Friday, April 3, 2015

Pesach Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman

Philosophers and physicists are both bothered by the past (though for different reasons). We know that every action produces a reaction and every event becomes a cause for numerous subsequent events. Simply stated, the present -- what I'm going to do and what's going to happen to me at this very moment -- is the sum and product of all that I did and all that happened to me up to now.

Philosophers are bothered by this because thinking man tends to think of himself as a creature endowed with choice. Physicists have a problem with it because their microscopes and particle accelerators reveal a random universe. As for the rest of us, we wake each morning to a new day, but soon feel the familiar weight of our yesterdays pressing us into the grooves of habit and necessity. Nevertheless, we continue to believe that we are "in control," that with a sufficient amount of determined effort we can, and will, break free.

The Jewish calendar reserves eight days each year to celebrate that faith. The eight days of Pesach (Passover), "our season of freedom", embody the conviction that, in any given moment, we have the power to step out -- in the words of the Hagaddah -- "from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to great light, from bondage to redemption."

Thus our sages decreed that the Exodus from Egypt is an event that should recur in each generation of our history, and in every day of our lives. For what else is an "Exodus" if not the power of a people to step out of their past, to wrench free of their circumstances, to give birth to a new self that is independent of the womb from which it emerged?

Therein lies the deeper meaning of the name of the festival. Commonly translated "Passover," the Hebrew word Pesach literally means to "jump over."

"Walking" or "running" implies a change of place, yet this is a change that derives from and is predicated upon your prior position. One foot leaves the ground, but the other remains planted there to provide the forward impetus. The movement may be small or great, slow or swift; but in all cases, each step derives from the one before it.

A "jump," in which both feet leave the ground, implies a break from the past -- a quantum leap rather than an incremental step, a rebirth rather than a maturing.

Yet the purpose of the jump is not to leap to heaven and stay there. If you do that, you missed the whole point. The idea is to return to the ground, not only one or two or many strides ahead, but also as a different person from the one who crouched down there to leap. To return to your past not as prisoner bound by its laws, but as a master descending upon it from above to use it and mold it to his higher ends as he advances in his journey. Until the next jump.

(Excerpts from Chabad.org by Rabbi Yanki Tauber  based on the teachings of the Rebbe)

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