THE DYNAMICS OF FREEDOM
May 1, 2016
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1018, Parsha Thought, Pesach

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Pesach. This year [we are] here; next year in the land of Israel. This year [we are] slaves; next year [we will be] free people.

WHAT’S THE CONNECTION?

Commentators have pointed out that these three sentences seem to be disjointed and disconnected. What connection is there in announcing that this is the bread of affliction with inviting the hungry and needy? And how do the two first sentences connect to the third one about next year in the Land of Israel and freedom?

One answer is that before we invite the hungry and needy we must “warn” them that they will be getting “bread of affliction.” We then declare that because of our feeding the poor and needy and fulfilling the Mitzvah of tz’daka, we will be liberated from the exile we are presently in.

However, we must try to find a more direct thematic connection between these three sections.

Moreover, the question has been asked, why this introductory section to the Hagada is written in Aramaic and not in Hebrew, as the rest of the Hagada.

Finally, why was this paragraph placed at the very beginning of the section dedicated to telling the story of the Exodus?

A KOSHER PESACH

To discover a connection between these three apparently disparate statements, we must delve more deeply into the obsession we have on Pesach to get rid of chametz. Thus, the traditional greeting for Pesach is: Chag kasher v’sameiach-Have a Kosher and Happy Pesach. The simple meaning of kosher in relation to Pesach is to get rid of the chametz.

Grain can become chametz when it comes in contact with water and is not baked in a timely fashion. Contrary to a popular misconception, the mixture of flour and water alone suffices for the process of leavening to happen. It does not need the admixture of yeast.

Chametz, in effect, does not necessarily involve adding anything to the mixture of flour and water. Yet, the same mixture of flour and water can be Matza, but when allowed to rise, ever so subtly, it becomes the most non-kosher substance known to the Jewish person.

THE REPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF CHAMETZ

So reprehensible is chametz during Pesach that the Torah forbids its consumption, use of it for any benefit, and even possessing it.

To ensure that the holiday is truly kosher in all senses of the word, one must get rid of not only the physical chametz, but also the chametz in the spiritual sense.

Chametz, in the spiritual sense, has been understood to refer to the person who has an inflated ego, the arrogant person.

The question can be asked, if chametz is considered so abominable because of its message of ego, why was it forbidden only on Pesach and not on other major Holidays? Our question is directed only toward other Holidays and not about year-round consumption. Year-round, one can argue, chametz conveys a positive message. One must have pride and stand up for their beliefs in a world where Judaism is constantly challenged and threatened with all forms of alien influences. To combat the haughty nature of our secularized, hedonistic and hostile to Judaism environment, we must be able to stand tall and hold our own.

But, the question still remains, why on Holidays other than Pesach, where we stand above the fray of worldly influences, are we not restricted with regard to chametz?

SENSELESS HATRED AND GETTING OUT OF EGYPT

Chametz poses a problem only with regard to the process of liberation. To be free in the full sense of the word, one must be able to tolerate others. The person who is obsessed with self, who has no regard for others, will always feel that everyone around him or her is causing him to suffocate.

A story is told of a Chassid who complained to his Rebbe that everyone in the synagogue that he attended “steps all over me.”

The Rebbe’s response to him was, “If you would not spread yourself throughout the synagogue the other people might have room to step without treading upon you.” Those individuals whose chametz nature causes them to inflate are going to inevitably clash with everyone and everything. These unfortunate people always feel that they are being tortured by everyone and despite their freedom and expansiveness they feel they are cooped up in a tiny prison cell.

Therefore, when we celebrate the “Season of our Freedom” it is crucial that we get rid of the chametz personality so that we can experience true freedom.

Indeed, we find that Moshe was concerned with the fact that there were informers and slanderers amongst the Israelites that would prevent them from being liberated. When a person is so self-absorbed and obsessed, they consider everyone their enemy and they will do whatever it takes to put them down. This attitude Moshe thought could prevent them from being liberated, since even when they are truly free they will never know it.

SENSELESS HATRED
AND EXILE

Similarly, our Sages inform us that the exile we are in since the destruction of the Second Temple close to 2,000 years ago was brought on by sinas chinam and senseless hatred.

Sinas chinam, senseless hatred, the very cause and characterization of exile, is rooted in an inflated ego. When we are obsessed with ourselves we cannot tolerate the existence of another. Getting rid of the inflated chametz is thus the means through which we get rid of galus.

THE CONNECTION

We can now understand the connection between, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt” and the following two statements, “Whoever is hungry let him come and eat, whoever is needy let him come and celebrate Pesach with us. This year we are here, next year in the Land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free.”

In light of the above analysis of the connection between chametz and our intolerance of others and our inability to be free, these three sentences flow seamlessly.

As we begin to plug into the dynamics of freedom, we must internalize the theme of Matza and humility. Otherwise we will remain hopelessly mired in narcissistic exile. Thus, we declare this is the Bread of Affliction our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. If not for the fact that they—as a whole—internalized the message of Matza and humility, they could not have been redeemed.

Therefore, we continue, “Whoever is hungry let him come and eat, whoever is needy let him come and celebrate Pesach with us.” Now that we have identified ourselves with our ancestors’ eating of Matza and the humility it represented, we can now relate to and identify with the hunger and needs of others. Indeed, the barometer as to whether we’ve gotten rid of our chametz is the degree to which we see the needs of others.

We then continue and conclude with “This year we are here, next year in the Land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free.” Now that we’ve experienced true spiritual liberation, at least to the extent that we recognize the needs of others, we are ready to be transported to the Land of Israel as free people.

We can now understand why this paragraph was composed in the Aramaic language. Aramaic is the language of exile. If we are to be liberated we must first recognize that we are in an intolerable exile. This awareness alone can humble us and get us on the road to Redemption.

This paragraph was therefore placed at the very beginning of the Hagada because our hope of unleashing the power of Redemption for the future lies in our ability to recognize the dynamics of our internal exile: inflated egos and our inability to see the needs of others.

A HAPPY PESACH

However, now that we’ve explained why this paragraph is at the beginning of the Hagada, the question can be reversed. Why do we first drink a cup of wine—one of the Four Cups—before reciting this paragraph? Each cup of wine represents one step in the process of the Exodus. Shouldn’t we then have to expose the cause and remedy for the exile before we can drink the cup of redemption?

The answer is that in addition to the need for a kosher Pesach to ensure Redemption we also need to have a “happy” Pesach. Going out of exile requires joy. Depression and lack of life and enthusiasm are also characteristics of exile. To get out of exile, we must generate feelings of joy.

Thus, even before we declare “This is the Bread of Affliction” we recite the blessing over the first of four cups of wine. In order to be humble and reach out to others, we must have at least a modicum of joy. Only after we drink the “wine that gladdens the heart” will we be more receptive to the message of humility and generosity that leads to freedom.

But we desist from pouring the second cup of wine until later, because our joy cannot be complete until we share our blessings with others. As Maimonides notes that to truly experience joy we must also make others happy, for true joy is experienced only when it is shared by all.

KOSHER BEFORE HAPPY

Nevertheless, in the traditional greeting the word kosher appears before the word happy. To experience true and unmitigated joy one must get rid of the inflated ego. As long as one is preoccupied with his or her own needs and interests, one cannot experience true joy. There is never enough to satisfy the appetite of the person driven by ego and self-interest.

By having a kosher Pesach—getting rid of the chametz that takes place even before the onset of Pesach and the Seder—one can then have a truly joyous Pesach. The absence of ego enables us to feel the joy and to share it with others, which enhances the joy. And it is this joy that serves as the catalyst to get out of exile.

Having a kosher and happy Pesach will surely lead us to the time when all chametz—symbolically speaking—will be removed, with eternal joy prevailing.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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