Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Filter by Categories
Create Yourself
Isha Bekia

Q&A: Pesach – March 2009 – "Jewish Life" magazine

Mar 14, 2009 | Chaggim, SA Media


People always start to get nervous around Pesach time with the amount of preparation it takes to get our minds and our homes ready for the festival. What is it all about?
Pesach preparation is about physically removing the chometz from our homes and making them kosher le Pesach, and it always amazes me when I think about how dedicated the Jewish people are in fulfilling the word of G-d, especially regarding Pesach. But while we are doing it, we mustn’t forget to ask ourselves, ‘why are we doing it’?
So why are we doing it?
To fulfil the word of G-d, and that is something that is very special. It is about answering the question we keep asking ourselves: ‘who are we’? We are the Jewish people, G-d took us out of Egypt and we have a sacred mission that was given to us on Mount Sinai when He gave us His Torah – our defining moment.
But we do this every year – how can we invest it with meaning every time?
Contrary to conventional wisdom, which promotes the idea that a ‘once in a lifetime’ thing is special and meaningful, Judaism teaches that meaning and holiness is achieved through cyclical repetition rather than in isolation.
Like for example?
Like in the davening – the cycle of davening and its repetition allows the soul to connect. The familiarity of the prayers allows us to concentrate on investing them with more meaning. But there is another dimension to Pesach that goes beyond this…
Which is?
That every Pesach should be different.
If it is a ‘repeat’, how can this be?
What we have to look at in life is not our physical actions, but rather our understanding of them. The most remarkable thing about Judaism is that it was designed by G-d to speak to different people and of different levels of age, intellect, culture, and education. This is why our sages speak about the ’70 faces of the Torah’.
Do you mean to go beyond merely retelling the story of the exodus?
Yes. The biggest trap we can fall into is to fail to deepen it and our experience of it – not to enhance our understanding and our connection to it. We should strive not to view Pesach with the same eyes as our ten year old selves and understand it the same way we did then. There are different dimensions to understanding the story, and we must learn more and continually deepen our understanding further.
How do we apply this to the challenge that it should be a different Pesach each year?
This is all in the mind and the way that we approach it. We need to get involved emotionally with it. Talk about it, teach it, discuss it, and not view it as repetitive. We should all make an effort to find new books and attend shiurim about Pesach. We are blessed to be part of a vibrant community that offers so many educational programmes and shiurim to us.
We keep speaking about finding the newness…why then are we so obsessed with history?
A beautiful verse says ‘renew our days of old’ – Judaism is about taking ancient things and making them new and fresh all the time. This is a particularly Jewish perspective of history.
Newness in history – isn’t this a paradox?
History is not just a distant memory. It’s not just the past – it’s the present. We are moulded by the past and by our vision for the future.
But are you saying that we must look back to answer the question of faith?
We are all made up of our individual memories, especially childhood memories. They mould who we are today, and it is so with collective memory too. The Exodus is when we were born as a people – it is our collective childhood. But these are not just childhood memories that occurred merely as chronological events. The entire saga was constructed by Hashem in order to produce a people that could go out into the world and be a light unto the nations. Which would carry Hashem’s name and His laws into the world. This was written down and recorded by Hashem so that we would always know who we are –because everything we are today stems from that.
But why is it an actual mitzvah merely to remember – like the exodus from Egypt, as well as Amalek…
Judaism believes that unless we are specifically instructed to do something practically, it will get lost. In this case, it is not just a matter of finding our psychological identity. It is about establishing the historical facts that are the basis of the existence of the Jewish people, and providing us with our mission for the future as well. An entire people of about three million men women and children saw the ten plagues, the exodus of Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and heard G-d’s voice on Sinai – all of which establishes the historical fact of who we are as a people today.  Our past contains the mission that G-d gave us, and the value systems that moulds who we are today – so we have to be instructed practically to go through that and to understand that.
What are practical examples of that which come directly from Pesach?
Kindness and compassion. The Torah tells us repeatedly to be kind to the stranger, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Freedom, the main theme of Pesach. That people have to be free, and that this freedom must be used to serve G-d – the same way we went directly from Egypt to Mount Sinai. Our eternal destiny. It says in the Haggadah that in every generation, a people will rise up to destroy us. Yet G-d saves us time and again, because we are part of an eternally indestructible people.
How is that relevant to us today?
As the Jewish people, we have enemies that seek to destroy us. It is unimaginable that there can be a nation that is threatened with a second genocide within one lifetime. And with the massive rise of global anti-Semitism, fronted as anti-Zionism – it is a scary reality to consider. But we sit on the seder night and recall that all of this has happened before, that even though things may get difficult and even though our challenges may mount, we have an eternal covenant with G-d – and ultimately we triumph –because this is part of our G-d given mission in the world.
So it is about reconciling the past with the present and our vision of the future…
Rabbi Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, said that the Torah speaks in the language of tomorrow – which means that it is eternally valid. It is not about old history, it is about the living present. A document given 3321 years ago still speaks to us today! G-d’s vision has a way of bringing past, present and future into a dynamic unity.