).

The Haggadah may well be alluding to some of the less obvious – and equally critical – ramifications of Gd’s passing over the Egyptian [Jewish] homes. As Solomon suggests (Song of Songs 2:8): the voice of my lover … making [me] skip on the mountains [i.e. Gd helping Israel to surmount all obstacles]. When Gd “skipped” over the Jewish homes in Egypt on the night of our liberation, He enabled the Jewish people to do likewise and “skip” over every obstacle that had impeded their spiritual growth. … The overriding message of the name Pesach is “skipping” – making a quantum leap and growing spiritually. … In a larger sense every Passover, we leap to attain the standards and the high moral levels achieved by our forefathers. This may be the intent of that well-know verse: Gd will return the hearts of fathers to the children (Malachi 3:24), which we understand to mean that Gd will grant children the hearts of their fathers. He will grant them the wherewithal to leap beyond their own limitations to follow the ways of their fathers. (Sfas Emes, 5643 / 1883).

By the way, I hasten to point out that the actual wording of this quote comes from the translator/editor/annotator, R. Yosef Stern. The reference to a “quantum leap” is a bit of an anachronism, as quantum mechanics wasn’t developed until some decades after the Sfas Emes wrote this particular piece.

Besides “quantum leaps,” physics has examples of “hopping.” One prominent example is a phase transition, where a system undergoes a shift from one style of functioning to another, e.g. water freezing and becoming ice. Sometimes this transition can be quite sudden, as in the case of the freezing of supercooled water. At other times the transition may appear, on the surface, to be more gradual, but at the interface between the two phases there is always a discontinuity – on one side there is phase A and on the other, phase B.

This is, according to Sfas Emes, what happens when we go through a spiritual transition. The spiritual transformation may be sudden, even frightening and overwhelming, as in the Revelation at Sinai, where the people all died and had to be revived by angels, so intense was the experience. Or, it may be more gradual, as we grow and mature, study Torah and internalize it and are transformed by it. In either case, there is a discontinuity – we are not the same person after the transition as we were before it. Even if overall the transition seems smooth, on a finer scale it is made up of a sequence of “aha!” moments, when our eyes open a little wider and our vision becomes a little clearer, and we can never go back.

The same situation obtains on the communal level. A society can make a transition from one “phase” to another, one style of functioning to another. A society, however, is larger and generally displays more inertia, as vested interests attempt to preserve their status.  Sometimes the society evolves in a peaceful manner, but more often the transition is sudden, revolutionary, and often quite destructive; examples of the latter abound. In the case of the Exodus, Gd smote the Egyptians. In the late 18th century we had the American and French revolutions and today we have coronavirus. In each case, the society that emerged was radically different than what was there previously.

Sometimes these transitions are relatively peaceful. Very often there is a lot of shaking up, roughness, as rigid boundaries that are obstructing progress are blown apart. In the case of the final Redemption this shaking up is called “the birth pangs of Mashiach.” The Talmudic Sage R. Yochanan said, The son of David will not come except in a generation that is fully righteous or fully sinful (Sanhedrin 98a). If the generation is fully righteous and deserving, and that means living life in accord with Gd’s Will, the Mashiach will come as a reward. If the generation has degenerated to a point that Mashiach has to come lest the world be destroyed, then naturally things will have to be shaken up considerably more in order that the society settle back down into a more highly evolved state. Which path Mashiach takes is entirely up to us.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach


Commentary by Steve Sufian Pesach

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.

We have a loving, joyful community and by continuing to behave this way we become more and more capable of experiencing Love and Joy as the Essence of our thoughts and feelings, as the Essence of our flesh and bones, as the Essence of the world we see, hear, touch, taste, smell – our Loving, Joyful Actions help raise our world so that everyone and every thing shares the experience of Wholeness and all the world is experienced as World, as Gd, as Wholeness beyond the duality of Gd and devotee, beyond the duality of Gd and saint, of Gd and sinner: This moment in Fulfillment, this moment in Jerusalem.

Baruch HaShem