Faith and Humility Leading to Freedom
The upcoming Passover festival celebrates a crucial phase in the liberation of the nation of Israel from the clutches of Egyptian bondage: the ten plagues that shook Egypt, the performance of the korban Pesach - Passover offering - by the entire people of Israel, and the midnight exodus from Egypt. But it does not commemorate the conclusion of the freedom process. The conclusion is celebrated on Shavuot, the festival which marks the receiving of Torah at Sinai, which truly liberated the escaped slaves, allowing them to accept their responsibilities to G-d. Historically, the liberation story won't end until Israel is true sovereign over all her lands and the Holy Temple stands once again on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, the Divine service being faithfully carried out by the Temple priests on behalf of the entire nation.
Nor does the story of the Exodus begin with the first plague, but much earlier. G-d tells Moses: "'I have surely seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians..." (Exodus 3:7-8) G-d decided to deliver the Israelites when He first heard them cry from their oppression in Egypt. This was some time before His encounter with Moses, and long before the crucial 14th of Nisan, the day on which the Israelites, by slaughtering their Pascal lambs, demonstrated their unshakeable faith in G-d. Throughout the desert sojourn, G-d subsequently stated that he brought the Israelites out of Egypt so that they would serve Him. Yet when He first heard their cry he had no proof that this would be the case. So why did He take the chance of liberating them at all?
Passover is know as the "season of our freedom," but it is also known to be the "season of faith." By risking all to slay their Passover lambs the children of Israel proved their faith and trust in G-d, meriting their liberation. But faith that leads to freedom is a two way street. To be faithful to a person, a thing, or an ideal that does not return your faith is to be a slave. G-d proved His faith and trust in the Israelite children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when He decided, prompted only by their pain, to take them out of Egypt and to bring them near to Him. When He eventually did create the circumstances for them to express their unfettered faith in Him, via the korban Pesach, the people of Israel did not let Him down. True liberation now became possible.
It may seem odd that G-d would take such risks. After all, if the Israelites had failed to meet the challenge of the Passover offering, how would that have looked? After having overturned the very laws of nature by visiting the ten plagues upon Egypt, what would have occurred had the Israelites preferred rice and beans over lamb and matzah on that fateful night?
The following story may shed light on the answer to this question. The Talmud relates that during a period particularly rife with turmoil, the sages of the Sanhedrin actually forgot the law concerning whether or not the Passover offerings should be conducted on the 14th of Nisan when the 14th falls on a Sabbath. Perhaps the sanctity of the Shabbat should push off the offering to the following day? The great sage Hillel, who had just returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, was asked by his fellow sages what the correct answer was, and he assured them that the offerings should most certainly take place on Shabbat. They praised his knowledge, and asked him further how the offerings can be conducted in such a way as not to violate the Sabbath. He confessed to them that their praise had caused him a moment of pride, and that lapse had caused him to forget the answer! What he proposed next was nothing less than the great secret of Passover: "Let's wait and see what the children of Israel do when they come up to the Holy Temple on Shabbat in order to perform the Passover offering. I've got an overwhelming intuition that they will do the right thing!" Sure enough the Israelites came with their lambs, and conducted themselves appropriately and in accordance with halachah, (Jewish law). Hillel exclaimed to the elders, "Yes, now I remember, what the Israelites are doing, that is the correct answer to our question!"
Imagine a leader today, either political or religious, who could both admit that he doesn't have the answer, and then look to the people for guidance! What a true measure of greatness. Imagine a G-d who doesn't know whether His people will prove their eternal commitment to Him, but nevertheless sets in motion the greatest revelation of His mastery over all creation, for all the world to see, simply because He, like Hillel, had an implicit faith in the people. This faith is born of humility, the humility of knowing that you are incomplete without the other.
Faith and humility are intrinsic to the Passover observation. The korban Pesach is the ultimate expression of faith in G-d. Faith that, even as we sever our ties to the idolatries of the world, and do so in a way guaranteed to provoke the wrath of the world, we have complete faith that G-d will deliver us from evil. The matzot, which we so diligently prepare so that no leavening, the symbol of pride and haughtiness, will occur, teaches us that being so bold in our dedication to G-d can only prove worthy if our devotion is completely void of pride. Together, these two elements of faith and humility make up the equation that leads to freedom: freedom to serve G-d.
Tune into this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven take a break in their passover preparations and describe how Passover was observed in the Holy Temple, and the great themes of Passover: faith, humility and freedom.
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