FROM THE RABBI’S DESK
Every year around this time we busy ourselves with the preparations of the most celebrated festival Pessah.
This is indeed a most extraordinary phenomenon.
In the spirit of the Haggada we will ask the question why is Pessah different from all other festivals. What makes it so unique that even so-called unobservant Jews celebrate it scrupulously?
After all, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur do rank high up there in our national calendar as sacred celebrated days. What about Shavuot, the day the Torah was given? The singular reason that makes us Hashem’s chosen nation and ranks us as a nation of Priests and a Holy nation.
Perhaps the answer is because Pessah marks the very birth of our nation. Our identity of who we are was proclaimed then. So Pessah is a birthday of sorts, and we all love birthdays and deem it significant enough to observe and commemorate.
In truth, it goes deeper than that. Many of the fundamental beliefs of our faith were substantiated and augmented by the grand show of miracles by G-d to His people. The essential credos of our faith, like belief in a creator, His divine providence, His love for the Jewish nation, reward and punishment, were all revealed with unequivocal clarity prior and during the Exodus period.
The recounting of these miracles during the Seder specifically, and during certain parts of our prayers, generally strengthens our belief and faith. This has been ingrained into us in an unbroken chain from father to son, from the original Pessah celebrated in Egypt until this very day and, please G-d, until the imminent and final redemption of our people speedily.
It is for this reason that the festival of Pessah plays such a central and pivotal role in our national consciousness. However, in order to continue this unbroken chain of faith building for generations, we require careful thought and evaluation.
Everything about Pessah is significant and has untold lessons that build and strengthen our nation. One important and most powerful timely lesson is learned from the offering of the paschal lamb – the central theme of Passover shared equally by non-other than MATZA.
G-d commanded every single family to acquire a lamb for the paschal lamb. There was to be no exceptions, because the redemption hinged upon every single Jew expressing his faith through the paschal lamb and acquiring merit in fulfilling G-d’s will in order to secure the miracle of the Exodus.
This command posed some difficulties for the Jews. Aside from the obvious threat from the Egyptians, who would witness their ‘subjects’, the Jews, slaughtering their deity before their own eyes, there was another practical difficulty.
The Jews were up until then slaves and thus impoverished how they were to afford a whole lamb.
Our Sages teach us that despite the fact that most of our nation was poor, some Jews did manage to overcome financial oppression and, through different means, managed to enrich themselves in comparison to others.
It was these Jews who were better off than their brethren that we commanded and expected to ensure that every Jew would be able to afford a Paschal lamb and celebrate the Pessah Seder.
One can well imagine how difficult this must have been for the more ‘wealthy’ Jews. They were faced with a difficult dilemma. Here they are about to leave Egypt in a few days. The length of their journey is unknown to them. What provisions would they need? They were no doubt faced with a huge challenge. To keep the hard earned wealth to themselves and their families, saving it for a possible “rainy day” (or month or year), or giving it away by the command of G-d to ensure every Jew has with what to fulfil the will of G-d and thus forfeit their financial security.
Herein lies the most fundamental lesson of true faith and freedom.
Our ambitions for personal success, comfort and security should never blind our responsibility as a noble people in fulfilling our obligations and ensuring that the needs of the needy, or the poor of our institutions, are well taken care of.
Our personal wellbeing and our personal redemption depends upon this very concept. To rise above the natural inclination to preserve our own wealth and interest is an act of TRUE FREEDOM AND FAITH and guarantees personal and national wellbeing, preservation and redemption.
Similarly Maimonides writes in the Laws of Yom Tov – Chapter 6 Law 17 & 18 – that the Torah requires us to rejoice during the festivals as is stated in Deuteronomy 16:14 “You shall rejoice on your festival.”
How does one rejoice? Says Maimonides, “by giving, giving to your wife, your children, the orphan, the widow and the poor. He who locks his doors, eats and drinks with his children and wife and does not attend to the needs of the poor and the downtrodden; this is not classified as rejoicing in the Mitzvah of Yom Tov, rather the rejoicing of His Belly.”
These are powerful words from Maimonides, yet true. The purpose of the festivals is to ingrain within us a true faith in G-d, a rejoicing that only comes as a result of freedom from our dependency on materialism as a purpose for life and living.
Let us all merit to be in a position that we are able to look beyond our ‘belly’, our table and our ego and actually see someone else, his needs and what our role is in bettering the world. This is the message of Pessah – this is the means to freedom.