Passover is the time that commemorates "zman cheiruteinu - the time of our freedom". While this "freedom" is in reference to the emancipation from our Egyptian bondage, it seems to have taken on a completely new meaning in this day and age.
Passover is the time that commemorates "zman cheiruteinu - the time of our freedom". While this "freedom" is in reference to the emancipation from our Egyptian bondage, it seems to have taken on a completely new meaning in this day and age. Children are home from school, Chol Hamoed (intermediate days of the holiday) trips are prevalent, and the atmosphere that prevails is one of fun and openness - freedom. But when we put things back into perspective, we must think. We do have time off, but were we given this time off just for a vacation, or is there more to it than that?
In the Haggadah, we praise Hashem for giving the Torah to His nation, and immediately thereafter we begin discussing the qualities of the four sons. Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, the renowned Torah genius in Lithuania at the beginning of this century, explains that these two themes are connected in order to teach us an incredible lesson about Torah. He points out that when it comes to secular knowledge, the material to be studied is divided into levels. Those just beginning start on the easiest level, and as they move up the ranks, they discard the current book and move on to study the next level. When a person is on one level of proficiency, the book of any other level will be worthless to him. For example, if a child is studying basic arithmetic, a trigonometry textbook will be of no service to him. The same is true of the flip-side.
Torah, on the other hand, is universal. The Chumash or Gemara that a child learns in grade school is the exact same Chumash and Gemara that the greatest Torah giants delve into. The four sons show us that every Jew, no matter what level he is on, will be able to learn the exact same Torah and will be able to gain from it on his own level. This, says Rabbi Soloveitchik, is why these two concepts are connected. Blessed is the One who gave the Torah to His nation because the four sons and every Jew at his own level can gain from it.
We have in the Haggadah a very fundamental idea, essential to the meaning of Passover. We read that in each and every generation, a person is obligated to view himself as if he personally was freed from Egypt. This perception is very difficult to formulate and can only develop through contemplating exactly what took place at the exodus, while superimposing oneself into that scenario. This means that a person must imagine himself, in the most realistic sense, standing in Egypt, witnessing and being involved in everything that took place there - the ten plagues, the offering of the korban Pesach (Pascal lamb), the chase to the Red Sea, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the Egyptians drowning there. He must envision himself standing on the shore with the entire Jewish nation, singing praise to Hashem for His miracles. He must imagine himself traveling in the desert, receiving the manna at his doorstep every morning, preparing for three days at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and then finally reaching the climax of all these miraculous events: Everything that has happened until now, and the goal in having been taken out of Egypt, all culminates at this point when we received the Torah directly from Hashem with all the majesty and splendor of the moment. As the shofar blew and the thunder, lightning, and clouds encircled the mountain, we were the ones who were chosen from all the nations to receive the gift of the Torah. This was why we were taken from Egypt, and this is what every person in every subsequent generation is obligated to envision himself as experiencing.
If a person must envision himself experiencing all these events, and the whole point of them in the first place was in order that we should receive the Torah, then we should be sure to use Passover, more than any other holiday, as a catalyst to grow in Torah, mitzvot, and in coming closer to Hashem. That is the best way to relive the exodus; we are not only reliving the means, the miracles that Hashem performed, but we are even reliving the purpose of attaining great spiritual heights as well. This can be done by everyone at whatever level they are on because, as we see from the four sons, Torah is universal and for everyone.
The Seder Hayom, a 16th century composition on the daily responsibilities of the Jew, applies this concept for us. He explains that the holidays weren't designed merely for eating, sleeping, and going on Chol Hamoed trips. It is unfortunate to think like this, for in reality, we were given this time off to involve ourselves in Torah and to grow spiritually, undistracted. If we don't take advantage of this time, says the Kli Yakar, a classic early 17th century commentator on the Torah, the holiday loses its status of being a "holiday for Hashem". It just becomes free time which is not being used beneficially. While we are encouraged to enjoy the holidays, we must remember why it is that we have this time, and we should take advantage of the opportunity we have to learn and to grow in whatever way we can.
So when we say kiddush at the beginning of the Passover seder this year and commemorate "zman cheiruteinu - the time of our freedom", let us stop and concentrate on why we have this time off. We weren't given this time to remain stationary; we were given it to grow. Whether we are home from school or work, we must strive to find some way to grow, some area to work on, some way to come closer to Hashem, and definitely spend time learning this week.
Mendel Starkman, a native Atlantan, is attending the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Jerusalem.
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