Weekly Reading Insights: Pesach 5781


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Passover, 14-21 Nissan (22 Nissan outside of Israel) 5781 /March 27-April 3 (April 4 outside of Israel)


An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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Passover in Jewish tradition has three names. According to the five books of Moshe, the Written Law, it is called the Holiday of Matzot. In our prayers, set out for us by the Great Assembly 2300 years ago (which besides sages included a number of prophets such as Haggai, Zecharia and Malachi), it is called the Holiday of our Freedom. In the Talmud, the Oral Tradition, it is called Pesach or Passover, which relates to G-d 'leaping over', i.e. excluding the homes of the Jews during the tenth and final plague, the killing of the Egyptian first born. The fact that there are three names suggests that there is an important principle about the holiday that has three aspects.

The Egyptian Exodus, according to the prophet Yechezkel, is the annual celebration of the birth of Jewish people. The reason for this is not just that when G-d took us out of Egypt we became not just a nation like other nations, but more importantly, we became a new entity entirely. The purpose for which we were redeemed was for G-d to give us the Torah, as the verse says, "I took the nation from Egypt that they should serve their Lord on this mountain"(Exodus 3,12). (This is one of the reasons why we set the day of Shavuot, the holiday of G-d giving us the Torah, is set according to the date of Pesach, following it by seven weeks). This means that the birth of the Jewish nation is tied to our becoming a nation of Torah! The essence of a Jew, either alone or as a nation is Torah. The three names of the holiday therefore demonstrate to us how we are able to become this new Torah entity.

To understand this we have to examine the process of how a teacher passes on an idea which the student on his own, through his intellect, could not have reached by himself. For the student the idea is something new, not because the student never heard it before, but because the idea is beyond his capacity. The very first step for the student is to be 'bitul', self nullified, in awe of, and therefore open to being taught by his teacher. This is because with his own strengths he could not grasp the idea. Only by putting aside his own intellect and being an open vessel to his teacher, can he possibly receive it. On the other hand, even though, the whole purpose of learning is that the student will eventually grasp his teacher's teachings, it is imperative that the teacher simplify, condense and contract the teaching (in a sense, conceal the teaching, in order to bring it) to the level of the student and his abilities. From the student's perspective, first he has to nullify himself to be a vessel, so that once he has received the knowledge, his effort and struggle to understand and grasp the idea, and the sense of accomplishment it gives him causes him to 'break out', literally frees him from his previous limitations to receive new knowledge. Once he has grasped it, the idea allows him to jump, to elevate his intellect to the incomparably higher level of intellect and understanding of his teacher.

Just as these three 'movements' are required of the student in the learning of a new concept, so also the same process is connected to the Jewish people to become a 'new entity' through their birth (and rebirth, each year) on Passover.

In order to receive the Torah, the Jewish people first have to accept that their job is to 'serve' the Almighty. To truly serve you have to nullify and eradicate what previously held us back from our mission. We have to create a new vessel. This is the idea of the Holiday of Matzot, unleavened bread that does not rise, that is 'bitul', nullified, the opposite of haughtiness, a new vessel for the Almighty.

Secondly, on a more sophisticated level, we must use the service as a way to connect to G-d. As Jews we know that the only free person is one who studies Torah and does the commandments because Torah is our environment. Like a fish needs water, a Jew needs Torah and will never be free or happy until his is in it.

This is the second level: making use of our own innate abilities and intellectual powers through satisfaction and accomplishment to connect to G-d and His Torah. Thus the second name, the Holiday of our Freedom.

Finally, through G-d giving us the Torah, a change is affected that takes us beyond the level we were at previously. Yes, we are serving, which is something that appears limited. But on a more inner level, since we are serving the Giver of the Torah, we jump from our previous level to the level of the King. This is the last, most popular name, the Holiday of Passover.

One lesson that can be learned from the above is the need for pleasure and accomplishment to reach the goal. Though the process begins with 'bitul', still, in order to reach the final level of 'jumping' to a new dimension, we need to connect to the Torah by experiencing the pleasure and satisfaction of using our innate skills and abilities. If a person's efforts are tinged with sadness, he or she is not on the right track! Judaism is a path of joy!

Chag Sameach, Shaul

(Translated from Shaarei Moadim, from the Lubavitcher Rebbe)



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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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Mystical Classicsts


Maharal’s Magic Matzah

By Jonathan Udren

The matzah at the Seder table consists only of flour and water. It is called lechem oni, literally a “poor” bread, likened to the impoverished The poor person’s lack of possessions allows him a type of freedom from the burden of the physical world. So too the nation of Israel were released from the chains of bondage, entering an existence beyond the demands of Egypt.

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