Celebrating the Spiritual Levels of Torah
Torah is a teaching that continues to unfold, guiding us to appreciate the text more fully
as our awareness evolves.
Weekly Focus for Passover
The Power of the Story
The long period of enslavement in an ancient Egypt was almost over. The slave masters' demands got harsher, and finally, we awakened to our pain. The Exodus begins when we finally become aware we are enslaved, and allow the pain to pierce the shields of our denial. After 430 years of being slaves, we couldn't even hear the Word that Moses came to share.
But we awakened with the power of the plagues, until the tenth and final one pushed us beyond the barrier of our passivity. The violence done to the firstborn in Egyptian households temporarily cracked the stubbornness of Pharaoh, and got us going.
That story serves as a paradigm of the journey from enslavement to freedom, and has inspired many more such dramas than our own. Whether it occurred exactly as remembered in the biblical text or not, it certainly is one of the world's most powerful stories, and serves us individually as well as collectively. Ideally, it awakens us not only to our own enslavements, but to the suffering of others, as well.
We are what we eat
The very way we eat is designed to help us remember the essential personal, spiritual, and ethical imperatives springing from the Passover drama.
You shall eat no leavened bread with it [the Passover meal]; seven days shall you eat unleavened bread with it, the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste; that you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. (Deuteronomy 16:3)
We repeat this each year during our Passover Seders, but tend to miss the deeper significance of our matzah crackers. Matzah is referred to as the "bread of affliction," reminding us of our suffering in an ancient Egypt. It is also described as the consequence of leaving so hurriedly that our bread had no time to rise. But the Bible itself records that we ate matzah prior to the Exodus.
It is clear, for example, that we ate matzah at the Passover meal prior to our leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:8). In that same chapter of Exodus, we were told to eat matzah to celebrate Passovers yet to come. There was already a Chag Ha-Matzot, a Festival of Matzah, preceding the Exodus.
Opening beyond our own blind spots
In the past, I have pointed to matzah as the simplest of foods -- simply flour and water -- represented in various cultures as pita, pizza, and various flatbreads. This year, an article in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, by Ayalon Eliach, a rabbinical student at Hebrew College, served to open my eyes to the deeper dimensions of this unleavened bread.
He notes not only that matzah was commanded and eaten prior to the Exodus, but that all the Temple sacrifices prohibited leavening. His conclusion was an I-opener for me: "Matzah," he writes, "represents the acceptance of things in their current state." Leavening represents the need to change things to make them more palatable.
It is such a delight for me when things come together like this, awakening me to what I already didn't know that I knew. (I know that's an odd sentence, but that's how it seems to me. When my blind spots are revealed, I realize that I am seeing what I didn't realize I had been seeing all along!)
It is the acceptance of things in their present state -- the acceptance of ourselves in the present moment -- that opens us to our greater freedom. This is the essential paradox: True change comes through unconditional acceptance, through loving ourselves as we are right now, rather than from trying to be what we are not.
Awakening to our essential enslavement
The journey to freedom begins when we awaken to our enslavement.
Traditionally, we separate the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, into two words: mi tzarim, meaning, "from out of the tight places."
We all meet tight places in our lives, and our challenges may well be invitations for our growing. But there is a deeper kind of enslavement, a more pervasive sort of tight place, in which we are enslaved to our personality, and stuck in our ego identity. We think we are acting freely, yet so often we are simply acting from past conditioning. We get stuck in ourselves.
Passover challenges us to "pass over" our identification with that separate self, and remember the vastly more inclusive wisdom, love, and compassion that unfolds behind it.
Remembering always carries an ethical imperative
We are invited to collapse time and space and understand that this ancient story is about us. Somehow, each and every one of us was and is involved in the miracle-filled escape from enslavement. And there is a clear ethical imperative arising from our experience as slaves.
Also you shall not oppress a stranger; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 23:9)
Awakening to the truth of the moment also awakens us to our responsibility for the moment. Spiritual awakening without compassionate and loving action in the world is not spiritual at all.
I accept this moment exactly as it is.
I love myself exactly as I am now.
My acceptance of this moment supports my authentic evolution.
When I think of past enslavements, I remember. . .
If I were truly free, I would. . .
Listening to the voice behind my personality, I hear. . .
Photo: Mark Reden