By Daniel Bortz
As we age and mature in our study of any subject matter, it’s important to progress deeper in our understanding of it. Looking at math or English at the age of 40 as we did at 5 years old is a problem. The same holds true in our understanding of God and the Torah, yet many of us retain similar views to the ideas we learned in Hebrew school, missing out on much of the depth Judaism has to offer.
I used to read an ancient event in the Torah as a historical event that was external from my life. The Sages teach that this misses much of the point: Every event and idea in the Torah signifies something that’s occurring within each of us right now. What do the Psalms of King David — describing countless struggles and battles with his enemies over 3,000 years ago — have to do with my life in California in 2018? It so happens that we too fight and battle, every day in fact! Our enemies just happen to be internal — fear, temptation, sadness, laziness, anxiety, anger, addiction, low self—worth and more — negative feelings and thoughts that are trying to defeat us daily. Like King David we call out to G—d for help in our time of need, finding solace in his faith during his intense struggles with darkness.
Passover is a holiday that commemorates the ancient miraculous freedom of the Jewish nation from enslavement in Egypt. But why is there such an intense emphasis on this exodus, remembering it throughout every one of our three daily prayer services? As we’ve just learned, this event like all others didn’t occur once in the past, but is happening right now, within each of us. We free Americans may be physically free, but we can still be enslaved inside.
On Passover, we recline and feel the comfort of physical freedom. But the mystics teach that a special energy of freedom permeates the air at the Seders; a channel to tap into that enables exponential growth in breaking through our mental and emotional chains of enslavement. At this time, we are granted the ability to transcend and free ourselves from anything that’s stopping us from actualizing our true potential of inner freedom. We need only to prepare for the occasion by locating areas in our life where we want to free ourselves.
To fix an issue in our character — or for most of us many issues as listed above — it helps to locate the deeper source of the problem. You can run around patching up countless holes in a water hose, but it’s more effective to turn off the tap. On Passover, we completely rid our possessions of hametz — leavened bread that’s bloated and puffed up, for it spiritually symbolizes our egos that fill ourselves and close us off to growth. We then eat matzah — a flat cracker that symbolizes utter humility and openness to positive change. This sets the stage for growth in all our particular areas.
As we sit down this year to our Seders, let’s look a bit deeper at our crackers and recounting of an ancient trip from North Africa to Israel through a desert with no GPS. This is a journey of true freedom and spiritual growth; at this moment you are leaving your Egypt. The word “Egypt” in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, while the word for “Limitations” happens to have the same Hebrew letters — Maytzarim. This is no coincidence. This year, may we be granted the courage and conviction to free ourselves from any shackles holding us back from the happiness that comes from true inner freedom.