PESACH – HARAV DOV BEGON

When approaching the political and social divide in modern Israel, we see how the community is split into right and left – yet that too is clearly on a superficial level, viewed from the outside. A deeper look reveals that Redemption is on the way.

Israel’s Redemption Continues Today

[From his book, “Israel Redeemed” – translated by Rabbi Menachem Weinberg]

 

Combining Matzah and Maror – Freedom and Slavery

 

“Thus did Hillel when the Temple stood: He would combine

matzah and maror [bitter herbs] and eat them together to fulfill

what it says, ‘They shall eat it with matzah and maror’ (Numbers

9:11).” (Haggadah).

 

As is known, matzah recalls freedom while maror recalls

slavery. Seemingly, the two are opposites. Even so, Hillel, whose

identifying trait was that he “loved peace and would pursue

peace, he loved his fellow men and would bring them close to

the Torah” (Avot), would combine matzah and maror and eat

them. Why?

 

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (Olat Re’iyah 289) explains

that we have to view slavery and freedom not as two distinct

forces that do not influence each other, but as two forces which

are linked together and which complete each other. Matzah, symbolizing freedom, alludes to Israel’s instinctive

love of God, His Torah, His mitzvot and His creations. By contrast,

maror, symbolizing slavery, teaches us that we have to

bring that love from a potential to a reality through our being

slaves to the will of God. This is exalted bondage, enslavement

to the King of Glory, which is total freedom. Thus, the

perfect form of freedom emerges when it is linked to slavery.

Today, we must learn from Hillel the Elder as we approach

reclining on the Seder night as free men. As we celebrate the

holiday of freedom, we must tell our children, and ourselves,

the remarkable story of our people when they were first born in

the darkness of Egypt. We must tell of the miracles and wonders

which God performed by dint of His love for His firstborn son

Israel. We must tell of Israel’s soul, which serves to bring light

to the entire world despite the forces of darkness which rise up

against us in every generation with the intent of snuffing out

the light of the world – it will never be! We must remember that

freedom truly demands enslavement, and we must combine the

two together, as in the words of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, “I seek only freedom from enslavement to man. I seek enslavement

to One – to God, because enslavement to Him is freedom,

and surrender to Him is the true glory” (Kuzari, 5:205).

 

 

The Exodus Narrative – a Love Story

 

Pesach (Passover) derives its name from God’s great love and

compassion for the Jewish People, in His passing over their

homes as He smote the Egyptian firstborn. As it says, “I will

then pass over you and will not allow the destroyer to enter your

houses to plague you. . . . When your children ask you, ‘What is

this service of yours?’ You shall say, ‘It is the Pesach-offering to

God, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when

He struck the Egyptians and saved our homes.’ The people then

bowed and prostrated themselves” (Exodus 12:23–27).

 

Rashi relates to the Israelites having bowed: “Why did they

prostrate themselves and bow? It was in thankfulness for their

being told that they would be redeemed, would come into the

Land and would bear children.”

 

Their love, faith and trust in God’s love for them were so

great that they thanked Him by bowing to Him while they were

still slaves in Egypt before being redeemed. Such is the way of

people who love one another. Their distress and suffering does

not stop that love.

 

Indeed, the Exodus narrative is the story of the great love that

abides between God and Israel, as in our daily prayers, where we

bless God, who “has lovingly selected His people Israel.” We likewise

recite in the Shema, “You shall love the Lord your God with

all your heart, soul and might.” This is not merely a command; it is a promise. Indeed, we customarily complete the Seder Night

by reciting “Song of Songs,” King Solomon’s marvelous, profound

poem celebrating the love between God and the Jewish People.

That story of the great love between God and Israel is retold

in the Pesach Haggadah from generation to generation, father to

son, as we recline as free men on the first night of the holiday. Historically we have faced unimaginably harsh conditions – when

we were pursued to death by the Spanish Inquisition, or when

Jews were being burned to death in the furnaces of Auschwitz.

However, even throughout those times, Jews never ceased to

recite, in secret, that great love story. Reciting the Haggadah

during our most difficult hours reveals our great love for God.

As with all who truly love one another, we love God under all

conditions and in all situations.

 

The Haggadah begins with the words, “We were slaves to

Pharaoh in Egypt,” and it concludes, “Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem.”

This is a story going back thousands of years, but it is

replete with love.

 

“The children of Israel emerged [yotzim] triumphantly” (Exodus

14:8). Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, in his talks (Parshat Bo),

would stress that the word yotzim is in the present tense, and he

would say, “We have been continuously leaving Egypt from then

until now. Throughout all the generations, we have been leaving

Egypt in greater and greater triumph.”

 

We live in a remarkable period, in which God’s promise is

being fulfilled: “I will bring you to the Land regarding which I

raised My hand, swearing that I would give it to Abraham, Isaac

and Jacob. I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am the Lord”

(Exodus 6:8). We have to view all of Jewish history as occurring

between two places – Egypt and Jerusalem – and between two

personalities – Moses and the Messianic king from the Davidic

line – may he come speedily in our day. How fortunate we are and how good is our lot that in the long journey of thousands of years since the exodus from Egypt, we are near the end of the journey, in Jerusalem. We are not slaves to Egypt and the nations. Rather, we are in our own land, witnessing the rebuilding of Jerusalem with our own eyes.

“We therefore are obligated to thank, praise, laud, glorify,

exalt, honor, bless, extol and adore Him who performed for our

fathers and for us all of these wonders. . . . Therefore, let us recite

a new song before Him” (Pesach Haggadah).

 

In the Song Sung at the Sea, Left Becomes Right

 

In the song sung by Moses at the Sea of Reeds, it says, “Your

right hand, O Lord, is awesome in power. Your right hand, O

Lord, crushes the foe” (Exodus 15:6). Rashi comments, “It says

‘Your right hand’ twice. When Israel perform God’s will, left

becomes right.”

 

How can “left” become “right?” “Right” and “left” symbolize,

respectively, God’s traits of kindness and strict justice. When

Israel perform God’s will, they are exalted and they merit to see

how the trait of kindness is hidden within the trait of strict justice

and how kindness is the soul of strict justice, such that strict

justice, the “left,” automatically becomes kindness, the “right.”

Indeed, “the deeds of the Mighty One are perfect, for all His ways

are just. He is a faithful God, never unfair; righteous and moral is

He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). We must try to ascend and reach this

exalted perspective, to understand that even all of the complications

and difficulties conceal within them the trait of kindness.

Even when God conducts Himself towards us with strict justice,

concealing His countenance from us, His intention, desire

and purpose is to show us benevolence, for “the Lord is good

to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalms

145:9). This is especially so regarding the Jewish People, God’s

beloved children. In Egypt, God conducted Himself towards them

with strict justice, with the Egyptians pursuing and persecuting

them. Now, at the splitting of the sea, Israel saw clearly how

strict justice could be transformed into kindness: “Pharaoh’s

chariots and army He cast in the sea. His very best officers were

drowned in the Sea of Reeds. . . . You made Your wind blow;

the sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters”

(Exodus 15:4, 10). Our sages comment, “The mighty enemies

and obstacles that had seemed so unbeatable sank like lead, as

if they had never existed.”

 

When Israel perform God’s will, we merit to see how within

the very trait of strict justice is hidden the trait of kindness. At

the splitting of the sea, God’s strict justice was transformed to

kindness, that is, left was transformed to right. The Jewish People

merited “the revelation of the sparkling primal light of the World

of Divine Unity, where all is one and no evil abounds” (Rav

Kook, Orot HaTeshuvah 12:5).

 

This principle can also be applied to understand the mitzvah

of obeying the verdicts of the Great Rabbinical Court and not

rebelling against its words. “You must keep the Torah as they

interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for

you. Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they

declare to you” (Deuteronomy 17:11). Rashi comments, “Even if

they say to you that right is left or that left is right, but certainly

if they tell you that right is right and that left is left.” In other

words, if the sages tell you that what seems to you to be Divine

kindness is really strict justice, and what seems to you to be

strict justice is really kindness, you must heed them, for their

perceptions and vision are profound, penetrating further than a

superficial glance bereft of wisdom and understanding.

 

When approaching the political and social divide in modern

Israel, we see how the community is split into right and left

– yet that too is clearly on a superficial level, viewed from the

outside. Whoever takes a deeper look to understand the entire

marvelous process of the generation of rebirth, of the ingathering

of the exiles, and the beginning of the raising of Israel’s stature

in their land, can understand that when “left” seemingly has the

upper hand, when strict justice holds sway and God’s countenance

is concealed, within these very traits, and from their very

midst emerges “right”, kindness and goodness to Israel and to

the entire world.

 

Each day when we recite the eternal Song of the Sea, and

especially on the Seventh Day of Passover, the day the sea was

split, we must appreciate how everything is turning out for the

best – the mighty obstacles blocking our path can, with God’s

help, disappear in a moment, while strict justice and God’s hiding

His countenance from us conceal within them His kindness and

benevolence. The day is not far off when God will show us miracles like

the time when we left Egypt. Then, all the earth’s inhabitants

will recognize and know that the God of Israel is King, and His

sovereignty rules over all. “Then Moses and Israel [will] sing this

song” – the song of faith and thanks that Israel sings in every

generation, and in the future.

 

How fortunate we are and how good our lot that we are privileged

to see the beginning of the fulfillment of the song, the Shira, which

states, “O bring them and plant them on the mount You possess.

The place You dwell in is Your accomplishment, God. The shrine

of God Your Hands have founded. God will reign forever and

ever” (Exodus 15:17–18). Rashi comments, “The Temple will

be built with two hands. And when will that occur? When God

reigns forever and ever – in the future when all kingship is his.

How fortunate we are, how good our portion, that we are

privileged to belong to the nation who proclaim God’s Oneness.

They are “believers and the sons of believers” (Shabbat 97a) that

“the Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His

works” (Psalms 145:9).

Happy Pesach!

 

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