Don’t ignore the small stuff
According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to have even a tiny piece of leavened grain in your home or property during the eight days of Passover (unless you don’t own it). On the night before the Passover Seder, Jews conduct thorough searches in their homes to eliminate every single piece of bread that may be lingering under a couch or a bed, etc.
Why this obsession to eliminate even small pieces of bread? Does G-d really care if you leave a little piece of a bagel in your pantry?
Leavened bread, made from dough that has inflated, represents the inflated ego. Now, this ego does not manifest itself only in “big things,” reflected in the big pieces of bread. Rather, the human ego, our greatest enemy to authentic liberation, disguises itself more often in small and apparently insignificant interactions and encounters.
Most quarrels, for example, between husbands and wives are not about the big questions of life, say, how long America should remain in Iraq, or what the world would have looked like if Mohammad was never born. Most battles usually revolve around “minor” issues: Who is responsible for the loss of the car keys; who is to be blamed for them showing up late to the Bar-Mitzvah reception; who ought to carry the guilt for such large credit card bills and for the fact that there is nothing to eat for dinner.
On Passover we are called to search and eliminate the powerful ego that is hidden in the small stuff of life, in the small pieces of leaven.
Fear not your madness
Every Sabbath we sanctify the day by blessing and drinking a cup of wine. On Passover, one glass will not suffice. During the Seder, every Jew is instructed to drink four cups of wine (or grape juice if you are forbidden to consume alcohol) to celebrate freedom.
Wine, an intoxicating beverage that is at first concealed within the grape, represents the deeply concealed chaotic forces lingering within the human psyche. This inner “madness” or “lunacy,” that dimension of our soul that is infinite, wild, unrestrained, is known in the Kabbalah as the “lights of Tohu” (chaos), that comprise man’s primal and basic personality. When you top into this part of yourself, you can metamorphose your life and change the world. But we have been trained to fear our power, to shun away from our destiny, to suppress our atomic energy.
The first step to freedom is to embrace, rather than reject, your madness. You must learn that if your intoxicating “wine” is channeled in a moral direction, it can sanctify the world more than anything else. Kedusah, sanctification, occurres through the wine.
On the essence of Freedom
It is humorous that on the night of our freedom we eat what the Bible calls “poor bread.” Poor bread, the Talmud explains, represents simple matzah, made of flour and water without any other ingredients to enhance the taste. What is more, during the Passover Seder we break the piece of matzh, so that it looks like real “poor bread.” Is this what you call freedom?
From a Jewish perspective, it seems, freedom is not about reaching a utopian fairy-tale state, where you sit all day at the beach, in front of your multi-million dollar home, smoking your Cuban cigars and gazing at your private airplane parked nearby (that’s how one of my students described to me his definition of freedom.) Rather, it is about the ability to discover richness of spirit in the poor and broken fragments of your life.
Freedom stems not from a particular set of circumstances that define your life, liberating it from all stress, pressure, burdens, pain and loss. That may never happen. Freedom is the profound awareness, at every moment of your day and night, that you are doing the right thing. You are serving G-d.
The masculine and feminine journey
During the Seder we eat three Matzos and we drink four cups of wine. The three matzos represent the three Patriarchs of the Jewish people, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the four cups of wine personify the four Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.
This distinction between masculine matzah and feminine wine is connected to their respective journeys to freedom.
The main challenge of a male in his journey to freedom is to become like matzah. To deflate and flatten his ego; to challenge the arrogance and the self-consciousness that obstruct his path to liberation.
The main challenge of a woman in her journey to liberation is to allow her inner power, represented by wine, to emerge and bring joy and holiness to the world.
On our Seder plate we place six items, in the form of two upside-down triangles. On the top right, we put the shank bone, which looks like a stretched out arm. On the top left, we place an egg. In the center below them, the bitter herbs, used to eat independently during the Seder. Then, in the next trio, on the right, under the shank bone we place the Charoses, a mixture of fruits. On the left we place a vegetable. Then, in the center below them, we put again bitter herbs, this is used a part of a sandwich comprised of matzah and bitter herbs.
These six items represent the six points of light that comprise the emotional identity of the soul – attraction, inner strength, empathy, aggressive power, humility and bonding. The plate itself embodies the seventh point of light, selflessness, which receives all of the former six and passes them on.
The stretched out arm embodies Chesed, attraction. The egg, the only food that gets harder, not mushier, with more cooking, represents inner strength. Bitter herbs, causing one to feel pain, embody the energy of empathy, the ability to experience another human being.
The mixture of fruits, growing tall and high, reflects the energy of aggressive power. The vegetable, growing humble and low, embodies humility, while the bitter herbs at the bottom symbolizes, once again, the ability to bond with something greater than yourself, to become part of a greater sandwich in life.
The three matzos symbolize the three cognitive powers, conception, comprehension and application.
When we eat each of these items during the Seder, we attempt to focus on how we can achieve liberation in each of these characteristics.