On Saturday morning one Memorial Day weekend, the rabbi noticed little David
was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the synagogue. It was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the rabbi walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, "Good morning, David."
"Good morning, Rabbi," replied the young boy, still focused on the plaque.
"Rabbi, what is this?"
"Well, David, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service."
Soberly they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little David's voice was barely audible when he asked, "Which one, Friday night or Saturday morning?"
The Seder Energy
For many a Jew, the Passover Seder is nothing more than a nice family get-together; for many others it is an exercise in sheer boredom and futility.
Each year, when Pesach comes around, I ask myself the question: How can I turn my Seder into the meaningful and transformative experience it was meant to be?
The holiday of Pesach, commemorating the exodus of the Jewish people from the land of Egypt some 3,300 years ago (in the year 1313 B.C.E.) reflects the liberation of the soul from the psychological and emotional constraints represented by Egypt.
What is Egypt? The Hebrew term for Egypt (Mitzrayim) may be translated as "inhibitions," or "restrictions (1)." All of us struggle with various inner and outer inhibitions that stifle our growth and prevent us from maximizing our potentials. We may be paralyzed by fear, shame, guilt, resentment, codependency and addictions. We may be lacking the ability to love, to dream, to cry and to let go of our defenses, or we may be enslaved by unhealthy urges and feelings of envy, animosity and bitterness.
In this sense, we are all in one or another type of "Egypt," and the Seder experience presents each of us with an opportunity to leave our personal Egypt and embark on the road toward redemption (2).
During the Seder, you and I owe it to ourselves to open our hearts and welcome into our lives the divine energy of liberation vibrating through the cosmos on the eve of Passover.
The liberation process begins by searching your own home thoroughly on the night before Pesach, a tradition known as "bedikas chamatz (3)." We are thus acknowledging that in order to live a fulfilled and serene life, we must stop putting the blame on the people around us and clean up the mess in our own homes (4).
Our personal misery has little to do to do with other people. Our parents, spouses, employers, siblings or neighbors ultimately do not hold power over our lives. If I am healthy inside, the most obnoxious person out there cannot tick me off. If I am unhealthy inside, the slightest mistake of a fellow man can throw me into rage.
So we begin our healing process by going back to our own homes and hearts -- examining, searching and cleaning them with a gentle burning flame: the
flame of the soul (5).
A Time to Heal
The two main ingredients of the Seder table are, of course, matzah and wine. We eat lots of matzah and drink lots of wine.
The need for emotional healing began as a result of Adam and Eve eating from the famous "tree of knowledge." At that moment, a dichotomy was introduced into the world, a dichotomy between body and soul, between the inner child and the aggressive adult, between our pure innocent yearnings and our self-centered lusts (6).
The Talmud (7) quotes two opinions as to the type of the fruit that Adam and Eve consumed. One sage says that it was a cluster of grapes while another sage believed it to be stalks of wheat.
On the Seder night we eat matzah, which is made from wheat, and we drink wine, which is squeezed from grapes. We attempt to heal the fragmentation in our lives caused by the original wheat and grapes consumed by our original parents, Adam and Eve (8).
The Spiritual Trio
Consuming matzah, eating maror and drinking wine are the three primary mitzvos performed during the Seder night. Matzah represents the energy of surrender; maror, the process of grieving; and wine, the feeling of joy (9).
Surrendering the ego (the matzah made of dough that did not rise), grieving over a wounded past (the bitter taste of the maror) and experiencing inner joy for our G-dly soul and the divine gift of recovery (represented by wine) are the three primary steps in our journey toward liberation from our personal bondage.
Reclaiming Your Parents
The Talmud says (10), and it's quoted in the Haggadah, that "A second cup is poured and now the child asks 'Mah Nishtanah.'"
The Talmudic words "now the child asks" ("V'kan Haben Shoel") may also be
translated as, "now the child may borrow (11)."
Not all of us have been privileged to grow up with parents in our lives. Some were orphaned at a very young age; others may have had physical parents but never had emotional parents. Some of us were privileged to have nurturing parents who have since passed on to the next world. In all of the above cases the children are left behind, a void in their hearts.
Here is the time during the Seder where "the child may borrow" a father and
a mother. At this point in time, our father in heaven opens the chamber of unconditional love and boundless nurture, through which we may reclaim the confidence and security we so desperately needed from our fathers and mothers. Now the child is given permission to ask all the questions he could never ask. He may declare: "Father, I want to ask you four questions (12)."
The Four Worlds
The Seder experience revolves around the number four. We drink four cups of wine, we ask four questions and we address four sons.
The Kabbalists discuss these three pairs of four as corresponding to the four cosmic worlds: the world of vision, the world of creation, the world of formation and the world of action (13).
Liberation can be achieved only when we introduce into our daily lives the following four components:
A) Inner Vision: A deep sense of who we are and what we want to make out of ourselves;
B) A Plan: Once we have established a vision for our lives, we must create a plan to fulfill that vision;
C) Schedules: Once we've created the plan, we must formulate a schedule as to how and when the plan will be achieved;
D) Implementation: Once we have formatted the detailed schedule we must "get down on our knees" and do the job.
Many of us don't have freedom in our lives because we are missing one or more of the "four worlds." Our daily goals, schedules and deeds may lack a vision behind them, or, conversely, our inner vision may remain detached from our daily behavior.
Show me a man who has all these "four worlds" in place and I'll show you a
1) See Torah Or p. 57; p. 64; p. 71.
2) See Tanya ch. 47.
3) Talmud Pesachim 2a.
4) See Likkutei Sichos vol. 10 pp. 24-29 and references noted there.
5) See Sefer Hammamarim 5700 p 37; p. 42.
6) Cf. my essay "The Day Man Lost His Innocence" (E-mail for Bereshis) and references noted there.
7) Berochos 40a.
8) See Shalah Masechet Pesachim.
9) See Likkutei Torah Shir Hashirim pp. 14-15; Tanya chapter 31.
10) Pesachim 116a
11) Beis Aaron (Karlin),Pesach
12) See Beis Avraham (Slonim) Parshas Vayigash; Divrey Yechezkel (Shenevah) Parshas Masei.
13) Peri Eitz Chaim portal 21 chapters 5 and 7. The following explanation I heard from my brother Rabbi Simon Jacobson.