The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches, “in every generation, and every day, a Jew must see himself as if he had that day been liberated from Egypt.” This is a tall order. How can we feel as if we ourselves have been liberated from Egypt in today’s world? Exploring one answer can, hopefully, help us to connect to Pesach (Passover) in a more personal way this year.
The Energy of Pesach
The Jewish calendar is not cyclical. Rather, as Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains, it is a spiral because even though we celebrate the same holidays each year, we are different people. Every year, we endure new challenges, we achieve new accomplishments, we learn more about ourselves, and as a result, we should relate to the world- and the holidays- from a higher perspective.
On a deeper level, Rabbi Tatz explains that the Jewish calendar is “charged with the energy to help us achieve what we need to achieve at that moment.” Using Pesach as an example, Rabbi Tatz explains that contrary to popular belief, we do not celebrate Pesach in the springtime because that is when the Exodus occurred. Rather, the energies of this time of year were, and still are, conducive to the experience of the Exodus and that is why it occurred at the time. In other words, the energy of freedom was embedded in this time of year, enabling the Exodus to occur. And since the Jewish calendar is a spiral, we can access this same energy of freedom during Pesach.
In his famous book Strive For Truth, Rav Dessler explains that “Each year on ‘Pesah, one returns to the ‘station’ of the redemption from Egypt. At this season it becomes possible to re-live in a spiritual sense the experience of ‘freedom granted by G-d.’ It is in reality ‘the time of our freedom.’”
Freedom: A Jewish Perspective
What kind of freedom are we talking about and how does it apply to us?
The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim,” comes from the root “metzar” which means “constriction” and “distress,” and also signifies “boundary.” When the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, they were in a place of constriction. They were enslaved and did not have the mental or physical space to express their free will in the world. But it was not just the Jews who were constricted in Egypt. The Sages say that ironically, even though Egypt was a land blessed with physical bounty, the Egyptians were narrow-minded in their exclusive focus on materialism, physicality, and power. Sound familiar?
In twenty-first century America, our society is also blessed with physical bounty. Thank G-d, most people have their basic physical necessities taken care of. Yet the primary cultural value is career ambition and material achievement at the expense of all else.
Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, is ironically a narrow land, yet referred to as a place of expansion by our Sages. Why? Because in Israel, a land that is not as fertile as Egypt, the people are forced to look up to G-d and pray for their needs. Their reality expands into the spiritual realm.
The freedom we are talking about is moving from constriction to expansion.
I once heard Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller say that everyone has his or her own personal “leaving Mitzrayim (Egypt)” story. We all have limitations holding us back. Whether they are physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual, we are all constricting ourselves in some way and holding ourselves back from achieving our true potential. Hopefully, we also all have stories of how we overcame a certain limitation in our lives and moved to a place of expansion and greater achievement.
This year, as we sit around our Seder tables, we can recount our personal “leaving Mitzrayim” stories. We can talk or think about a limitation we hope to move past this year. We can create a realistic plan to work toward our goal. The energy of Passover is conducive to accelerated growth in this area. Rabbi Tatz explains, “[a]n attempt to leap up, to reach a whole new level of sensitivity, of personality development, can have a degree of success if undertaken on Pesach which may be far more difficult at any other time.”
However, we must remember that true freedom takes place within a context of constriction. G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt so that they could serve Him with Torah and mitzvot. So too, the purpose of our own personal freedom is so that we can enhance our relationship with ourselves, others, and G-d.
Just like the Jews crossing the Red Sea had emuna, faith, that G-d would help them get out of Egypt, so too must we remember that it is only with G-d’s help that we will achieve our own personal exodus this Pesach.
May we all merit to experience real freedom this Pesach.
Haggadah Recommendation: From Bondage to Freedom by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. (Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski is an American Chassidic Rabbi and a psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse. His commentary on the Pesach Haggadah, which is filled with psychological and spiritual insights and Chassidic stories, is relevant and enlightening. I highly recommend it for your seder!)
 Torah Studies: A Parsha Anthology, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings adapted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, p. 165
 Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Living Inspired, p. 130
 Rabbi Eliyahu E. Dessler, Strive for Truth, Part Four, p. 21
 Id. at p. 11
 Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Living Inspired, p. 145
Originally published in The Skribe.