It’s less than two weeks until Pesach, “Zman Cheirusenu” – the time commemorating our freedom. The preparations are well on the way and we are hard at work. But many of us may be wondering, what freedom did we receive on Pesach? We spend every spare moment cleaning, scrubbing, turning over the kitchen, peeling an endless number of potatoes…. and as soon as we finish one job, those merciless task masters (i.e., our wives or mothers!) immediately give us a new one. Their cruelty puts Pharaoh and his henchman to shame. (I hope my wife doesn’t read this…) Does this sound like being free?
Well, if you believe that we are not free, take a look at the “freedom” of our friend Sam, who does not live as a Torah Jew. Yes, he is free as a bird! He can eat what he wants whenever he wants, do what he wants, and go where he wants. But Sam has just one small difficulty – he has a problem controlling himself. Whether it concerns food or any other worldly pleasures, he just doesn’t know how to tell himself no. And once he desires something, he won’t rest until he gets it. “It was worth all the trouble,” he tells himself when he finally obtains it, and he rubs his hands together with glee. But after a few hours he has long forgotten that great pleasure, for he soon sees something else that he thinks he never had before, and he is overcome by the new craving.
Oh, did I mention his web addiction? In the “olden” days, many poor souls were locked in their homes, glued to the computer screen, waiting for each image to finally come up. But now we live in the times of super-speed Internet connections, wherever and whenever! So our friend Sam is always staring at his iPhone or laptop. It actually saves him money, because he doesn’t even notice that he hasn’t eaten anything all day!
There is only one thing that he likes better than computers and worldly pleasures: Making money! Sam will do anything to make another buck. He works overtime and runs from one deal to another, forsaking his family and everything else. Ahh! The joy of freedom!
This man is enslaved to a cruel and evil master – his yetzer hora – his evil inclination, and he doesn’t even realize it.
In Mitzrayim we were also enslaved – not just physically but spiritually as well. Pharaoh did not allow us a moment of rest, from the second we woke until we finally collapsed for a few hours of sleep. We could not live our own lives and had to do whatever he wanted. Life was just one long torture session. The Egyptians beat us incessantly and forced us to do all sorts of degrading and painful tasks. We were so overcome by pain and suffering that we didn’t have the peace of mind to contemplate our purpose in this world, let alone to think about Hashem. Not only that, the Mitzriyim enticed us into serving their gods by offering time off and other incentives to those who joined their worship. Slowly but surely we got sucked into their idolatrous practices. Our lives became ones of total involvement in the physical world, and our precious souls were buried under layers and layers of materialistic filth.
When Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, we received not only a physical freedom but also a spiritual one. But in truth, these freedoms are really one. The great joy of the physical freedom was that it gave us the ability to focus on our purpose in this world – spirituality. We could now dedicate our lives to serving our new master, the Creator of the world. But this was not merely trading one master for another, because the difference between these two masters is light years apart! Anything Pharaoh commanded us to do was for his own benefit, or in order to subjugate us. He didn’t care about our well-being or whether we had the ability to carry out the task.
The Rambam (in a letter to his son) writes that Pharaoh is a representation of the yetzer hora, the evil inclination. Just as Pharaoh pretended to be our friend in the beginning and said he wanted to help us, so too, the yetzer hora tells us to indulge in the pleasures of this world. It makes us think that it is helping us, but if we take its bait, we will get trapped in the vicious “pursuit of happiness” before we know it – and never reach it. Pharaoh made sure to keep us enslaved so that we didn’t have time to think, and the evil inclination does the same.
Hashem, on the other hand, only has our interest in mind. Each mitzvah we perform brings us closer to Him and removes another layer of materialistic coating. He won’t command us to do something that is out of our reach; if we cannot achieve perfection of the soul through it, He will not ask us to do it. Such a master is one we can love and totally rely on. By following His commandments, our souls, the true “us,” the part that lasts eternally, can throw off the shackles of that cruel master, the lusts of the physical body.
Shabbos – Staying Free
When Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim, we were freed from the clutches of the yetzer hora. But how did Hashem ensure that we would stay free and not be captured again? Let us suggest that this is why, immediately after we left Egypt, in Marah, we were commanded to keep Shabbos. Keeping Shabbos makes us focus all week long on our purpose in this world. During the week, we get caught up with our jobs and other worldly pursuits and forget about our soul. On Shabbos, we reconnect with our true purpose and spend over 24 hours away from materialism. Even the physical pleasures we enjoy on Shabbos become a mitzvah when they are done with the correct intentions. When Shabbos ends, we can continue with this mindset and make sure to avoid being enslaved once again to the yetzer hora.
With this we can understand the perplexing words of the Friday night Kiddush that Shabbos is “zecher l’yetziyas mitzrayim – a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt.” How does Shabbos remind us of the Exodus? On Shabbos we remind ourselves that we are no longer under the rule of Pharaoh and his henchmen. Our souls are truly free and we can accomplish great things – as long as we aren’t enslaved by the body’s lusts and desires.
This realization helps us see our Pesach cleaning in a new light. When we are busy with all these difficult tasks, we won’t grumble anymore and wish it was over. Rather, we will be filled with joy at the opportunity to serve our beloved king, Hashem. Not only are we getting eternal reward for following His command, but all the hard work is actually bringing us to perfection, and freeing our souls. Now we can raise the goblet of wine with true joy not only during the Seder, but also each and every Shabbos, and declare that we are the only free nation in the world! How fortunate are we to have such a master as Hashem!
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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