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Passover article

Passover article

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Passover Article

Submitted to local OC Register 

 Passover: On Humility, Freedom and Tradition
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Passover: What’s it about?

As chirping frogs herald the advent of spring and newspapers tell of swarms of locusts descending upon the Middle East, you know that Passover is in the offing. Passover is the biblical holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people from Ancient Egypt and their miraculous deliverance from slavery under the Pharaoh and his bloodthirsty cohorts in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE).

This year Passover arrives on Monday evening, March 25. Observances include a variety of elements: There’s the traditional seder that includes matzah, bitter herbs, four cups of wine, reliving the story through the reading of the Haggadah-liturgy, a festive meal, the asking of the four questions, and so much more. Many a pleasant childhood memory has been created from this warm, spiritual, family-oriented tradition.

Preceding the holiday comes a spring-cleaning of sorts to remove from our homes even the slightest speck of chametz (leavened-grain from wheat and barley and the like, such as that found in bread, pasta, pretzels, or things like beer or vodka etc.).

And for eight and a half days, beginning mid-morning on Monday until nightfall on Tuesday April 2, we avoid chametz and its derivatives like the plague. For an amazing online Passover resource, with sections for all ages, go to www.passover.net or www.chabad.org/holidays .

Matzah Messages

Although Passover is strictly a Jewish holiday, it carries some timeless and universal messages. Take matzah, for example. It commemorates the haste in which the Jewish people left Egypt—they had to bake quick provisions but there was no time for the dough to rise—and the extraordinary faith they displayed by following the G‑d-sent Moses into the desert, all without a survival plan.

Matzah—flat, crunchy, and unleavened—also represents humility and selflessness. It takes humility to believe, it takes humility to learn, it takes humility to think of others, and it takes humility to truly grow. Humility allows us to recognize when we louse up, and encourages us to improve rather than remain stuck in the dark, unready to admit fault or failure.

In other words, matzah provides an escape hatch. Fascinatingly, this is signified by one minor detail in the one Hebrew letter that differentiates the word from its undesired leavened counterpart. The hey in matzah, unlike the chet in chametz, leaves a small opening between the leg and the roof of the doorway-shaped letter that both words share.

Self-Esteem

Chametz is typically dough that has been allowed to rise and grow puffy—representing selfishness, arrogance and bloated self-awareness. These natural human vices have existed since time immemorial, but perhaps a refresher can be useful in our modern era, where the lines between self-esteem and self-absorbedness have often blurred.

With its eight-day focus on humility, Passover helps provide clarity and demarcation. Self-esteem is laudable when it contributes to a healthy foundation. This includes treating oneself with self-respect; not having unwarranted insecurity or an inferiority complex; having the confidence and courage to try new things and stand up for what’s right; and to recognize one’s infinite value as a human-being created by G‑d. When it develops an appetite for vanity and personal gain, the self-esteem “miracle-staff” begins to turn serpentile.

A balanced self-esteem hails from selflessness and humility—which should not be confused with timidity or weakness. It takes profound humility to serve, and significant selflessness to recognize that you are here for a purpose other than self-perpetuation: namely, to make the world a kinder, better, more moral and divine place.

Moses was called “the most humble of people upon the face of the earth,” yet he stood up fearlessly to the Pharaoh, spoke and even argued with G‑d, and led his people with love, compassion, and—when necessary—a firm hand. He was not self-indulgent but self-abnegating; he was not self-centered, but self-effacing; and he was also not self-conscious, but self-assured. Perhaps this is what allowed him the true freedom to soar.

Freedom

Much more can be said on the topic of humility, and about freedom, too (Passover being called the Holiday of our Freedom). It boils down to this: the price for freedom is the readiness to sacrifice certain conveniences for the sake of something larger and better. A caring and responsible parent knows that raising a child with completely unfettered boundaries will more likely produce a wild beast than a kind, productive, upstanding person.

A budding pianist knows that slave-like attention to repetition, technique, and practice is what produces the most freeing thrill of beautiful music. The examples abound, but the central point is that doing what you want, whenever you want, and however you want, does not necessarily equal true liberty—ask anyone recovering from the pestilence of addiction. “Let my people go,” the call that has spawned many a freedom movement, is only the first half of the phrase. The pivotal ending to that phrase is, “so that they may serve Me.”

Timing

Passover “service” goes beyond matzah-balls and brisket. Like our pianist, there is a songbook with notes to follow, the Haggadah, with guidelines on how to achieve the best results. There is the concert date and start time, when the spiritual divine Passover energy reigns. Tevye chalked it up to tradition, and traditions certainly die hard. But the details do have rhyme and reason too.

If you are making a seder this year let me suggest that you try and incorporate at least one key upgrade, particularly regarding timing. If you typically start your seder before dark, at least try and keep some of the crucial components going until after dark, when the gates of Heaven are open. If you were planning the main family seder get-together for another night, at least eat some matzah on Monday (and Tuesday) night. Same if you weren’t planning a seder at all. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Because having a higher purpose to life; an objective guide to what is good, moral, and compassionate; and the humility and discipline and passion to do the best with the blessings we have been endowed, is the most freeing thing on earth.

***

Did you find hints to the famous ten plagues hidden throughout this article? If not, time for a re-read.

Rabbi Zalman A. Kantor directs (together with his wife Rochel) the Chabad Jewish Center of Rancho S. Margarita, one of 16 Chabad branches servicing local communities in Orange County. He can be reached for comment at info@jewishrsm.com.

 



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