This coming Passover night, countless Jewish children will present four millennia-old questions around millions of Seder-tables across the globe.
"Why is this night different from all other nights?" The children will ask. "On all other nights, we are not required to dip even once, but on this night we dip twice." Second: "On all other nights we eat chametz (leaven) or matzah, but on this night, we eat only matzah."
Question number three: "On all other nights, we eat any type of vegetables, but on this night, we eat maror (bitter herbs)." And finally: "On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night, we all recline (1)."
Yet how many of us will become better human beings people as a result of listening to the "Mah Nishtanah" streaming from the mouths of our beloved children? If the four questions are merely a simple children's text, why did hundreds of generations of Jews write many myriads of pages of commentary on these four questions?
The Kabbalah indeed explains that these four questions encapsulate a yearlong four-step program toward personal liberation (2). During the recital of the "Mah Nishtanah," this energy of liberation vibrates through the cosmos, allowing each human being the opportunity to achieve personal freedom in his or her life.
What follows, therefore, is a brief explanation of the "four questions" from a mystical point of view.
The big question
"Why is this night different from all other nights?" Just what is it about this night that makes it so unique? What is it that we do during this night that allows us to free ourselves from addiction, fear, doubt, loneliness and fragmentation?
Step one: Willingness to change
"On all other nights, we are not required to dip even once. On this night we
On other nights we may feel that we don't need a dip; we may accept our flaws and shortcomings as part of who we are, unwilling to put in any effort toward self-improvement (3). We may be telling ourselves, "This is who I am and I will not change."
The first step toward emotional liberation requires the recognition that "I need to dip twice." First, I need to cleanse my body -- my physical habits and behavior. Second, I need to purge and wash my spirit -- my mental and psychological attitudes and patterns (4).
Step two: Suspension of the ego
"On all other nights we eat chametz (leaven) or matzah. On this night we eat
Chametz (leaven), made of dough that has risen, reflects an inflated ego, while matzah, made from dough that has not risen, represents humbleness and suspension of the self, becoming a conduit for the higher light of the Divine (5).
On other nights, we vacillate between chametz and matzah, between our tenacious attachment to our egos vs. our moments of self-transcendence. We invite G-d into our lives, but only to a certain point (4). This dichotomy between the chametz and matzah in our lives causes us to remain trapped by our narrow self-image and hinders our ability for true growth and transformation.
On the night of Passover, we eat only matzah. We attempt to let go of our egos completely, allowing G-d to fill the entire space of our consciousness.
Step three: Sensitivity to one's soul
"On all other nights, we eat any type of vegetables. On this night, we eat
maror (bitter herbs)."
Following the first two steps of "dipping" and "matzah" -- the willingness to change and the suspension of one's ego -- we reach the third step, one designated to help us maintain a lifestyle of inner liberation.
How does one create a daily schedule for oneself that is free from the numerous unhealthy urges and weaknesses inherent in one's character? By paying attention to the bitter tears -- the "maror" -- of one's soul (6).
Each of us possesses both an animal consciousness and a Divine soul. Our animal consciousness is the source of our bodily sensations, physical urges and earthly cravings. But in addition to the animal life-force we also possess a Divine soul, a spark of infinity, a ray of G-d, a diamond that descended from heaven. This soul yearns to transcend the ego and melt away in the truth of G-d (7).
Imagine how horrified you would be if you observed somebody taking the arm of an infant and placing it on a burning stove. Yet the mystics describe each time we utter a lie, each time we humiliate another human being, each time we sin as precisely that: taking the innocent spirituality of our soul and putting it through abuse and torture (8).
On other nights, we do not necessarily pay heed to the tragic fate of our souls being violated by coarse and immoral behavior. On this night of Passover, however, we eat maror (bitter herbs); we open our hearts to the bitter cries of the soul (9).
This discipline of constantly recalling the sanctity of the soul within you, and its painful experiences in a lowly and dishonest environment, allows you to preserve your spiritual integrity in your daily life.
Step four: Reorientation of one's pleasures
"On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining. On this night, we all recline."
In order to achieve true inner liberation, one most cultivate the fourth and most difficult step, namely, the reorientation of one's pleasures in life.
On other nights, the delight we glean from honest relationships and from a genuine life style is only a "sitting" type of enjoyment, meaning that it's not all-pervading and not all-consuming. The satisfaction we gain from our inner spirituality is dulled by the fact that we are still indulging the animal within us and are still seeking to discover gratification in shallow and deprived places. This fragmentation, though extremely tempting, ultimately tears us apart and robs us from the opportunity to live a truly fulfilled and deep life.
On the night of Passover, we recline. We allow our entire identity to dissolve in the ecstasy of an honest life (4). We give up our need to search for satisfaction in alien places as we welcome the joy of our inner Divine souls into every fiber of our being.