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Home » Passover

Passover: Freedom in Captivity

Submitted by on April 13, 2008 – 6:11 amNo Comment | 5,829 views

The First of Nissan

The Pascal Lamb was offered in celebration of our ancestors’ liberation from Egypt, yet it is curious that G-d gave the instructions for this Mitzvah while our ancestors were still enslaved in Egypt. (1)

On the first day of Nissan, one year to date from when Moses was instructed on the Pascal Lamb, the inaugural festivities for the tabernacle were launched. (2) The fact that the instructions for the Pascal Lamb were given on the same day as the inauguration of the tabernacle indicates a link between them that sheds light on their inner meaning and explains their connection to slavery in Egypt.

Ordinary, but Splendorous

The Tabernacle was a magnificent home for the King of Kings, the Almighty G-d, but it was erected in a barren desert; not a fitting habitat for a royal palace, let alone a palace for the Divine. Why was a thriving home for G-d built in a lifeless location? Furthermore, the tabernacle was built from ordinary materials, silver, copper, wood and the like, but it was not an ordinary house; in was home to infinite and royal splendor. How does a physical object become a receptacle for spirituality and divinity? Indeed, how do ordinary items become sacred?

Ordinary items become sacred when they are donated to a Divine cause. When we dedicate an ordinary possession to G-d, the material object becomes a vehicle through which our generosity and piety are expressed. The Divine energy that pulses within our hearts sublimates the object and envelopes it with an aura of sanctity.

The location of the tabernacle and the materials from which it was constructed were quite ordinary, but, suffused with sacred energy of piety and altruism, these ordinary materials created a holy house for G-d. The very walls and desert floor of the tabernacle pulsed with the passion of devout hearts, the joy of soaring spirits and the fervor of Jewish souls.

The Unworthy Heart

We too are tasked with the privilege of building a home for G-d. The home that we build is not constructed of physical materials, but of Mitzvot. The prayers we recite, the monies we donate, the Mitzvot we perform and the Torah we study place virtual bricks in G-d’s eternal edifice. This home is built through making space for G-d within our hearts and souls and by allowing G-d entry into our synagogues, workplaces and even homes, but sometimes our hearts feel spiritually barren, our homes fundamentally bereft of holiness and we wonder, can such an unworthy heart become a home for G-d? Can such an unworthy location be transformed into an oasis for the Divine?

Here we remember the message of the tabernacle. Its location and building materials were insignificant; the tabernacle was holy because it was built with sincere devotion. The builders of G-d`s home need not be spiritual giants, so long as we are devoted and sincere, we too can build His home.

The Pascal Lamb

We can now understand why the Pascal Lamb was offered as a Mitzvah to our ancestors while they were enslaved to Egypt. Our ancestors were not only subjugated physically to Egyptian dominance, but also spiritually. While in Egypt, they adopted pagan practices and beliefs. Our sages relate that at the time of liberation, our ancestors had not a single merit by which they might deserve to be liberated. The Pascal lamb was offered to them to endow them with that single merit by which they would deserve their liberation. (3)

This was clearly not a nation worthy of laying the foundation for G-d’s home; this was a spiritually bereft people. Yet, G-d did not hesitate to charge them with a sacred Mitzvah and task them with building his home. freedom in captivity - innerstreamHe did not wait till they deserved this great privilege; on the contrary he offered it to them while they were still enslaved and spiritually vulnerable because G-d does not require builders of great merit, He requires builders who give full expression to their souls; builders, who take to His task with sincere devotion.

Bodies and Souls

In a sense we are all enslaved. Our souls are sparks of the Divine and no earthly power can restrain or enslave them, but our bodies are different; they enslave us with demands for food, clothes and all manner of physical needs. These demands overwhelm us and rob us of time to serve G-d. We often miss a torah class or prayer service because a physical need has kept us away; it is as if the body overwhelms the soul and holds in in spiritual captivity.

The Pascal Lamb demonstrates that there is freedom in captivity – even while in slavery we are free to serve G-d. We are ordinary mortals, but we are graced with a Divine spark that frees us from the limitations of ordinary existence; it enables us to rise above the obstacles and free ourselves of the material entanglements that encumber our souls.

If our ancestors freed themselves from the shackles of slavery and learned to serve G-d with sincerity then so can we. If our ancestors used ordinary building materials to build a tabernacle in the barren desert then so can we. If our ancestors built G-d’s home, their hearts brimming with joy and their souls devout with passion then so can we.

Brick by brick, mitzvah by mitzvah, we too can build an eternal edifice for G-d.

Happy and Kosher Passover (4)


  1. Exodus 12: 2.
  2. Exodus 40:17
  3. Mechilta 12: 6.
  4. This essay is based on an epistle from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Menachem M.Schneerson, (1902 – 1994, New York) written in honor of Passover 1981.
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