PESACH – PASSOVER
By Morty Breier
Shabbat Hagadol, March 27, 1999 – 10 Nisan 5759
Pesach or Passover is the quintessential holiday, celebrating as it does our release from slavery, an event that happened some 4 thousand years ago. In addition, we honor 3 subsequent events: Our crossing of the Red Sea; our being given the Law; and our 40 years of wandering before entering the promised land. Let us look at this series of events as though they represent meaningful processes for our lives here and now, for that is what our sages tell us to do. For this exercise, I’ll use myself as the example.
Let me first transpose these series of historical events into their paradigmatic processes:
1) RELEASE; Pharaoh is forced to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.
2) TRANSCEND; The Israelites cross the Red Sea
3) REALIZE; The Israelites are given the Law
4) INTEGRATE; 40 years to get ready to enter the promised land.
These sequential processes manifest themselves simultaneously in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms. These are the working of the four realms indicated by “yud-heh-vav-heh” from the end heh, the material world, represented by “It is perfect”, to the vav or emotional world represented by “You are loved”, to the mental world of the second “heh” represented by “All is clear”, to the “yud” of the spiritual world, represented by “I am holy”. These stages of transformation, Release, Transcend, Realize and Integrate, themselves reflect the four “yud-heh-vav-heh” realms since the first is usually brought about by a physical event, the second by emotional effort, the third by mental insight and the fourth by the spirit of being. The four stages, Release, Transcend, Realize and Integrate comprise, as I’ll show, the major milestones in each of our lives.
1. RELEASE. It is not easy to overcome physical restraint. Violence and pain are often required. Examples abound in all of Human history. The power that restrains me, often my own feelings and beliefs, is loath to give up its hold. My own journey through time contains several dramatic changes in my circumstance, each one of which produced a wrenching dislocation. Each time outside physical events forced me to change. In spite of my reluctance, I was made to give up a position I cherished. I have grown to see these events as seminal to my growth. In each case I realized later that my former position was limited, blind in key respects, restrained by a false outlook. Hashem, Reality, was there to show me just how narrow, limited and constrained my outlook actually was. I didn’t learn easily. I fought against changing. It seamed as though giving up my position would leave me powerless. I wanted to hold on to my power. My power, I believed, resided in my understanding of things. Hashem insisted otherwise. We fought, but as Kafka once said, in your battle with the world, bet on the world. The world, Reality, Hashem’s perfect presence informed me otherwise. First by the fact that the physical world was not conforming to my expectations, leading to a feeling of helplessness, which in turn undermined my conceptual constructs, finally leading to my letting go… physical to emotional to mental to spiritual release. The plagues and Pharaoh’s intransigence are precisely the correlates to this battle between entrenched interests and forward movement.
2. TRANSCEND. That final letting go has always signaled the ending of the last and the beginning of the new chapter in my life’s journey. Again with much difficulty. What was I to do? Where to go? With whom? Who were my friends? Where to seek solace? Fragments of the last chapter still beckoned. Was I lost? Had I done the right thing? What is left of me? Am I on a downhill slide? These questions haunted me. The physical world no longer looked familiar, comforting and supportive. My heart had a great emptiness at its center. My thinking was fragmented, uncertain, tentative. My soul, I feared, was doomed to darkness and failure. But somehow, with a strength that seemed beyond me, with Hashem’s help, I persevered. I went on, sloughing through the swamp of my desperation, until gradually the ground under my feet became firmer, the questions no longer tormented, the landscape clearing, my spirit brightening. I began to look up, to again be interested in the world around me. I began to feel the possibility of new adventures. I start to reorganize my new found reality. A new day is dawning for my spirit. I had, with Hashem’s help, transcended this desolate landscape, crossed over the Sea of Reeds.
3. REALIZE. Then, with time, perspective is gained. The real meaning of this disconcerting drama, this un-asked for shift in fortune, with Hashem’s help and a new willingness to listen and learn, starts to assemble itself. My letting go is a key ingredient, I realize, because by quieting the angry or hurt voice in me, I can start to pay attention to the lesson offered. Over time I begin to see that every difficulty is a lesson offered, an opportunity to let go, to let go of a broken world, a wounded heart, a faulty mindscape, a sickly spirit. By emptying myself I allow the world to fill me with rejuvenating energy. Hashem’s living world, His compassionate heart, His crystal clear consciousness and His Holy spirit have room to work. This unfamiliar territory brings a freshness to my observations, a tenderness to my feelings, a humbleness to my thinking and a hopefulness to my spirit. I begin to see what a fool I’ve been and begin to see the possibility of my becoming wiser. I begin to understand that there is a lawfulness to these things, an economy of the soul, a just and balanced appropriateness. This lawfulness, Hashem’s cosmic construct, makes itself known precisely because, being humbled by events, I pay more attention to their properties, to Hashem’s voice. I recognize a little more strongly His power and His justice and start the process of better aligning myself with these forces, both within and without. I’ve been given, and begin to receive, Hashem’s Law.
4. INTEGRATE. Now comes the long and constant work of integrating this new realization into the fabric of my life. I am, after all, a creature of habit. I fall back on what I’m familiar with. There are many deep grooves in my operative tracks. I must remind myself that I understand the world a little better, there is a little more love in my heart, a little more that my vision now includes, a little wiser my spirit. I must remind myself because I keep slipping into old ways, old reactions, old mind games. There’s a certain inertial mass to my being. I’m still living in the old reality even though I recognize a new, more useful one. I need to exercise my will to change. I need to persevere, to work on it, to keep working on it. I need to move to new rhythms, to smile with new heart, to see with new consciousness, to glow with new spirit, in each moment of my daily life. I need to will it until I begin to be it. Hashem made the Israelites wander 40 years in the desert, wander until the generation of slave consciousness died off. It was only then, when they were a generation of free consciousness, that he allowed them into the promised land. Israel required a generation change. I require a letting go of the old me, a change of action, an opening of heart, an expanded mind, a more joyful soul, to move into my promised land.
So that’s what we celebrate, Israel’s journey from slavery to the promised land, to remind us of the steps we each must take from lower to higher ground. It doesn’t come easy. There is terror and stubbornness, fear and violence, plagues and refusals, doubts and retreats. But with each difficulty comes a stronger resolve, a reviving hope, a renewed desire to change, and a willingness to work for it. There is also, of course, Hashem’s guidance and helping hand, especially as we are humbled by the difficulties, emptied by the course of events, bled by the wounds incurred. All the aspects of our Passover Seder Meal are there to remind us of these elements of transformation so that we might apply the lessons to our lives. But, as you know, we are a stiff necked people. We need the lesson repeated every year, maybe even every day. Thanks and see you at the KBS Seder.