First Day of Pesach Nisan 15 5779 חיום הראשון של פסח, ט”ו ניסן תשע”ט
I would like us today to understand how we can each relate to Pesach on a personal level. If we were living at the time of the Exodus, who would we be? Would we be a part of Israel or Egypt? What role would we have played, as leader, follower, no one in particular? Were we comfortable in our own homes: were we more like Moses or Pharaoh? Our human nature wants to know the future, about the last days yet most of us live in the past. Very few of us know how to live in the present. Life is “NOW”. The past is gone, and the future has not arrived. We can only do something about the present. We can’t erase the past; we can plan for the future, but that is uncertain. In which state are you – are you looking backward or forward or are you living in the present. This is the deliverance message of Pesach.
One of the myths that our sages have developed is that the poor Israelites were a great people while the Egyptians were the evil villains. Even our prophets have been known to exalt the people during the Yetziah – יציאה (Exit) from Egypt as if it were the most glorious of times for Israel having the Presence of the Bore Olam – בורא עולם with them. The truth is that the people of Israel never responded well to Him. That is the way in which we need to identify with them. When things are going well in our lives, we rarely ask Him for help but when things are not, that’s when we cry out to Him. Do we stop to ask Him for direction when we think that we are on the right track? We have learned to pray by rote. Is that what the Creator wants? He wants to speak to us “now”. What is going on inside us “now”?
The only reason the Israelites were crying out was because they were completely oppressed but if you read the text well in Exodus, they never asked the Creator for help; it was the Creator who heard their groaning. They continuously complained about their struggles but never asked to leave Egypt. Most of us don’t like to be moved out of our comfort zones. The Creator was telling Israel to move out, this was not their place! Did any of them rejoice about returning to the Promised Land of their fathers? The Bore Olam would keep moving them from one place to another over the next forty years due to their constant complaints. Israel kept wanting to return to Egypt even after seeing all the miracles He performed. Even after the amazing event of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai where they heard the voice of the Creator, they built the golden calf. They finally reached the Promised Land and sent men to survey the land and what report did they bring back? The land is filled with giants and we are only grasshoppers in comparison; we can never conquer the land. Have we changed today?
How can we make this story ours for today? Ask yourself: Who am I? Would I have been amongst those who complained after leaving Egypt? Would I have been excited to enter the Promised Land? There are people here today who are still in Egypt; others who are remain in the wilderness and others who have arrived at the border of Promised Land. Where are you? Examine yourself. Many of us are still in the wilderness and instead of looking forward to being in the Promised Land, we keep looking to go back to Egypt. We have idealized the past and are stuck in the wilderness.
Pesach means deliverance and the greatest deliverance is from our own egos. We have accumulated so much for our pasts. What is holding us back? We compare ourselves with others instead of seeing how far we have come. We might be jealous about what others have achieved or perhaps we think, what good is it to serve God if I get nothing in return. Perhaps we believe that we need to be rewarded for the good we do instead of thinking about how our lives have been improved and how our families and community have benefited.
Just before Pesach, we have a tradition called Bedikat Chametz – בדיקת חמץ when we search out the last vestiges of leaven from our homes. In this process we may find things from the past that we don’t really need anymore. This is also our opportunity to seek deep within to find what is holding us back. The Creator wants us to get rid of these things which do not allow us to live fully in the present moment. Some of us have done things for which we think we cannot be forgiven. That would make our God very small indeed. Nothing is impossible with the Creator who only asks us to do teshuva, to return to Him and be in His Presence. There is nothing that He cannot do for us, but it begins with us.
The process of walking with the Creator that I have been teaching is so important. We begin with Emunah – אמונה Faith which has been given to every living soul on earth. If, however we do not put that faith to practice, we cannot build Bitachon, ביטכון Trust. He didn’t create robots, rather He gave us the gift of Bechirah Chofshit בחירה חופשית Free Will with a lot of room to act in any way we choose. Even though we suffer the consequences of our actions, He never turns His back on us in spite of who we are. He is always faithful and waiting for us to come back to Him with a willing heart, Kavanah כונה (Intention). The greatest offering, korban קורבן we can bring to Him is our life. When we are with Him, we can free ourselves of inner oppression.
Here is a simple question: what is my Egypt that is holding me back from enjoying life and serving the Creator? The days ahead can be great because we can live today. We can fully live in the present when we are fully living in His Presence. May we personalize Pesach in our lives so that we can have a good future, built upon a strong today as we let go the chametz of our past.