Monday, April 14, 2014

True Freedom, U Freedom

Shabbat PesachSh’mot 33:12 – 34:26
19 Nissan 5774 / April 18 – 19, 2014
Pesach begins tonight! And tomorrow night we start to count the Omer. On Shabbat Pesach, we take a break from the regular Parshiot cycle to read a portion that is more thematically in tune with the holiday. This weekend we jump backward in the Bible, to the book of Sh’mot. The Israelites have just committed the sin of the Golden Calf (oops!) and we find Moshe on Mt. Sinai pleading with God for a deeper personal revelation and for communal repentance. I  think the Parsha lends to thinking about the deeper meaning of Pesach, and that is what my D’var Torah below is about. Read on for further learning.
Many blessings!
True Freedom, U Freedomby Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

    On Passover we are told to refrain from eating anything that is leavened, or puffed up. Breads, bagels, muffins, certain cereals, and for some of us, beans and rice, are all placed under this category of food that is called chametz. Most of us know that the reason that we eat Matzah, or flat bread, is to remember that when the Jews were leaving Egypt, they had to rush out and did not have time for their bread to rise, thus they ate un-leavened bread. As Rabbis tend to do, they got concerned that eating seemingly leavened products would lead to eating actual leavened bread, so they created a radical edict to spend the entire holiday not eating anything that even slightly resembles leavened bread.
               Another way to understand this practice is to think about what Passover represents and how this special diet might help the attunement of our awareness. Before the original Passover, the Jewish people and Jewish identity was stuck in a particular mode – that of slavery. We worked in harsh conditions for the Egyptians, gaining nothing from the sweat of our brow. Our relationship with God was also stagnated as the Deity of individual ancestors whose memory we had to connect through. Suddenly, there came time for a big change. We were going to be shifting, warp-speed, from oppressed workers to a boundless independent nation. If we stopped for a moment to think about that, we probably would lose faith, and say, “Helk no! I ain’t going nowhere!” And if you take a peek into the Torah narrative, when the Jews stop to rest in the desert, they begin to complain for the life they had in Egypt.
               So matzah represents the Band-Aid (or plaster) that was yanked quickly off the wound of an enslaved identity. When we eat matzah, or more importantly, when we refrain from eating chametz and chametz-related foods, we are symbolically recreating this obliteration of the usual story and identity that we carry around. All for the purpose, I remind you, of receiving a newer and more liberated sense of self. Thus, we jaggedly cut out all the foods that are “filled with hot air,” and allow our egos to deflate. Of course, quick change does not equal lasting change. For this reason, we begin to count the Omer until Shavuot, which represents a more thoughtful and comprehensive transformation from slave to free-person.
               For some of us, we might not connect with the idea of cutting out bread on Pesach. I would strongly recommend trying out the traditional practice in small doses, but I think there are other ways to enhance this dramatic shift in our inner-selves.
1.       You might try another way of playing with diet. Perhaps Passover is a good time for a juice fast, or cutting out sugars, or other things that make you “high and inflated.”
2.       You can make a list of, “Things I would do if I was truly free,” and then see how close you are to enacting these things. Perhaps there are a few that you should still refrain from.
3.       Perhaps there is part of your name that you do not identify with – your middle name, or Hebrew name. You might spend the week introducing yourself with a new name and reclaiming your relationship with it.
4.       Maybe there is a new Jewish practice that you want to try out that might enhance the way you live. Meditation, daily prayer, or lighting candles on Shabbat are all tools that free us from our normal way of doing and being.
5.       Play with the seder to make it more meaningful. Introduce your own poems and personal stories of oppression and liberation. According to the Haggadah, you have to say the following three words: PESACH, MATZAH, and MARROR. The rest just might be commentary.
So however we fill our bellies (and hearts and minds) this Pesach, I bless us that we can experience a new and deeper understanding of what it means to be free. And that we should see freedom blossom in those places where freedom seems stifled.

Many blessings,


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