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Home » Passover

Passover: A Wise Meditation

Submitted by on April 10, 2006 – 2:43 amOne Comment | 1,246 views

The Wise Son

On the first night of Passover we are introduced to the four sons of the Haggadah. (1) Drawing on various verses from the Torah, the Haggadah teaches us that there are four types of students: the wise, the wicked, the foolish and the one who knows not how to ask.

The wise one, what does he say? “What are the edicts, testimonials and commandments that our lord has instructed?” You shall inform him of the laws of the Passover. We must not eat dessert after the pascal lamb.

At first appearance this dialog seems straightforward. The wise son is curious about the Torah’s laws and we respond by teaching him. Since it is the eve of Passover, we begin by teaching laws that pertain to the pascal lamb.

Further reflection, however, yields a number of questions. If he is indeed ignorant of the Torah’s laws, why is he called the wise son?

The answer that we are meant to convey is also curious. If we intend to offer instruction on the evening’s rituals, shouldn’t we begin talking about the initial benediction instead of the dessert?

As these questions indicate, this dialog contains much greater depth than is initially apparent. The wise son does not seek, nor do we offer, an introductory course of teaching. This question probes the profound depths of Torah, and our response uncovers the veiled secrets that are embedded beneath the Torah’s surface.

Matzah

To understand the wisdom of this question, meditation - innerstreamwe must begin with matzah, the food that prompts the question. When our ancestors left Egypt they headed for the great unknown. A barren desert stretched out before them, sand dunes and wadis as far as the eye could see. The only nourishment they brought along was dry matzah crackers. (2)

How much matzah could they carry? Was there enough to last the entire journey? These questions only bother us when we believe that we provide for ourselves. Our ancestors, however, understood that notwithstanding their efforts, they were always dependent on the divine. (3)

The Midrash teaches that G-d recreates the universe at every moment. To us, life appears  continuous, but in truth, it is constantly renewed. As G-d recreates us he takes into account events that unfolded in the previous universe, the one that existed one moment earlier, and creates the incoming universe in the very same state that was previously experienced in the outgoing universe. Life thus appears continuous, when in truth it is not. (4)

Meditation on this concept accentuates that efforts we make today do not bear fruit tomorrow. G-d, in his infinite kindness, may choose to bestow blessings unto tomorrow’s world that will be similar in nature to the fruit we would have derived from the efforts we invested in the world of today, had this world only survived. (5)

Brought into Existence

This is the secret of the matzah that our ancestors carried into the desert. The Hebrew  word matzah bears an etymological resemblance to the Hebrew word himtzie, which means brought into existence.

Our ancestors brought matzah into the desert because they understood that G-d brings us into existence anew at every moment. The matzah was their declaration of faith that G-d, who led them into the desert, would surely provide for them for the duration of their stay. That they lacked preparation in the world of this moment did not prejudice the outcome in the next moment’s world.

The Wise Question

Herein lies the wisdom of the wise son’s question. The purpose of the many commandments is that we establish a meaningful relationship with G-d. (6) But if matzah contains a meditation that bears us aloft on powerful wings of faith, why do we need the other commandments? Can we not eat matzah every day and reflect continuously on its profound message?

The Wise Reply

We avoid eating dessert after the pascal lamb so that the taste of the mitzvah, and the matzah that accompanies it, remain in our mouths as long as possible

Avoiding dessert is an attempt to stretch out the matzah experience for as long as possible. However, matzah flavor doesn’t linger forever. We might skip dessert to retain the matzah flavor, but by morning the flavor will have faded and there will be no point in skipping breakfast.

The same holds true for the meditative experience associated with matzah. The emotional bond with G-d that the matzah meditation spawns is intense. In its grip we surrender ourselves to the greater presence of our creator. We forget ourselves, our ambitions, our interests and dreams, and concentrate only on G-d. Everything else pales in comparison.

We hold onto this moment for as long as we can, we avoid distracting thoughts, we avoid “intellectual dessert.” Alas, this moment, as all others, must inevitably pass and when the climax fades we must return to our every-day diet.

It is then that we require the support provided by the many other commandments. Every event, every action and every moment is governed by one of the many commandments. This is deliberately designed to remind us of G-d at all times lest we forget his omnipresence.

The wise son would be right if the matzah meditation could last a lifetime, but human nature cannot sustain such intensity for long. This is why the many other commandments are required.
(7) (8)

Footnotes

  1. The Haggadah is an ancient text, chanted in every Jewish home on the first night of Passover.
  2. Exodus 12, 29. See also the section in the Passover Haggadah that explains the matzah.
  3. Even Jeremiah marveled at our ancestors’ tremendous demonstration of faith. See Jeremiah 2: 2.
  4. Midrash Tilim1, 19: 89. See also Shaar Hayichud V’haemunah, ch. 1(R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813).
  5. As the Psalmist wrote, (127: 1) “If G-d won’t guard the city, the guardian toils in vain.”
  6. Deuteronomy, 10: 12-13.
  7. The purpose of the Passover matzah is to plant a seed of connection within our consciousness. This seed cannot last forever.  It must at some point disappear, but even when it does, its influence lives on. In the glow of its meditative light, every mitzvah becomes a  facilitator in the never-ending quest for closeness with our creator.
  8. This essay is based on the commentary of Kedushas Levi (R’ Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, 1740-1810) to the Haggadah.

 

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1 Comment on "Passover: A Wise Meditation"

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Anonymous
11 years 5 months ago

As usual an inspiring insight into the essence of our tradition. Thanks!

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