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Pesach 5777 — 04/15/2017

Pesach 5777 — 04/15/2017

Ramchal does not have chapters on the holidays, so I will try and continue the discussion of chesed and din on my own. So don’t blame Ramchal for anything you read this week.

Pesach is the festival of our freedom. When we think of freedom, we generally think of freedom from boundaries, and that is especially appropriate when we’re talking about the Jews’ liberation from Egyptian slavery. The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzraim and comes from the root tz-r which means boundary. When boundaries are crushing to both body and spirit, they lead in the opposite direction of self-realization and fulfillment. Slavery is anti-life; it objectifies human beings, and ultimately rots the soul of the objectifier at least as much as the one being objectified. It should be obvious that it doesn’t take a formal definition of “slave” for a person to be objectified by society – any society that views human life in purely material and economic terms is as guilty as any slave society in turning people into things.

Freedom from slavery means a decrease in the din in the life of those being liberated, but of course it can mean an increase in the din of the lives of the oppressors. The ten plagues were a good example of this – they combined din for the Egyptians with chesed for the Jews. For example, the plague of darkness (din – boundaries blocking Divine light) afflicted the Egyptians, while for the Jews “there was light in all their habitations” (Shemot 10:23). In fact, our Rabbis tell us that the same light that was illuminating the Jews was blinding the Egyptians – it was a spiritual radiance to which the Jews were attuned, but which overwhelmed the Egyptians’ cruder senses.

In the plague of hail we also find din and chesed functioning together. The text says that along with the thunder and hail, fire went towards the earth. Now anyone who has been in a thunderstorm with hail would understand this to mean that there was thunder and lightning and hail. The Rabbis interpret homiletically that the fire was bound up in the hailstones, and comment that even though fire and water have opposite natures (fire evaporates water; water extinguishes fire) they cooperated to punish the Egyptians. In this case water (chesed) and fire (din) physically joined together to form the plague (although the Rabbis don’t explain what the advantage was to having the fire within each hailstone).

I suspect we could analyze all 10 plagues in this light – perhaps you can discuss amongst yourselves at your Seder table.

In any event, finding a balance between din and chesed is the overriding concern of life. We attained physical freedom when we left Egypt, and at the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, we attained spiritual freedom by binding ourselves to the covenantal relationship with Gd. As our Rabbis say, the two Tablets were inscribed (charut) by Gd. Do not read “inscribed” but read “freedom” (cherut), for nobody is free who is not involved in Torah. Unfortunately the balance was shattered at the Golden Calf, when all boundaries broke down. The rest of Jewish history is the attempt to re-establish that balance, in all its many manifestations. May we live to see our history fulfilled soon!

A joyous and kosher Pesach to one and all!

Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Passover

After the plague of the first born Pharaoh tells Moses and Aaron to leave with all their people and their flocks to “worship the L-rd as you have spoken”. He does not say “worship your L-rd”; he says “worship the L-rd”. 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.

In support of this interpretation, consider 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 me 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 to me that Gd can soften and open any heart that He has hardened.

And this certainly goes for any doubt or limits left in us.

When we conclude the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” we mean “next year in full blessing, no sorrow left.”  Why wait until next year?


Baruch HaShem