Courtesy: Eliyahu Touger
One year, shortly before the first Pesach Seder, the holy Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, took several of his students into town. He knocked on the door of a local store and asked to buy cigarettes. The storekeeper replied, “I don’t have any. Don’t you know that they are illegal?” Reb Levi Yitzchak was persistent and again asked to buy cigarettes. After several requests, the storekeeper produced the cigarettes and was willing to sell them.
Reb Levi Yitzchak then approached a man walking down the street and asked if he had a cigarette. “Don’t you know that they are illegal? I can get thrown in jail for possession!” Again, after several requests, the gentleman displayed his stash and offered one to the Berditchever.
Reb Levi Yitzchak then sent his attendant to a Jewish home to ask if they had a small piece of bread. “G-d forbid!” was the reply, and not knowing why the attendant was asking, continued to explain, “On Pesach we are forbidden to have any bread or chametz in our home.” The attendant went to a second home and a third home, and the reply was the same.
When the attendant returned empty-handed to his Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak held his hands up high and exclaimed, “Master of the Universe! The Czar forbids the importation of these cigarettes. He has soldiers and policemen to help enforce this law. But yet these cigarettes are on the streets and available to all, somehow smuggled across the border.
“Three thousand years ago, You commanded Your children not to bring bread into their homes on Pesach. You have no soldiers or policemen, yet there is no bread to be found in all of Berditchev. See how powerfully Your children love You!!”
In the Haggadah, we say: “Even if we are all wise, all men of understanding, and all know the Torah, it is a mitzvah for us to tell of the exodus from Egypt.” This quote indicates that the point of the Seder is not merely an intellectual experience. For after all, if we are wise and know the Torah, then we also know the story of the Exodus.
Instead, the intent is that the Seder enables us to relive the Exodus, to realize – as we say later in the Haggadah – that “not only our ancestors [were] redeemed from Egypt, but [G-d] redeemed us as well.” Every Seder is an opportunity for each one of us to leave Egypt.
What does it mean for us to leave Egypt, when many of us have never seen that part of the world?
Mitzrayim – the Hebrew name for Egypt – shares a connection with the term meitzarim, meaning “boundaries” or “limitations.” Leaving Egypt means going beyond those forces that hold us back and prevent us from expressing who we really are. The idea of leaving Egypt reminds us that, in a certain way, we are all slaves.
Each one of us has a soul which is “an actual part of G-d.” This is the core of our being, our real “I.” But we find ourselves in Egypt, for there are forces, both external and internal, that prevent us from being in touch with this spiritual potential and giving it expression.
The Seder night is a time when these forces do not have the power to hold us back. For Passover is “The Season of Our Freedom.” From the time of the Exodus – and indeed, from the beginning of time – this night was chosen as a night on which the potential is granted to express our G-dly core. Every year, at this time, within the spiritual hierarchy of the world, there is “an exodus from Egypt.” All restrictions fall away and transcendent G-dliness is revealed.
This spiritual awakening filters down within our souls, prompting us to tap our spiritual core, express our unbounded G-dly potential, and leave Egypt, i.e., to break through any and all restraints.
This experience should not remain an isolated spiritual peak. Instead, Passover should initiate a process of endless growth, empowering us to continuously break through ever subtle levels of limitations and express our spiritual potential at all times.
This concept is reflected in the Lubavitch custom not to recite the passage “Chasal Siddur Pesach” (“The Passover Seder is concluded”) which others say at the end of the Seder. The intent of the omission is to emphasize that our Passover experience should be ongoing. Throughout the year, we should look to the Seder as the beginning of a pattern of new growth and spiritual expression.
LOOKING TO THE HORIZON Our Sages teach: “In Nissan (the Hebrew month in which Pesach falls) the Jews were redeemed, and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the future.” There is a commonality between the redemption from Egypt and the Redemption to be led by Mashiach. Our Sages emphasize that the spiritual timing for the two is also similar, and hence they will occur in the same month.
There is a slight difficulty, however, with this prophecy, for as Maimonides states in his Thirteen Principles of Faith, we wait for Mashiach, “every day that he will come.” The intent is not that every day we look forward to Mashiach’s ultimate arrival, but that every day, we wait expectantly for Mashiach to come on that very day, regardless of the month of the year.
Our Rabbis resolve this difficulty as follows: The potential exists for Mashiach to arrive every day of the year. Nevertheless, there are certain times, for example the month of Nissan, where the spiritual climate is more conducive for such happening. In Nissan, the Redemption is an idea of immediate relevance.
This concept is true, not only with regard to the months on the yearly calendar, but with regard to epochs in the history of mankind as a whole. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has pointed to the present era as the most opportune time for the Redemption to take place. “Even the buttons have been polished, and we are prepared to greet Mashiach.”
This is not merely a lofty, spiritual statement. On the contrary, its truth can be appreciated by taking an honest look at what’s happening in our world. We are in the midst of an information revolution. Resources of knowledge that have been gathered for centuries are now only a few strokes of a keyboard away from any person with a personal computer. Instant communication from one end of the earth to another has transformed our world into a global village. We are producing enough food to feed all of mankind; it’s only political strife that is preventing hunger from being eliminated. The search for spirituality has become so much a part of our lives that chroniclers of the major trends of the new millennium place it among the top five.
Now isn’t that all somewhat Messianic? Today, when a person speaks about Redemption, his words resound with the power possessed by an idea whose time has come.