Friday, March 23, 2007
Pesach: Festival of Freedom
Pesach is a time of freedom. What does freedom mean? The Mishnah in Avos teaches us that the true free person is one who toils in Torah study. If this is the case, why do we celebrate Pesach as a festival of freedom? The festival of freedom should be commemorated on Shavuos, when the Jewish People received the Torah. Let us examine the meaning of Pesach that we celebrate every year and then we can gain a better understanding of why Pesach is specifically the festival of freedom. HaShem informed Avrohom Avinu by the Bris Bein HaBesarim, The Pact of the Parts, that his descendants would be enslaved for a four-hundred year period. They would be persecuted and then HaShem would mete out retribution to the nation that had enslaved the Jewish People. Subsequently, the Jewish People would be redeemed and they would be liberated with great wealth. Why was it necessary for HaShem to inform Avrohom of what would transpire? We do not find that Avrohom prayed that this should not occur. The Gemara in Nedarim states that this revelation to Avrohom was actually a punishment for Avrohom having questioned HaShem regarding the likelihood of the Jewish People inheriting the Land of Israel. How can it be that Avrohom was punished and the Jewish People were eternally rewarded with the festival of Pesach? In order to understand this enigma, we must focus on the meaning of a festival. It is well known that the light that existed at the time that a miracle occurred returns every year on the festival. Thus, when the Jewish People were redeemed on the first Pesach of history, a light was created that is perpetuated every year on the festival of Pesach. When we celebrate Pesach, we obviously have to perform the mitzvos that are associated with the festival. The performance of these mitzvos allows us to benefit from the great light that returns on the festival. This is the meaning of the verse in Mishlei (6:23) that states ki ner mitzvah veTorah ohr, for a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light. A commandment is a lamp for one to benefit from its light. The Exodus from Egypt was performed for the Jewish People so that they could perform mitzvos and thus benefit from the great light. Reb Yeruchem Levovitz writes that we do not don Tefillin and wear tzitzis because HaShem liberated us from Egypt. Rather, HaShem liberated us so that we could don Tefillin, wear tzitzis and perform other mitzvos. Now we can understand whey it is specifically Pesach that is the festival of freedom. HaShem was looking for a means that would allow the Jewish People to perform His cherished mitzvos. While enslaved in Egypt, the Jewish People were naked and devoid of mitzvos, as is reflected in the Hagadah Shel Pesach. Rashi writes that HaShem saw that the Jewish People were not worthy of being redeemed from slavery, so HaShem instructed Moshe that the Jewish People should circumcise themselves and offer the Korban Pesach. One must wonder why the Jewish People were not instructed to circumcise themselves many years earlier. The answer is that although they were required to perform this mitzvah from the time that Avrohom was instructed by HaShem, they were not cognizant of the light contained within the mitzvah. It is noteworthy that the Greeks, who sought to darken the light of Israel, prohibited the performance of circumcision. The Greeks understood that the only way to conquer the Jewish People was by removing the light of mitzvah performance from them. Prior to circumcising themselves and the liberation from Egypt, it is said ulechol Bnei Yisroel hayah ohr bimoshvosom, but for all the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings. Once the Jewish People received the light, they were able to properly perform the mitzvah of circumcising themselves and offering the Korban Pesach. With this premise we can understand why Avrohom questioned HaShem regarding the Jewish People’s right to inherit Eretz Yisroel. Despite the fact that HaShem promised Avrohom that the Jewish People would inherit the land, Avrohom could not fathom how they would be worthy of inheriting the land when residing in the land is predicated on mitzvah performance. HaShem responded that the Jewish People would be enslaved in Egypt, but the bondage would be a forging of their souls so that they would be capable of performing mitzvos. Even before receiving the Torah, the Jewish People had to be liberated from a spiritual darkness, and subsequently they were worthy of receiving the Torah. Pesach is the time of freedom, as the light that the Jewish People merited upon liberation from Egypt returns to us every year on Pesach, the festival of freedom. Hashem should bless us all with the light of freedom, and that light should enhance our mitzvah performance and Torah study. May we merit the light of Moshiach, speedily in our days.