15 Nisan 5782
Click on the link to listen to the recorded message: https://youtu.be/gPQDb4KN52w
The Significance of Pesach
For one moment let’s forget everything that we think we know about Pesach and allow ourselves to see another perspective. Imagine that night; the people were all in their homes, whether Israelite or non-Israelite, whether slave or free, rich, or poor, waiting in trepidation for the event that would change not only their lives forever but also the lives of their captors. Each household had to take from its flock of sheep or goats, a one-year-old male lamb or kid, without blemish, to slaughter it and place some of the blood on the doorposts and lintels so that the angel of death would not kill the first-born male inside their homes, including a first-born male “animal”. Please note that no one in the homes with the markings of blood were told to first ask to be forgiven for their sins; that idea is pure theology. Could the animals have asked for forgiveness for their sins? What the people knew was that they had to be obedient. Those who disobeyed the command to put the blood on the doorposts would watch as their first-born males, human or animal died before their very eyes. There’s a cost for disobedience.
The Creator told us that Nisan would be the first month of the year for us. This is our Happy New year. Yet what did our sages do…they replaced it for the first of Tishrei, and called it Rosh Hashanah, the head of the Year. This is like telling the Bore Olam that they have more authority than He does. Then they created an additional two more New Year’s days: the fifteenth of Shevat, Tu Bishvat, the new year for the trees, and the first of Elul, the new year for the cattle. More theology.
God told us simply “do not eat any leaven” yet ask any Orthodox Jew today how many foods are prohibited; how many sets of dishes are needed? How clean do our houses need to be? Is that what God was asking or is it simply more theology?
However, our people are not the only ones; Christian theologians have changed the entire Pesach message; they created a new holiday called Easter, taken from Ishtar, the goddess of fertility from where we get the rabbits and the eggs. They also teach that this holiday is about the death and resurrection of their god who saves people from their sins. The Torah clearly states… “do not add and do not take away from my Words”. Yet that is exactly what has been done and in so doing, you and I are being enticed to forget Him, to replace Him and to make other gods.
Every plague that had hit the Egyptians up to that moment were to execute judgment upon the gods of Egypt. The first nine can been explained according to the laws of science; all except the tenth plague, the death of the first-born male; this one could only have been by the Hand of our God. It is a result of “midah keneged midah”, “measure for measure”. This same Pharaoh who had ordered the death of all the newborn males in Israel would lose his own first-born son. The principle here is that we get what we give. Today’s enemies of Israel would do well to remember that.
I often refer to this story as a prototype, an archetypal pattern, a blueprint that helps us see God’s plan for mankind throughout our history. Any engineer or architect understands the need for clear and well written designs before any structure can be built. The story of Pesach is such a design; it forms the foundation of a people who would be the emissaries to carry God’s Ten Commandments, His pattern by which the world can live in harmony. We don’t need to reenact the first Pesach, just remember it. We don’t need a new set of commandments, a so-called new covenant; we need to know the ones He already gave us and obey them. We don’t need other gods, we need to remember that the God who took us out of slavery, out of Egypt is the one and only ever-present God. The story is so important that it’s included in the very First Commandment. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”. And Pesach shows us that we can trust Him because we have three thousand five hundred years of history to prove it.
The Israelites were literally thrown out of their homes, out of that land, paid to leave by a defeated people who had taken advantage of them, abused them and saw them as being inferior in every way. How many times have Jews been thrown out of their homes, out of their lands, without being paid to leave or not even being allowed to leave? The story of Pesach is to warn future generations to not fall into the same trap as the ancient Israelites did in Egypt by wanting to be accepted by their captors, by looking to their gods; yet fall into the trap we continue to do, repeatedly, for centuries.
I remember our Ranebi telling us that the Jews in Spain before the Inquisition sang praises about their country which they compared to Jerusalem. The majority of the Jews of Europe forgot Jerusalem and our God before Hitler murdered six million of our people. Today the majority of Jews in America think of the US as the best country in the world, and guess what, antisemitism is on the rise again. I recently heard a rabbi in the US say that the honeymoon for the Jews of America is over. I believe that it’s because we have forgotten what was written in these verses in Deut 8: 11-20 …Be careful not to forget the LORD your God by failing to keep His commandments and ordinances and statutes, which I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses in which to dwell, when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all that you have is multiplied… then your heart will be lifted up, and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; and you say in your heart: ‘My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth.’ 19 And it shall be, if you shall forget the LORD your God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I forewarn you this day that you shall surely perish.”
The dictators of the world today, whether they rule overtly or covertly consider themselves to be gods and they think that they know what is best for humanity. They believe that they can speak for us, and like Pharaoh are devising plans to enslave the masses. The plagues that hit both the people and the land of Egypt are hitting our planet today but not because of global warming or environmental issues but because of greed; man has grown fat, prosperous and has forgotten the commandments of our Creator. If the Israelites had not been taken out of Egypt, then and there, the God of their forefathers would have disappeared from their lives and the gods of Egypt would have been fully integrated. Let’s not think that you and I are so very different. I, for one, know how attractive the gods of the world can be. They take on many forms and they know how to entice us. They fill us with half-truths and lead us down empty paths which are dead ends. When will we ever learn?
The Israelites would have preferred to stay where they were (in Egypt) because what we know is always more comfortable than the unknown; we do not like to be moved out of our comfort zones. Our Ranebi would often quote Psalm 139; “Search me O God and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts and see if there is any wicked way within me and lead me into the way everlasting”. How often do you and I really stop from our crazy, busy lives to quietly ask Him to search our hearts? He asks us to do that at Pesach. We can search for the leaven in our homes but what is more important is for us to search for the leaven in these temporary dwellings…our bodies and minds. What are we afraid to give up, what are we afraid to lose? What are we afraid to do because we think we can’t? What are we so proud of? What thoughts make it hard for us to breathe, to sleep, to work, to perform our calling?
The message of Pesach is about trust and obedience. Most of us have fears, doubts, and trust issues. It takes a leap of faith to take a step into the unknown but that’s how trust is developed. It began for the Israelites when they obeyed and put the blood on the doorposts. Then they watched God go to work. They saw their helplessness as the world around them was crumbling; it was a humbling experience to know what it took to set them free. Once again, the world seems to be crumbling around us and so let us remember the verse in Exodus 12: 42: “This was a night when the LORD kept vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt and this same night continues to be a night when the LORD keeps vigil for all the people of Israel throughout their generations”. How much more do we need to know than “Hine lo Yanum v’lo yishan, shomer Yisrael? He Who watches over Israel neither slumber nor sleeps.” We are Israel, and He keeps watch over us whether we feel it or not. We don’t know what tomorrow holds for us. We have experienced much loss over these past few years… every one of us …but despite what we have lost, we have so much more than most people in the world because we have the love and the protection of our Creator. Chag Pesach Sameach!