• August 28th, 2022
  • Elul 1st, 5782

Passover

Secrets to Achieving Freedom

Presented By
Torah Contributor

The amazing irony for Pesach this year is that during the period of unprecedented self-quarantine and constriction due to fears of contracting or spreading the Coronavirus, we are each being forced to rethink our business models, employment status, personal relationships and ego-driven ideals.  We are in essence being forced to mentally break free and achieve personal freedom while our physical movement is severely limited and the pandemic unfolds around us.

In addition to the ancient tools available each year during the holiday of Pesach to help us achieve freedom from anything that enslaves us, this year we have an additional boost from the global crisis impacting all of humanity.

What is Passover?

Pesach or Passover is a 3,300 year old tradition to commemorate the Jewish nation's exodus from Egypt at the hand of G-d. The holiday and associated "seder" is one of the most ancient rituals practiced today and spans over 100 generations.  The story recounts how, following the success and integration of Joseph and the Jewish people for many years in Egypt, a "new" Pharaoh came to power and enslaved all of the Jews, forcing them to do hard labor in the desert.  It is the story of Moses, the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, popularized on the big screen with Charlton Heston's 1956 Academy Award-winning Ten Commandments.

At a deeper level however, Pesach is a cosmic window of time during which everyone, whether Jewish or not, can use a set of ancient tools to achieve transcendence from the material world and achieve personal freedom from whatever enslaves us.  The seder and all of the pre-seder activities allow us to re-experience a modern day exodus and rebirth towards spiritual freedom and a meaningful life.  As opposed to an historical remembrance with no practical meaning to our lives today, Pesach is a very real opportunity for us to reveal light in our lives with long-lasting and practical benefits.

How do we celebrate?

Pre-Holiday Opportunities to Prepare Ourselves

Pesach has several pre-holiday aspects to help set the tone for the holiday and get us properly prepared for achieving our personal redemption and freedom:

Taanis Bechorim (Fast of the First Born) - The day before Pesach, the 14th of Nissan, is a fast-day called the Fast of the First Born. The fast commemorates the saving of the Israelite first borns during the plague of the firstborn sons, the 10th plague brought about by G-d against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. G-d told Moses to instruct the Jewish nation to place lamb's blood on the door post and he would "pass over" the homes' of the Jewish boys. The fast is considered a "lenient" fast and is often broken in the morning during a "siyum", the celebration of Talmud study.

Removal of Chametz - Chametz, or leavened bread, is one of the main aspects of Pesach. The prohibition of chametz is found in the Torah in Parsha Shemot where it says "[e]at matzah for seven days. By the first day you must have your home cleared of all leaven. Whoever eats chametz from the first day till the seventh day will have his soul cut off from Israel."  The Passover story tells of the Jews rushing to leave Egypt and not having time for the bread to rise, but there is a deeper meaning behind the elimination of chametz and the use of Matzah during the holiday. Chametz is any grain - wheat, spelt, barley, oats or rye that is exposed to water for 18 minutes or more.  The grain has the potential to rise and inflate, becoming chametz. This corresponds to our egos. Our egos are filled with the "desire to receive", hubris and self-centeredness while the key to achieving freedom during Peasch is to be humble and flat like Matzoh. It is only through the suppression of our ego and removal of chametz with proper intention that we can convert our desire to receive for the self alone, into the desire to share and achieve personal freedom.

How about rice, corn, lentils and beans? Even though these items cannot become chametz, Ashkenazi Jews do not eat these grain-like products, referred to as "kitniyos" since they could be confused with or mixed with chametz.  However, Sefardic Jews typically eat kitniyos and possession of kitniyos is permitted throughout the holdiay.

Burning and Selling Chametz - The commandment and prohibition against chametz is so important that Jews around the world remove all chametz from their homes prior to the holiday.  On the eve prior to Pesach, after the house has been cleaned, a final search is conducted by candlelight (or flashlight) and a blessing is said confirming the removal and nullification of all chametz in our homes. This search is called Bedikas Chametz. The next morning we burn the chametz found during the search.  Because the destruction of all chametz in our possession is either impossible or may cause financial hardship, a process has been established whereby a Jew can transfer ownership of his chametz to a non-Jew for the holiday period. It is a legally binding and legitimate transfer handled by a Rabbi, where the property being sold reverts to the owner after the holiday. Here is a link to sell your chametz: https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/sell_chometz.htm?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIqJrk38rC6AIVvoVaBR3lFwsmEAAYAiAAEgJcuvD_BwE

Passover Seder & Escape from Egypt

The main ritual of the Pesach holiday is the family Seder and the recounting of the story of the Exodus.  The Hebrew word for Egypt is "mitzrayim" from the root "meitzar" which means boundaries, limits, narrow place or restriction.  The objective of Pesach is to achieve transcendence and connect to the energy of freedom and redemption. This energy is available every year at this time and empowers us with a variety of tools to break free from our own personal Egypt, or any restrictions in life which keep us in slavery. Slavery today does not necessarily mean hard labor, but rather slavery to materiality, reactivity, dead-end jobs, unhealthy relationships, habits, addictions, fears and our desires to be accepted by or to out-do others.

Exodus is the most important aspect of our lives - being able to free ourselves of the confines and traps that enslave us.

Seder - On the first two nights of Pesach (only the first night in Israel), we are required to perform the seder. The word seder means "order" and is comprised of a 15-step process that is written down in the Haggadah. The order of the seder is a detailed and finite process. It is through connecting to the steps and tools of the seder plate that we can transcend beyond the natural "order".

Haggadah - There is a biblical commandment to tell the story of the Exodus as set forth in Parsha Shemot where it says "And you shall tell your son on that day, saying "It is because of this that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt".  The book that is used to tell the story and provide the framework for the seder is the Haggadah, which literally means "telling". The Haggadah recounts the story of the Jewish nation's experience from slavery to the miracle of redemption and freedom. The first recorded version and complete order of the Haggadah is from a 9th century scholar and there are now over 7,000 editions of the Passover Haggadah, each with differing levels of design and functionality.

Seder Plate - The seder really begins with the preparation of the Seder plate. The plate is comprised of 6 items, which when taken together with 3 pieces of matzoh and the plate itself, has 10-parts, connecting us to the 10 sephirot or 10 levels of consciousness as revealed by the 16th Century Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Ari.

Each item on the plate represents a distinct human emotion, each with a different physical and spiritual connection:

Shank Bone (Zero'a) - Connects us to the Pascal lamb offering made in the time of the Temple and eaten as part of the festival meal.  Spiritually, the shank bone connects us to mercy or Chesed. The bone is like an outstretched arm, reflecting the nature of giving and loving others and represents the outstretched arm of  G-d.

Egg (Beitzah) - The hardboiled egg is another festival offering. Spiritually it represents judgment or Gevurah. An egg is the only food that expands and hardens when you cook it - the more you restrict, the more you get.

Bitter Herb (Maror) - Ground horseradish is typically used for the bitter herb to represent the bitter and harsh times endured while in slavery. Spiritually however, Maror connects us to empathy towards others that we must always strive to maintain. By seeing and feeling the pain of others, we hope to develop our empathy.  The numerical value of maror is 446, the same as the word for death. When we chew the maror, it eventually becomes sweet and we can swallow it, showing us the ability to convert the energy of death into sweetness and overcome any bitterness we experience in life.

Fruit, nut, wine mix (Charoset) - Charoset is typically associated with the bricks and mortar used by the Israelites while building cities in Egypt. Spiritually we connect to strength and endurance - allowing us to grow stronger and endure all the challenges we face. We connect to the sephirot of Netzach.

Vegetable (Karpas) - The vegetable, usually parsley, represents humility as it is a plant that grows low to the ground. When we dip the karpas into salt water during the Seder, it is as if we are having a spiritual cleansing or mikveh. Karpas connects us to humility and the sephirot of Hod.

Romaine lettuce (Chazeret) - This item on the Seder plate is another bitter herb, distinct from the Maror, and also represents the bitterness from years of slavery. It is eaten during the Seder with Matzah called the Korech sandwich. The humility of the matzoh serves to balance the bitterness of the Charezet. The Chazeret is eaten together with the matzah and connects us to the sephirot of Yesod and the energy of bonding as we see the bonding between the bitter herb and the matzoh.

Matzah - We use three pieces of Matzah with the Seder plate that represent the three types of Jews - the Kohen, the Levi and the Israelite. This combination of names creates the acronym, "kli" which means vessel.  The process of achieving freedom is to go back to an un-adulterated state and to remove our ego and desire to receive for the self alone. By creating a new vessel, we are in a position to receive the light we reveal throughout the year.

Mystical Insights to Achieve Freedom

Pesach is a period of time when the cosmic window is open for us to use a variety of tools to achieve lasting freedom in our lives. Kabbalists say that the final redemption for personal and global freedom will be achieved when there is complete unity.  Despite the physical distancing we are experiencing now, we can see how the global Coronavirus pandemic is creating unity amongst all of humanity, ushering in a period of freedom and light not previously available to us.

By becoming aware of and connecting to the inner or hidden meaning behind various Pesach rituals, you will elevate your consciousness and achieve the long lasting freedom each of us desires and deserves.

Seder - The Seder, which means order, is a 15-step process that follows a very specific sequence of events. It is by conducting each step in proper order and with proper consciousness that we are able to manifest the redemption of freedom. By performing each action, we express in our consciousness our certainty that redemption is coming.

Seder Plate - The plate is a 10-part spiritual tool comprised of the 6 items on the plate, 3 pieces of matzah and the plate itself. This 10-part tool connects us to the 10 sephirot or 10 levels of human consciousness.

Matzah - Matzah, referred to as the bread of affliction, is the only type of bread permitted on Pesach. It is baked under rigorous conditions to ensure that it does not "rise" in the preparation and become chametz. It consists of only flour and water, where flour represents the body and water represents the soul and the Torah. Unlike leavened bread which rises and is "puffed up", reflecting ego, self-interest and hubris, Matzah is just the bare minimum of water and flour, representing humility without any inflated air. By refraining from any type of chametz during Pesach, we connect to the energy of humility and unity, allowing us to achieve freedom.

Plagues - The 10 plagues (blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and death of the first born) are each connected, in ascending order from Malchut (kingdom) to Keter (crown), to the 10 sephirot or 10 levels of consciousness revealed by 16th Century Kabbalist Rabbi Issac Luria, the Ari. The sephirot represent different aspects of human nature (ie. mercy, judgement, endurance, etc.) and are the emanations of G-d's presence in the world. While the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, they began to worship idols and fell into a state in imbalance.  By connecting each plague mentioned during the seder, we create an energy blast that eliminates the 10 levels of negativity developed in our human nature as reflected by the sephirot.  When we remove the plagues from our lives and separate from the ego, we reconnect to the un-adulterated tree of life consciousness.

Connecting to the Number 15 - The number 15 has a mystical role in Pesach and represents going from physical to spiritual and slavery to freedom. Pesach is on the 15th of Nissan every year and the Seder has 15 specific steps.  There are also 15 stanzas in the Pesach song Dayanu, which recounts the transition from abject slavery to the throne of G-d, and 15 steps in entryway of the Holy Temple. The number 15 in Hebrew is represented by a Yud and a Hei - the yud presents G-d's name in the spiritual plane, whereas the Hei represents G-d in the physical realm.

Connecting to Number 4 - The number 4 has a variety of mystical connections too. It is primarily connected to G-d's 4-letter holy name the Yud, Kei, Vav, Kei (we substitute the letter Kei for Hei since the name is too holy to even spell!).  We connect to the number 4 during the seder through the four expressions of deliverance G-d promised Moses. In Exodus, G-d says, " I will bring you out from the suffering of Egypt; I will save you from enslavement; I will deliver you…and I will take you for me as a Nation...". The seder also includes 4 questions asked in the reading of the Haggadah, the 4 cups of wine we drink during the seder and the 4 sons discussed in the Haggadah. We connect each use of the number four externally to the 4-letter name of G-d and internally to the 4-levels of our soul - Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama and Chaya. The 5th cup of wine poured during the Seder for Elija the prophet connects us to the highest and 5th level of the soul, Yechida.

Freedom through Children - The Haggadah and Seder service have several connections to children. The first is the 4 questions asked by the youngest child and the second is the reference to the 4 sons.   The importance of children in the Pesach experience allows us to connect to our essence, the un-adulterated lives we all experienced as kids. When we were kids, we freely asked questions and had a sense of spiritual freedom without the role-playing and ego which develops over our lifetime.

What’s next on the road to freedom?

Passover is an empowering holiday with direct connection to the broader Jewish calendar. Here is a quick preview of whats to come...

Omer - commencing on the Second night of Pesach, we count the Omer, a 49-day period of semi-mourning. The period of counting is a biblical commandment where it says in Leviticus - "You shall count...from the day you brought the omer as a wave offering". An omer is a measure of barley (approximately two quarts) and the Jews at the time would count from the 2nd night of Passover for 49 days until the holiday of Shavuot on the 50th day. Spiritually, this is a beautiful period of growth,  self-reflection and refinement where we count each of the 7 sephirot within the 7 sephirot (ie. Chesed of Chesed, Gevurah of Chesed, etc.) and reflect on how we can purify and improve ourselves within the context of the attribute of the sephirot on the day of counting. On the 50th day we receive the Torah on Mount Sinai commemorating the holiday of Shavuot and connect to the full energy, light and wisdom of the Torah.

L'ag B'Omer - L'ag B'Omer is a holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, the 49-day period of semi-mourning which spans from the 2nd night of Passover to Shavuot. L'ag is an acronym for Lamed Gimmel, which has the numerical value of 33 based on the gematria of the Hebrew alphabet (Lamed = 30, Gimmel = 3). The day is festive and marks the "hilula" or death anniversary of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), one of the greatest sages who revealed the secrets of Kabbalah in the Zohar - the primary text of Jewish mysticism. This has led to the annual custom of celebrating at the Rashbi's tomb on Mount Meron in northern Israel where visitors can connect to the spiritual light he revealed and left behind in the world. To represent this spiritual light, and as per his request to his students at the time, Jews in Israel and around the world light bonfires on the holiday. The annual event now draws over 500,000 visitors from around the world. Outside of Israel, many people make the connection through the study of the Zohar and other Kabbalistic works.

Shavuot - Shavuot, one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals, is always on the 50th day following Pesach when we receive the full Light and blessing of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  On Shavuot we complete the work we commenced on Pesach and receive the Torah as a nation committed to serving G-d.  The holiday is rich in tradition and mysticism.  More details to come...

Have a great week and powerful Pesach connection!