But if you don’t live by the Torah, there is no beginning or end to your life. Life is a carousel that rotates during your time on earth – and then suddenly the music stops. Life is over, but you went nowhere. You revolved around and around but you ended up exactly where you began. Your life had no goal. Each day was exactly the same. When you are finally laid in the ground, you are the same dust you were at birth.
No wonder there’s such frustration out there.
Torah life is totally different. Like Yaakov Avinu, we view life as a ladder on which we can ascend from this world all the way upward to Shamayim and become angelic beings. Let’s go back to before Pesach. Where does it all begin?
The Yom Tov cycle begins as it does in the Torah, in a time before time, when “the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ ”
Each winter, under a blanket of snow, the earth goes to sleep. When spring comes, the earth awakens. The cold, hard soil softens and warms up, the sap flows in the trees, buds appear and magnificent spring flowers burst upon the world. This awakening is the season of Passover, the rebirth of the world.
No wonder the haftarah for Shabbos Chol HaMoed Pesach contains the famous passage (Yechezkel 37:1 ff): “[God] said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones and say to them, Oh dry bones, hear the words of God…. I prophesied as I had been commanded; the spirit entered them and they lived and they stood upon their feet, a very vast multitude.”
Pesach is the first of all the holidays. It begins after the sleep of winter and represents new, awakening life. In Mitzrayim, Am Yisrael was born as a nation. We entered as seventy souls and emerged as millions. We became a nation in an alien world that enslaved us and into which we assimilated and almost disappeared.
But we did not disappear. Miraculously we grew and became strong.
In Mitzrayim, the “egg” was laid; the young nation emerged as a separate entity, but its mission was still latent, encased, as it were, in an opaque shell. It became our job to “peck” out of the darkness. As it says concerning Yaakov and Eisav in the womb, “the children agitated within her” (Bereishis 25:22).
Then what happened? Our ancestors left Mitzrayim, crossed the Red Sea, and marched through the Desert for seven weeks until we reached Har Sinai. Receiving the Torah was our spiritual birth.
We worked hard to crack the egg. That’s when we got our wings and learned we could fly. The Torah enables us to soar above the earth, to separate ourselves from the influences that hold other nations captive. “[God] took [Abraham] outside” (Bereishit 15:5). Rashi says that means God “took [Abraham] out of the space of the world and raised him above the stars.” This is the secret of our ability to survive what no other nation could survive and live in a way unknown to the rest of the world.
But the Yom Tov cycle does not stop at Shavuos. What happens next?
After Shavuos comes the summer. This is a time of freedom, but freedom offers challenges. One must be very cautious not to get carried away. The lowest point in our calendar, Tisha B’Av, comes during the summer. During this time of freedom, we tend to let our guard down.
Hashem tells us in the Shema, “I will provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied. Beware lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others and bow to them. Then the wrath of God will blaze against you…and you will swiftly be banished from the goodly land which Hashem gives you….”
Do you know when we have to “beware”? When we “eat and [are] satisfied…” That’s the danger point. When the little bird cracks open the egg, the question is: What will he do? Will he flex his wings and fly? Will he remain earthbound? Will he soar or plod on the earth?