From Ascent Quarterly
"LET MY PEOPLE GO (dot dot dot)"
Ask almost anyone in the world, "What did Moses say
to Pharaoh?" and the immediate response will be: "Let my people go."
Well (sigh), at least that's partly correct. The entire
quote, however, is, "Send forth my people that they shall serve Me."
Such a brief statement--the original Hebrew is only four words-- yet
it still gets shortened, and then it is often misconstrued precisely
because of this unfortunate abridgement.
The popular version leads to a misunderstanding that the
release of the Jews was imperative only because Pharaoh had been
mistreating them. Though terminating the suffering of the Jews
as slaves in Egypt was certainly a factor in the timing of G-d's
intervention, it most certainly was not the goal of the Exodus,
as the "censored" conclusion of the verse emphatically makes clear.
Being "My people" involves hard work--but for G-d, not for Pharaoh!
The purpose of the Ten Plagues and the other miracles
was not only to punish the cruel Egyptians and to liberate the Jews.
They also functioned to help free the Jews mentally and emotionally
from their attachment to the lifestyle, beliefs and technological achievements
of Egyptian society. The inner work involved in this process enabled
the fledgling nation to arrive at Mount Sinai already prepared to receive
the Torah and to launch their mission to be mamlechet kohanim v'goy
kadosh, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
As we approach the final redemption, should keep in mind
the entire message, including the "punch line." This will help
us to focus properly while reading the Hagaddah on Seder night.
It is not enough that an evil is eliminated; it must be replaced with
good. It is not just that "they" were (are) the bad guys; "we"
had and have a task to accomplish, a destiny to fulfill.
From Ascent Quarterly #24, Editorial
From the Rebbes
MATZAH AND MIDNIGHT
In the story of the Exodus, we find two separate references to matzah.
First, there was the matzah which had to be eaten together with the Passover
offering on Passover night [Ex. 12:8], before midnight. After, there
was the matzah that was made of the dough the Jews carried with them out
of Egypt, after the slaying of the first born at midnight, when there
was an intense revelation of G-d. They left hurriedly, and had to carry
their dough away before it had a chance to leaven. Subsequently,
they baked of it unleavened bread [ibid. 12:39].
Spiritually, these two matzahs were of different essence. The first
matzah was still "bread of affliction," as it is referred to in the beginning
of the Haggadah. The eating of it before midnight together with
the Passover offering constituted what is called in Kaballistic terminology
an "arousal from below"–a movement from the Jewish people towards G-d.
This in turn elicited an "arousal from above,"–G-d's response: the after-midnight
divine revelation when "the King, king of kings, the Holy One, blessed
be He, was revealed onto them and redeemed them" [Haggadah].
The second matzah, baked only after the Jews left Egypt, after the effect
of the great revelation, is "bread of freedom." The Hagaddah phrase,
"Matzah zu: al shum mah?" refers to this latter matzah.
Leavened bread, which rises and is puffed up, symbolizes haughtiness
and arrogance. Matzah, in contrast represents egolessness.
The pre-revelation matzah and the post-revelation matzah stand for two
levels of egolessness of the Jew in relation to his Creator.
The before-midnight matzah, from the period when the Jews were still
sunk in the 49 gates of impurity of the Egyptian exile, represents the
level of self-nullification that is achieved through self denial.
In order to achieve this state it is necessary to tightly discipline oneself.
This matzah is eaten with bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness one
feels at one's distance from G-d. This bitterness in turn leads
to a certain level of nullification; it is the "arousal from below" which
evokes an "arousal from above": the divine mercies which help him to attain
his goal. Of this matzah it is said "And you shall guard the matzot"
[ibid. 12:17], for at this level watchfulness is still required to protect
against "leavening," the intrusion of ego.
The matzah that the Jews ate after midnight hints at a higher, total
state of egolessness. There is no need of struggle, because each
individual's complete existence became nullified to G-d as a result of
experiencing divine revelation. This matzah required no guarding
to prevent leavening; it was permanently flattened by the divine revelation!
This matzah is not eaten with bitter herbs, because no bitterness is felt;
at this stage the person already experiences a closeness to G-d.
In our time, both the matzah that we eat at the beginning of the Passover
night meal (for the mitzvah) and that which we use for afikomen at the
end (corresponding to the matzah eaten together with the Passover sacrifice)
are eaten before midnight. In the generations after Sinai, when the power
of mitzvah observance permeates physical objects with holiness, this matzah
merits for us also the revelation of G-dliness which our ancestors at
the Exodus had only after midnight.
Based on Likutei Torah and other chassidic sources, as cited
in V'hagadatah L'bincha by Rabbi Yekutiel Green, pp 120-121.
From the Masters of Kabbalah
In the early book of Kabbala, The Worm Of Yaacov, it is written
that the four cups of wine that we drink on the Seder night correspond
to separate stages of deliverance from the four husks. This is why our
forefather Yaacov feared to go to Egypt until the Holy One Blessed be
He said to him [ Gen.46:3-4] "Do not be afraid.... I will go down with
you and I will most certainly go out with you." This is an eternal promise
that whenever we go into exile the divine presence is with us and that
when the Almighty comes to redeem Himself, He redeems all of Israel with
In each case and particularly Pesach, when the redemption arrives, the
Almighty requires the destruction of the husks, the coverings of the truth.
This is the reason the Jewish people were given two commandments on the
eve of their departure from Egypt. The first was the offering of the Pascal
lamb, the first level of the destruction of the husks: the destruction
of the false gods of our enemies. The second was circumcision, to remove
the foreskin from ourselves, which is also like a husk that conceals.
Each year, as we come closer to Pesach, we have to put ourselves through
this dual process again. That is why we were commanded to drink four cups
of wine, while reclining, like kings. Just as the juice of the grape was
contained within its skin and then released to become wine, so also we
have been released from the 4 husks, also referred to as the foreskin
And before drinking the 4th cup we complete the recital of Hallel,
the song of thanksgiving, because with the conclusion of the seder we
have become servants of G-d rather than the slaves of Pharaoh.
Some Laws and Customs
(The annual blessing upon fruit-trees
PASSOVER SEDER, MATZA AND WINE
GETTING RID OF CHAMETZ
Order of events leading up to the seder: The search for chometz
is Sunday evening March 24, immediately after the evening prayers. It
is not only a physical search but a spiritual one also. We must check
ourselves for pride—spiritual leaven—the great separator between man and
G-d. If you have not yet done so, Sunday evening is also the last easily
available time to sell your chometz to your local rabbi. Monday morning
we burn the chometz we found, spiritually destroying any
remaining barriers between ourselves and the Divine. We stop eating chometz
by midmorning on Monday (check with your local rabbi or Jewish newspaper
for the correct times) and sometime in the afternoon, we read about the
bringing of the Pascal lamb. On Monday night we say the evening holiday
prayers with much joy and add Hallel to the regular service.
THE PASSOVER SEDER
This year the Seder will take place on Monday night, March 25 [plus
Tuesday night, March 26 outside of Israel]. If you don't know how to make
one yourself or if you don't want to, go to someone else's kosher-for-Passover
house. Even if you don't know them well, or at all, they will almost
surely be overjoyed to have you. Ask lots of questions. We start
the seder as early as possible to allow our children the maximum chance
Haste is a major theme of the Seder. As you know, the unleavened
matzah we eat on Passover derives from our ancestors departing so quickly
that there was not sufficient time for their dough to rise. The
law follows the spirit! Be sure to eat a big piece of matzah (½
a handmade round or all of a square machine one) within a short time after
saying the blessings (if you don't talk until you finish eating your matzah,
the times shouldn't be a problem). The same requirements apply for
the afikomen matzah at the end of the meal too.
Each of the four cups of wine should also be drunk quickly, in a few successive
swallows. If you prefer to leisurely sip your wine, you can always
drink a little more during the meal! On the other hand, if the required
four cups is already too much, you can dilute your kosher-for-Passover
wine with some kosher-for-Passover grape juice. It is preferable
to have a percentage of wine in all the cups than to have some cups all
juice and some all wine. One reason that we have wine at each of
the four stages of the seder rather than water or potatoes or matzah or
whatever, is that wine has the power to put us through changes.
last year's Pesach page
for more Kabbalah
insights on Pesach