11 Nissan 5775
During the slavery experience in Mitzrayim/the Narrow Place (conventionally called Egypt), our tradition tells us that our ancestors’ very voice, their ability to speak, was taken away. In the words of the Zohar, the greatest work of medieval Kabbalah, “speech itself was in exile” (2:25b). Further, the Torah tells us that our ancestors’ liberation began when they started to cry out, to put words into full speech. (Exodus 2:23) That is why the central act of Pesach (Passover), besides eating matzah, is an act of speech—the telling of our story, the haggadah (literally, “the telling”). The great kabbalist Yitzhak Luria, the Ari z’l, offered a pith teaching on the essence of Pesach by breaking down the word into two parts: peh (mouth) sach (speaks)—the mouth speaks. Our mouths must speak and we have to tell our story.
Now, we all have varying relationships to the traditional Pesach Haggadah text. But a fixed text can only take us so far. It’s not just about using or replacing the traditional text with one of the many wonderful, creative haggadot that fortunately exist. We need to get to the place of being able to tell our own stories of leaving the “narrow places,” the places of constriction. We need to be able to tell our own stories of how we did that, of our journey, and of how something that we cannot rationally grasp reached into our own lives and guided us. We need to tell our own stories of trust and faith.
Wait a minute, “faith” did you say? Are you talking about “God”? Or are you saying to somehow “believe” that the fantastic, ultra-supernatural Pesach story of the Moses-Pharaoh showdown is literally true?
No. I am not talking about faith in the sense that it is conventionally used in our culture. Our rabbis called Pesach “the holiday of faith/chag ha’emunah” and the Zohar refers to matzah as “the bread of faith” (2:183b). But faith, (emunah in Hebrew), at least as our tradition’s deeper teachings hold, is not about holding to a dogmatic set of beliefs.
The deeper sense of emunah that we are called to reflect upon is perhaps best expressed by that great modern sage, Bob Dylan, in his song Ballad of a Thin Man: “…something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is …” Something deeper is working itself out in our lives, but we just don’t quite understand it.
Pesach is about connecting with a sense of trust beyond the rational—what is called in the Jewish mystical tradition “dilug” or “leaping” beyond the rational. When one really thinks about causality, especially in the context of the big picture flow of our lives, it’s crazy. At least it is in my life. Was that confluence of events coincidence? Maybe. Who knows? Still, I offer thanks for it. Connecting with this sense of trust beyond the rational is the basis for emunah.
Pesach has an emphasis on our past (as we recall our ancient story), but it’s a past that I’m saying we also have to take personally, as we look into our own life stories and speak from our hearts of the guidance we have received. After all, one of the central lines in the haggadah reminds us, “In every generation, each person must see themselves as having left Mitzrayim/the Narrow Place (conventionally called Egypt).”
But we are also called to take with us that sense of trust and emunah that we are cultivating at this season, and to bring it into the future. And Pesach is also the time to head out into the wilderness. In the Torah story we head into the unknown wilderness to follow this rather inscrutable Divinity that is demanding we leave the familiar and the comfortable. We are to journey in a place of openness and trust, following something that we don’t fully understand. And because we have retold that story of guidance and liberation, we are strengthened and encouraged to make a new journey of trust and emunah, and to start that journey today, in the lives we are living right now. Our powerful aid on this path is the counting of the omer, a process of remaking ourselves anew, small tikkun/repair by small tikkun. (For more on counting the omer, see www.omerharvest.com, created by ZMANIM’s Yael Raff Peskin.)
As Pesach arrives, may each of us—in the midst of the busyness of our lives and our holiday preparations—be blessed to find those trusted friends and family with whom we can speak in a heartfelt way of our own stories of guidance and liberation. And may we all grow in our awareness of that Ultimate Guiding Process who leads us to leap beyond the rational. Blessings for a joyous Pesach!
Many of the ideas of this teaching come from my (Rabbi Josh's) long-time teacher, Rabbi Miles Krassen, refined through my own understanding. For more of Reb Miles’ unique and extraordinary torah, see www.planetaryjudaism.org