What you need to know about Pesach - Passover
There are five mitzvot (commandments) for the Passover Seder, two from the Torah and three from our Sages. The two mitzvot from the Torah are
to eat matza ("In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread" -- Exodus 12:18) and to
tell the story of our exodus from Egypt ("And you shall relate to your child [the story of the Exodus] on this day" -- Exodus 13:9).
The rabbis added the mitzvot
of drinking the four cups of wine,
eating marror (bitter herbs) and
reciting Hallel (Psalms of praise for the Almighty).
During the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, there were 16 additional mitzvot associated with the Pesach offering.
All of these commandments are to help us re-experience the Exodus and to feel and strengthen our sense of freedom. The mitzvot are to experience either the affliction or the redemption.
The matza is called "lechem ani" -- the bread of the poor man ... and "lechem oni" -- the bread of affliction. It has the dual symbolism of representing our affliction (we ate it while slaves) and our redemption (we hastily made matza to eat when we left Egypt).
The four cups of wine represent the four different terms for our redemption in the Torah (Exodus 6:6-7). Wine is the drink of free men! Bitter herbs is affliction (just look at the faces of those eating horseradish!) And Hallel is our thanks to the Almighty for our redemption and freedom.
Passover is the "Holiday of Freedom" – Z’man Chayruteinu – our spiritual freedom. The Almighty brought us out of Egypt to serve Him and to be free. Isn't this a contradiction? What is the essence of freedom?
Is freedom the ability to do what one desires unhampered and without consequence? That is license, not freedom. James Bond had a "license to kill," not the freedom to kill.
Freedom means having the ability to use your free will to grow and to develop as a person. Our leaving Egypt led us to Mt. Sinai and the acceptance upon ourselves the yoke of Torah. This is the centrepiece of our freedom. It sets the boundaries of right and wrong; it sets forth the means to perfect ourselves and the world we live in. It defines ultimate meaning and satisfaction in life. Only with boundaries does one have the ability to grow and develop. Otherwise, with unlimited license, life is out of control.
People think they are free when they throw off the yoke of the Torah. However, unless one has the revealed wisdom of the Torah, he is at risk at becoming a "slave" to the fads and fashion of his society. Or, a slave to sin! Slavery is non-thinking action, rote behaviour, following the impulse desires of the body.
Our job on Pesach is to come out of slavery into true freedom and to develop a closer relationship with the Almighty!
During all eight days of Pesach we are forbidden to own or eat chametz (leavened bread -- i.e., virtually any flour product not especially produced for Pesach) or have it in our possession (Exodus 13:7). Why the emphasis on being chametz-free?
Chametz (leaven) represents arrogance ("puffing up"). The only thing that stands between you and God ... is you. To come close to the Almighty, which is the ultimate pleasure in life and the opportunity of every mitzvah and holiday, one must remove his own personal barriers. The external act brings the internal appreciation -- we remove chametz from our homes and likewise work on the character trait of humility. It is a choice!
In Devarim 30, HaShem offers us a choice – life or death – and urges us to choose life. May you and I, as we enter this season celebrating our freedom, choose as we navigate the eddies and currents of life on the narrow way!
Chag Sameach Pesach!