A Gift For Yom Tov
Provocative and penetrating insights on the Festivals - Pesach, Shavuos, Succos, Purim and Chanukah
By Rabbi Yisroel Miller
Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
Most Jews who have had even minimal Torah education can answer the question, Why do we eat matzah on Pesach? But relatively few know the precise answer that is given in the Torah itself. In Parshas Reeh (Deuteronomy 16:3): Do not eat with it (the Pesach lamb) any chametz. Seven days you will eat matzos, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste; in order that you will remember the day of your leaving the land of Egypt all the days of your life.
Note that matzah does not commemorate only liberation -- liberation is not even mentioned here -- but it is to recall the haste, the rush in which we left.
What was the rush? Rashis commentary explains: The haste was not yours, but Egypts, as it says, And Egypt pressed the people, to hasten to send them out (Exodus 12:33). The Egyptians pressed us to leave before they all died from the plague.
This is something new, or at least something most of us have never thought about, which is the same thing. The Torah is saying that the essential point of matzah, more than freedom, and more than miracles, is that it is to remember Egypts haste. And this is something to remember all the days of your life. Why is this haste the most important thing to remember?
In the Friday night Kiddush, we proclaim that Shabbos is zecher liyetzias Mitzraim, Shabbos is a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt. How is Shabbos connected with the Exodus?
Shabbos is the reminder that the world has a Creator. But it is theoretically possible for someone to believe in a Creator Who made the universe, and then ceased to concern Himself with it. Perhaps the Almighty wound up the cosmic clock and then retired to Florida; just as most people today believe in G-d, but the G-d they believe in this not very much a part of their daily lives. (Authors note to readers under the age of 30: In your grandparents day clocks were wound by hand, hence the expression, wound up the cosmic clock.)
The Exodus teaches us: The Creator of the Universe is also the Controller of the Universe. The Master of all takes an interest in all; and, as the Exodus demonstrates, He even makes miracles, thats how much He cares and guides our lives. Pesach gives life to Shabbos, because the Exodus shows that the Creator is still involved, pulling the strings from above the stage so that His Will be done.
However, the question now becomes: Granted that we need Pesach to testify that the Creator of the Shabbos is still actively involved, but once we have Pesach, why do we need the Shabbos? Once the Exodus from Egypt demonstrates that Hashem is in complete control, why require a weekly reminder that He is also the Creator? The first of the Ten Commandments is I am Hashem your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt. Once we recognize the G-d of the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea, Hashem who controls everything, what is the importance of the Fourth Commandment reminding us that He also made everything?
Every year on Pesach, usually on Shabbos Chol HaMoed, we read Shir HaShirim, the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs, an allegorical poem depicting the love between Hashem and the people of Israel. The plain meaning of the verses, the allegorical plot, tells of a king who fell in love with a shepherd girl. As an absolute monarch, he had the power to make her his bride by force. Even so, he did not have the power to compel her to change her attitude to love him. Some things are beyond the power of even the mightiest kings.
Without going into the deeper meaning of Shir HaShirim, we can come to see that this limit on the kings power is a serious misperception we have in our relationship with the King of Kings. If a loyal Jew with firm emunah (faith) has a serious problem, he is likely to think: Yes, Hashem can help, but he cannot make my wife love me. Or a Jew seeking employment says, Yes, of course Hashem can help me find a job -- but there are no jobs to be found. Or, I do have faith that Hashem could help me meet a marriage partner, if I lived in Jerusalem or Brooklyn. But since I am stuck here in Yehupitzville, even Hashem does not make something out of nothing!
But that attitude is selling Hashem short. Pesach teaches us that Hashem actively controls. Once we know that He controls, then Shabbos tells us: If the necessary raw materials are absent, He creates. Hashem not only directs the flow, but He makes the flow; and if all solutions to your problem are unworkable, He can make a new solution out of nothing.
Perhaps the most open miracle of this generation was the implosion of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and what makes this miracle so open is that absolutely no one dreamed of it. Communism was triumphant, winning one country after another. Freedom in Eastern Europe, emigration for Soviet Jews, or yeshivos in Moscow and Kiev? Laughably impossible. But He Who sits in Heaven laughs (Psalms 2:4) the last laugh, and at a word from Hashem, the world turned upside down.
You may have read about the Jewish young man from New York who went to study in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, surely lost to us forever. But in the monastery, the monk in charge turned out to be another Jewish young man from New York, and he told this young man he should go to learn in a yeshivah, and he did! Hashems reach is infinite. And on Pesach we eat matzah to recall not only that He liberated us, but to recall how the same Pharaoh who had said, Never, Pharaoh who had warned Moshe, Do not come to see me again, it was that same Pharaoh who ended up running through the streets yelling, Where is Moshe? Moshe, Aharon, leave, go, just as you said, and bless be me too.
Matzah symbolizes chipazon, haste, such haste that we had no time to bake a loaf of bread. Chipazon shel mi, Whose haste? Shel Mitzraim, That of the Egyptians, the ones who swore they would not let us go; it was they who hastened to comply with the word of Hashem. Hashem, the Creator and the Controller, not only freed us, but He transformed the Egyptian will.
And the Torah commands us to remember this all the days of our lives; to know that Hashem, Who can create a whole new attitude in Pharaoh to make him ask us for a blessing, He can surely change the attitudes of our employers and neighbors and relatives, and whatever other situation we think is beyond repair.
In Eretz Yisrael, for many years there have been Gedolei Torah, outstanding Torah leaders, who have taken public positions on important religious and political issues of the day. But surprisingly, some of the most outspoken rabbis, who never hesitated to speak their minds, never articulated (at least not publicly) a position on what Israel should do concerning its problems with its Arab neighbors.
I once heard a suggestion that perhaps these Sages themselves do not know what to do, because there is no alternative that makes good sense. Some problems simply have no solutions. But at the same time, the Sages know that where no solution exists, Hashem can always create a new one; and if we seek to do His Will, He will show us that He is not bound by the restrictions of realpolitik.
We must surely do everything we can to deal with problems, as best we know how. But we must always keep in mind that Hashem has His own methods, and He can transform enemies into friends; swords into plowshares; and Jews into holy people, people who live with the memory of the miracles of the liberation from Egypt, kol yemei chayecha, each day, all the days, of your lives.