Recently I was asked, “Why is it that we celebrate Passover and the Seder every year? The monotony and dread of that long, drawn out affair could surely be mitigated if we skipped a couple of years. Why go through the motions year after year?”
The assumption of this question, which I believe is a correct one, is that Judaism is not simply a set of rituals to be mindlessly carried out: there is actually significance to what we do and why we do it. That being said, this is something well worth contemplating. In order to address the issue, we will have to create or define a general framework, and then subsequently within it, we can perhaps explore the nuances of the specific query.
The overarching principle within which I view all of the Jewish holidays and their celebration is based upon a Jewish philosophical principle. Time is not linear, but rather it is cyclical. Within that cycle, there are different openings for the manifestation of spiritual potential. Each part of the holiday cycle represents an opportunity, a specific energy that is there then, and, as that “window in time” opens up, we strive to ride that wave. Based upon this assumption, the question now is more sharply defined. What is the potential of this time, and how do I get to ride that wave?
There is a rabbinic aphorism based upon the main mitzvah (command) relating to Passover, the matzah and hametz (leavened items), that says “Mitzvot (play on the word matzot [plural of matzah]) that come to your hand – do not allow them to become hametz (leavened).” What it means is that when you have the opportunity to do the right thing, do not procrastinate; rather act with alacrity and do it immediately.
A closer analysis shows us that many of the themes of Passover revolve around this principle. Things that are left to sit and ferment are disqualified for use while those that are useful are what are acted upon right away. The process of exiting Egypt, which represents the bottling up of spiritual potential, had to be accomplished at great speed. They did not have time to let the bread rise! Matzah must be baked at great speed in order that it not become leavened. In fact, if one looks at the Hebrew words for matzah and hametz, one finds they differ by only one letter–a heh for matzah or a het for hametz. Those two letters differ by only one spot of ink. The heh has a forward leg that is not connected, thus representing something in motion, while the het is sealed shut, thus representing something that is stalled in time.
This holiday manifests an energy that allows us to move ahead at a speed that is beyond the time dimension. We can break out of our present cycle into a higher one. Break free of the things that shackle and enslave you and hold back your higher potential. In this time, you can be more than what you thought you were. This can only happen if you move forward with alacrity and do not stall in time, puff up and become leavened. The window is open now to ride that wave.
Just as the Jewish people manifested greatness by a family of slaves becoming a nation, each one of us can become something more, something better. Pass over many levels, and enter a new dimension of self because now the window is open. Dare to dream, and this year’s celebration can be both relevant and transformational
Have a meaningful Passover.
Rabbi Raphie Schochet is Director of Providence Kollel: Center for Jewish Studies.