Tonight marks the beginning of the holiday of Passover (the Festival of Matzo) -- a holiday mandated in the Torah to be observed for eternity.
Passover marks in a very real way the birth of the Jewish people. Passover is commanded in the Torah Sh'mot / Exodus 12:14-15 "This day must be one that you will remember. You must keep it as a festival to G-d for all generations. It is a law for all time that you must celebrate it. Eat matzo (unleavened bread) for seven days. By the first day, you must have your homes cleared of all leaven. Whoever eats leaven from the first day until the seventh day will have הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ / hanefesh / his life cut off from Israel."
For all generations.
It is a law for all time that you must celebrate it.
We come together with our families and loved ones to retell the story of our slavery in Egypt and our freedom -- indeed the very birth of the Jewish nation truly begins with the Exodus from Egypt.
Before the Exodus from Egypt there was Abraham, who had a covenant with G-d, and his son Isaac who also had a contract with G-d, and Jacob as well -- the patriarchs of the Jewish nation.
As part of the Passover the entire Jewish nation heard G-d speak (some 3 million people at Sinai) and we committed to the covenant -- not our fathers, not individual people -- but the entire Jewish nation in a very real sense "converted" and became Jewish at that time. "ויענו כל העם יחדו ויאמרו כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה" “And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that G‑d has spoken we will do.’ ” (Sh'mot / Exodus 19:8).
We went to Egypt as a free nation, through the aid of Joseph. But through time, as we grew numerous, the Egyptians began to worry that, due to our numbers, they had to fear us. Thus there was a Pharaoh who "knew not Joseph" and enslaved us.
The Hebrew name for Egypt is מִצְרַיִם / Mitzrayim.
מִצְרַיִם / Mitzrayim is related to the term מיצר / meitzar, which refers to boundaries, restrictions and limitations.
Consider what it means to be limited -- to have obstacles put in your way. מִצְרַיִם is a place (Egypt) but it is also a state of mind -- where we limit ourselves from being what we can be, enslaved by our own minds and souls -- trapped. We are tied down, each of us, whether we are physically free or not -- and far too often we enslave ourselves.
Jerusalem / יְרוּשָׁלַיִם means “the city of peace.
So מִצְרַיִם / Mitzrayim means slavery, boundaries, restrictions -- and Jerusalem / יְרוּשָׁלַיִם means “the city of peace.
Ponder that. Jerusalem is a holy place because of what it symbolizes -- freedom, peace. . .
Thus the Exodus from Egypt was more than just a physical leaving from the land of that generation. In every generation we are enslaved -- and far too often we enslave ourselves by the choices that we make, or the self imposed limitations we create.
Passover reminds us that the Exodus is for US -- not for those ancient ancestors, but for US. Passover is both a retelling of that ancient freedom, and also that every year each of us has the ability to free ourselves from slavery -- from all limitations.
The Torah commands us to tell our children of what G-d did for us on this day. In the הַגָּדָה / Haggadah (the telling) we read: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the L-rd, our G‑d, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm. If the Holy One, blessed be He, had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, then we, our children and our children's children would have remained enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowing the Torah, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt; and everyone who discusses the exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy."
Passover reminds us that before He freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand G-d sent many tests and plagues --- to strengthen us to be worth of freedom. Did G-d really have to "harden Pharaoh's heart" (strengthen Pharaoh's own inclinations) or "convince" Pharaoh to free the Jews?
Of course not.
So why would G-d have gone through so many steps?
Because it takes time for people to change. The Jews were used to being slaves -- The Jews had to want the freedom. They had to take steps of their own to help themselves become free.
The very last plague -- where the Jews had to take a young goat or lamb, keep it in their homes for four days, slaughter it, put the blood on the door posts and eat the god of the Egyptians as an act of defiance of them (and of trust in G-d) is not something we can even imagine them doing when Moses first arrives back in Egypt.
The Jews needed to learn bravery and to learn to be free. This is the true story, the true miracle of the Passover. The הַגָּדָה / Haggadah (the telling) perceives of four children asking what Passover means to them. The Torah speaks of four children: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask. The הַגָּדָה / Haggadah asks the four questions -- and the wicked son asks "What is this service to you?!" He says `to you,' but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: "It is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt"; `for me' - but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!"
It is for what G-d did for ME, when I went forth from Egypt.
Let each of us, Jew and Gentile, think and realize that every day we are enslaved. Each day is a new begining and each of us has the chance to be free.
At the end of the Passover Service, as we conclude the הַגָּדָה / Haggadah (the telling), we say "Next year in Jerusalem!" We mean the city -- but even those living in Jerusalem say "next year in Jerusalem." We mean -- next year may the messiah come, may the whole world be at peace, may all people (not just Jews) know G-d and may all be free.
May you have a blessed Passover, full of joy and family. May you truly be free and bless G-d for your freedom. חַג כָּשֵׁר וְשָׂמֵחַ -- may you have a happy and kosher Passover.