“The Festival of Liberation”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

If one were to look at the world from a truly impartial perspective, one might conclude that all human beings are equal, all days are equal, all animals and even all plants are equal. But from a religious, spiritual perspective, every human being, every animal, every plant and every day is unique. Each is endowed by the Creator with a special and singular spirit.

It is in the Jewish calendar that we find the uniqueness of time and days. A fascinating question is raised in tractate Shabbat 69b, regarding a person who is wandering in the wilderness and has lost track of the days of the week. How should such a person observe Shabbat? The rabbis advise that person to count six days, and observe the seventh day as Shabbat. From a purely logical point of view there is no difference between one day and the next, but from the spiritual perspective, the seventh day is a very special day for Jewish people.

It is not the positive commandments or the prohibitions that make the various Jewish holidays unique. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. Because of the innate sanctity and distinctiveness of each holiday, special mitzvot have become associated with them.

The uniqueness of the Sabbath day is that it is endowed with a special sanctity. It is a sanctified day irrespective of whether or not we light candles,   sing zmirot, or make a blessing over the challah bread and wine.

In fact, all Jewish holidays have unique “personalities.” The seven biblically ordained days of Passover are known as, “Z’man Chay’roo’tay’noo,” the time of our freedom. The festival of Sukkot is called, “Z’man Simcha’tay’noo,” the festival of our joy. Just as the Sabbath has the ability to influence human nature through sanctity and blessing, infusing the days of the week with the Sabbath’s sanctity and blessing, so too, does the festival of Passover. Passover inculcates human beings with a sense of freedom that is carried within them all the days of the year. Similarly, the special festival of Sukkot is intended to inspire Jews to feel inner joy every day of the year.

These Divine messages (sanctity, joy and freedom) are always with us. They fill our air space and, so to speak, our “soul space.” The problem is that we often fail to recognize that these most valuable messages and feelings are right at our fingertips. Like radio waves without a receiver, they simply float in the atmosphere, unrecognized.

With respect to Passover, the special influence and value of freedom is driven home through the rituals of matzoh as well as the prohibition of chometz (leavened bread).                        

Of all the Jewish holidays, it is the festival of Passover that has merited singular “success.” It is probably the single Jewish festival that is most recognized and observed in some way by Jews, even many thoroughly assimilated Jews. Everyone loves to attend a Passover Seder, to eat a piece of matzoh and to steal the Afikomen. Despite vast assimilation, it is still the most widely observed of all traditional Jewish rituals.

Passover is also a special festival for the so-called “observant” Jewish community as well. That is why there are many stringencies associated with Passover. Not only is it prohibited to eat chometz or benefit from chometz, chometz is even prohibited to be seen or found in any of our dwellings. Even a microscopic speck of chometz is forbidden on Passover. We also see that many Jewish communities have accepted upon themselves additional stringencies such as Kitniyot, by not eating legumes that are certainly not chometz, and Gebroktz, not eating anything that is made of matzoh meal dipped in liquid. It’s only surprising that there is no movement afoot to press for the elimination of matzoh itself, since it’s made out of wheat and water. [There are some very observant Jews who eat matzoh only at the seder and never again during the remaining days of Passover.]

The fact that matzoh has not been outlawed on Passover, even though it consists of the “essence” of chometz, is because matzoh’s combination of wheat and water is exactly what underlies the theme of the Passover holiday–freedom. Many faith systems strive to eliminate all blandishments that may seduce their members away from “purity of worship.” The church fathers decreed vows of celibacy among the priests, so the clergy may be totally devoted, without distraction, to their relationship with G-d.

Judaism however, believes that it is this very encounter, the struggle between the good inclination and the evil inclination, that most personifies freedom. The evil inclination, serves a crucial purpose because it is the wrestling with evil that makes one strong and enlightened. That wrestling is true freedom.

How are we expected to experience our matzoh without violating the prohibition of chometz? It can be done, and must be done. Otherwise, the entire essence of Passover is lost and rendered valueless.

There is a fundamental principle in Judaism that declares that those who separate themselves from the community lose their portion in the World to Come (Maimonidies, Laws of Teshuvah, chapter 3:11). It is the struggle between good and evil, between right and wrong, between justice and injustice, that personifies the Jewish people and makes them unique.

It is this struggle, and the balancing act to maintain our freedom, that is so boldly declared by the festival of Passover.

May you be blessed.

The first two days of the joyous festival of Passover will be observed this year on Monday night, March 29th and continue through Tuesday and Wednesday, March 30th and 31st.   The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Sunday night, April 4th, and continue through Monday and Tuesday, April 5th and 6th.

Chag Kasher V’samayach. Wishing all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.