What shall we be free of this Pesach? It is the holiday of Freedom, isn’t it? Most of us today live in democratic countries, with freedom of movement, of expression, of religion – so what other freedoms can we be seeking? What freedom can we suckle from this age-old celebration, this call-to-freedom, which is so fundamental to the Jewish people?
It turns out that Pesach has the capacity to free us, if we wish, from many things that enslave us in our daily lives. Freedom from materialism. Freedom from superficiality. Freedom from the meaningless and the trivial. However, I would like to focus on a specific angle: the freedom to be a better version of ourselves.
What’s wrong with the current version, you may ask. Plenty. We wouldn’t be human otherwise. But the celebration of Pesach is a clarion call to wake up, to discard the fears and habits that hold us back and to improve ourselves.
First we start by eliminating all of the Chametz, all of the leavened products, from our homes, our sight, our possession and our lives. Besides for the practical aspects, it is also a dictate to eliminate the extraneous things from our lives. Our lives quickly get cluttered with extra weight. We need to shed that baggage, existentially become lean and focused, leave the hang-ups of the past, for a meaningful present and a rewarding future.
Then comes the diet of Matza, simple, humble, clean, nothing added, just the basic ingredients of life, flour and water. We need a diet of simple to get back to our personal basics. What are the things that really matter? What is the direction my life is taking? How is my family life? How is my spiritual life? How is my internal life? Does my life have meaning? Or am I stuck in a certain course, a certain behavior and don’t have the strength and the courage to change course? Will I wake up at the end of my life filled with regrets, for those roads I didn’t take?
Then comes the Marror, the bitter herbs. Sometimes, many times, even most times, we need to bite the bullet. We need to take the hard road. Comfort and security are not always the optimal choices. Sometimes we need to leave our comfort zone to grow. Sometimes we need to overcome our fear, our distaste, our placidity, to truly awaken, to truly reach moments of meaning which in turn hold the hope to leading lives of greater meaning.
However, life is not all struggle and discomfort. We have to celebrate! We are the children of Kings and Queens, Prophets and Sages. We have a special relationship with the Creator of the world. And on this day, he took us, our people out of the bondage of Egypt to be his emissaries in this world: To be a light in the darkness; the joy amongst the somber; the serious amongst the frivolous; the revolutionary amongst the complacent; the respectful amongst the unruly; the meaningful amongst the meaningless. We drink. We feast. We dine like kings. We lean on our sides and remember the tribulations of the past and the hopes for the future. We are noble. We cannot forget that either.
But often we do. We get stuck in our own personalities. We have an innate fear of changing who we are. We have a practiced cynicism; a quick dismissal of the pure and the noble. We believe that reality demands a certain harshness, both with ourselves as well as with others. Someone good? It can’t be. They must have ulterior motives. They must have some benefit we don’t see. For us to be so good? We would be branded hypocrites. That is how corrosive and destructive our fear of our better selves has become. We do not allow ourselves or others to reach those heights.Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz