I am the Lord your Gd who brought you out of Egypt, from the house of bondage, to be your Gd. This is the first commandment. Israel as a nation is born on Pesach. All births whether literal or figurative involve three phases: self negation, self assertion and self transcendence. This includes the birth of a new idea. "Has Gd ever endeavored to come and take Himself a nation from the womb of a nation...?" The purpose of the new idea is ultimately to create a new mind, a new identity. Self negation is the first step towards this new identity. Self assertion is required to actualize it. And self transcendence, the ability to unite with the Creator and Source of all being, is the reward and the purpose.(1)
"At the Seder the afikomen is the symbol of birth, brought forth from where it has been hidden".(2) The afikomen is symbolic too of the Pesach offering. When sacrifices were brought to the Temple they were offered with the intention of opening up the conduits of Gd's blessing. This required an attitude of complete submission. Ramban and the Sefer Hachinuch both explain that one must identify with the animal being slaughtered, as an act of self negation. All avodah, service, requires this.(3) Today our prayers are our offerings.
Revelation is redemption, concealment is exile, galut. Exile is the state of being out of one's 'place', a sense of not belonging. Distant from our goals and nature we are unable to use our true gifts and realize our potential. "Buddhism teaches that attachments are the cause of suffering. Attachments in Judaism are synonymous to being enslaved in the House of Bondage" To be truely free is to let go of being a slave to Pharoh and to choose to become a servant of Gd.(4) To be servants of Gd we must be free of all traces of ego. We seek out every bit of chametz, leaven, in our physical environment, during our spring cleaning for Pesach. We must also search our inner world. It too needs scouring. Our egos are the source of our internal chametz.
In order to assert ourselves in this world we must first examine what qualities, fears, attitudes and anxieties are constraining us? Where aren't we humble enough? Where have we overstepped? Where has our pride gotten the better of us? In short, what are we slave to? From the beginning of Nissan start making a list of where you are stuck on the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual planes of your life? Be honest. The act of writing them down already begins to free us from the narrow straits, which are Mitzrayim, Egypt. When you do your search for chametz, shred the list and scatter the pieces on the floor. We search under the scrutinizing light of a single candle but clean with a feather, be gentle. It is so easy to hurt ourselves, to be our own worst taskmasters. Gather the torn pieces with the bread crumbs. In the morning, burn all the chametz with the intention, kavanah, that you are burning what prevents you from being free.(4)
The Haftorah for Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat right before Pesach, is from the last chapter of Malachi, the last of the Prophets, it says, "I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord and he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers". Partly a ransom against child sacrifice and partly a psycholgical substitute, the Pesach offering served to discharge age old tensions between fathers and sons, parents and children. In the period preceding the coming of the Moshiach, as described in the last Mishnna in the Talmudic Tractate Sotah (49b), an arrogant spirit will prevail. There will be a total breakdown of familial and societal relationships, children will no longer show their parents and elders kavod, respect.(5) So too it must be noted, "each child comes through the narrow space to bring broad new possibilities of freedom to the world. Perhaps the oldest 'Pharaoh' there is, is the impulse many parents feel, at one or another moment, to strangle that unpredictability in the cradle".(6)
The Seder itself offers us a forum for dealing with this most intimate of struggles for life and freedom within the family, the nation and the World. The 5th cup of wine at the Seder is for Elijah. He visits every Seder. His presence is the revelation that redemption is a complete transcendence of self, a state of absolute connection. Martin Buber puts it this way, "the closer (one is) to living one's destiny the freer one is".
Seder Plate, Vienna ca. 1900 from "The Precious Legacy" edited by David Altshuler
"The Week in Review" Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace, Vol VIII No32, Nissan 2000 (1)
"Tear of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope" Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin (2)
"Outlooks and Insights" Rabbi Zev Leff (3)
"A Holistic Commentary to Pesach and the Haggadah" Michael Kagan (4)
"Miriam's Well" Penina v Adelman
"Elijah makes his appearance" Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's 'Shabbat Shalom', The Jerusalm Post, April 1997 (5)
"Seasons of Our Joy" Arthur I Waskow (6)
"Soul Cleansing" Haviva Ner-David, The Jerusalem Report, April 12, 1999