April 12, 2004 (NOTE: unsent via email due to technical problems)
© 2004 The Temple Institute, Rabbi Chaim Richman - All Rights Reserved
Crossing the Sea to Freedom
Jewish life is replete with the observance of the Torah's commandments. Among these, the yearly cycle of the Festivals stands out with particular significance. All of G-d's commandments are Divinely-mandated spiritual exercises, and the Jewish people's observance of the festivals is designed not only to inspire us, but to aid us along the path of spiritual growth. When Jews observe a holiday, we are expected not merely to commemorate a long-ago event. These things do not exist in the realm of our memories alone; neither are they virtual. If we are sensitive to the moment, something very real is going to happen.
Thus as we sit around the table on the seder night, the Hagada instructs us that "whoever does not view himself as if he personally left Egypt on this night, has not fulfilled his obligation." We are expected – even challenged – to reconnect with some aspect of our very essence that might have been denied, or lying dormant. The experience of the pilgrimage to the Holy Temple insures that this process does not take place only within the individual, but within the collective body of Israel. The nation converges at the holiest place on earth to together imbibe a lesson that will have such impact, their lives will be forever changed. Indeed, such powerfully motivated, positive transformation (the real meaning of repentance) is what G-d constantly expects from us, otherwise, it's as if He wonders aloud: Why did I bother with you in the first place? Thus the verse states: "I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d" (Num. 15:41). Why does this verse end with these words, "to be for you a G-d?" The Holy One, blessed be He's meaning is simple: The only reason I brought you forth from Egypt is to be your G-d. If you are not interested in this relationship, you are wasting My time. I brought you forth from Egyptian bondage to be My servants.
Herein lies the secret of Passover, known as the "Festival of Freedom." True freedom means to become like the matza, without the pride and ego that makes one swell up with one's own inflated self-image. Passover is a faith thing: believing that all we have is only from G-d. Freedom from all that Egypt represents – the total corruption of humanity – can only be real when we make ourselves subservient to G-d. On the first night of Passover at the seder, we are guided through a spiritual progression (seder means "order") that encourages us to rise to the challenge of this unique freedom. If the night passes for us like any other, if we do not rise to the challenge, if the belief in the reality of G-d's presence in our lives does not become any more real – then "we have not fulfilled our obligation." We are still in Egypt.
But Passover does not end with the seder; that's only the beginning. Now, as the Festival of Passover begins to draw to a close, we can reflect on these lessons and take them with us to give us strength and fortitude for the coming year. For tonight is the seventh night of Passover and the festival's magnificent crescendo: the night that Israel crosses the Sea of Reeds. Everything that Passover is, and everything it calls us to be, is summed up in this event: To witness the splitting of the sea, and with terrible wonder to realize in the deepest place that G-d is reality, superceding and changing everything that we knew and thought and perceived to be true, and there is nothing beside Him. And then, to walk through. To keep on walking through the darkness of the night, and to reach the other side.
What happens, though, when we get to the other side? For having crossed the sea in perfect faith, trusting ourselves completely to G-d, it is on the other side that we must now live our lives. We crossed, we witnessed His vengeance against the Egyptians, and now we must not look back, but only forward, to our destiny. How will we live, beginning the day after Passover?
Abraham our father was called Avraham HaIvri, "Abraham the Hebrew," from a word meaning he was on one side, by himself—while the rest of the world was on the other side. But it takes an abundance of tenacity, dedication, and above all, faith, to remain alone on that side.
The world does not forgive us for the side we are on, the side that reminds them that there is indeed one G-d in this world. Thus after all his broken promises, suffering and affliction, it didn't take Pharaoh long to reconsider the consequences of what he had done, and run after the Jews to bring them back. For his Jewish problem was really his problem with the G-d of the Jews: "Who is G-d that I should heed His voice to send out Israel? I do not know G-d, nor will I send out Israel" (Ex. 5:2).
Pharaoh has company. The hagada states, "For not only one arose against us to destroy us, but in every generation, there are those who rise up to destroy us... and the Holy One, blessed be He, delivers us from their hands." But the world, once again, does not seem to forgive us our deliverance, thus we are subjected to obscene double-standards. While America and its allies spend billions across the world to assassinate terrorists, Israel assassinated the arch-murderer, fiend from Hell Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and is criticized for killing a "spiritual leader" and a "crippled old man." Never mind that he had been in a wheelchair since the age of 12, the result of a sporting accident. His condition never stopped him from orchestrating some of the worst acts of terror in modern times. Is there no shame, in calling a man who masterminded the murder of scores of men, women and children a "spiritual leader?" Must we issue an apology? Yes: for we have still not rid ourselves and the world of Nobel Peace Prize winner and monster Yassir Arafat, personally responsible for the murder and maiming of thousands, whom the Pope has met with 12 times.
Let's face it. The Jews remain the only people who are always on trial for just being born, and who must constantly prove that they have some right to exist. Whether we are on trial for building a wall to protect ourselves in our own land (when all the while we should be removing the enemy from our land, not fencing ourselves into a ghetto in our own land), or on trial for dealing with our enemies exactly as others deal with theirs, we are really on trial for just being Jews. On the other side.
On the eve of Sharon's trip to Washington, the Passover experience can be summed up in this way: How much do we really believe in Him, and how much do we believe in ourselves? He brought us across the sea, to begin our trek to the Land of Israel, where we are to live our lives according to His word. Sharon's disengagement plan requires uprooting Jews from their homes and retreating from our land. There is no greater desecration of all that is holy than this. Is this what G-d had in mind when He took us out of Egypt?
Tonight, after walking through the sea, let us reach the other side and for once, let us keep on walking, in faith, inexorably towards our Divine destiny, without looking back, without recriminations. Without apologies. The freedom of Passover means the realization that that He took us out of Egypt only "to be for you a G-d." There is nothing else.
Rabbi Chaim Richman
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE
PO Box 31876 Jerusalem, Israel 97500