Jewish World Review March 31, 1999 /14 Nissan 5759
At Passover, Egypt is a state of mind
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
IT HAS BEEN ESTIMATED that by the year 2005 there will be 1 billion
personal computers -- that isn't a typo -- on this on-line planet.
The speed of change is hard to compute. In a world that seems to accelerate
with each revolution, the timeless holiday of Passover beckons.
The Passover meal, or Seder, may be the world's oldest continuously
observed religious ritual, dating back over 3,300 years.
Jews with almost no other connection to Judaism will have a Seder this
evening. Jews whose observance of Jewish law is indifferent at best will
scrupulously abstain from eating bread and other products of five prohibited
grains for the next 8 days.
Passover has slipped into the popular consciousness, in a superficial way.
At a signal from Charlton Heston, Cecil B. DeMille parts the Red Sea.
(Jeffrey Katzenberg did it better in his animated feature.) Jews eat
tasteless crackers to commemorate the hasty departure from Egypt. There
wasn't time to hit a convenience store for proper provisions.
If you think Passover is just about physical liberation (let my people go),
you're missing the most important point.
Rabbi Nachum Braverman, author of "The Bible for the Clueless but Curious,"
notes the Passover Haggadah (that contains the Seder service and recounts
the Exodus) doesn't mention Moses. Braverman comments, "Moses is a cipher --
the tool God uses to set his people free."
If Moses is a cipher, Pharaoh is a foil. In his initial confrontation with
the Levite, the ruler of the Upper and Lower Nile haughtily inquires, "Who
is G-d that I should listen to Him?"
Other tyrants have flung this question at the heavens. Frederick the Great
said G-d is with the side that has the best army. Stalin wondered how many
divisions the Pope commands. Blinded by power, princes and potentates can't
discern an authority higher than themselves.
Their question is always answered with finality. Hitler died by his own
hand, a cornered rat. Stalin raved and cringed on his deathbed. Pharaoh
perished with his host in the Red Sea.
Ultimately, Passover is about sovereignty. The rabbis often ask
rhetorically: "Why thank G-d for taking us out of slavery? He put us there!"
(See the concluding chapters of Genesis.)
He did so to fulfill His design. In a reference that seems oddly out of
place, the Haggadah relates, "Once our ancestors (pre-Abraham) worshipped
idols." The crucible of Egypt was necessary to burn off the spiritual dross
To manifest His supremacy, G-d had to take everything from the Israelites,
so that a totally debased people could be given everything (freedom,
dignity, nationhood, land), and one thing no other people had -- a mission.
Slavery is but the most visible form of servitude. In preparation for
Passover, the observant Jew will search his home forchametz (food made with yeast or its derivative). It's leaven that gives bread and cake its
taste and appeals to our senses.
Bread baked with yeast is compared to the ego, which also becomes inflated.
(Rabbi Braverman, "The difference between matzah and a slice of Wonderbread
is just a lot of hot air.")
Thus chametz has come to symbolize all of the things
that enslave us with their cunning allurements. In the words of the
Artscroll Haggadah, it is "the symbol of self-assertion and indulgence."
As our culture becomes richer and more worldly, the forms of bondage
multiply -- food, alcohol, drugs, sex, entertainment, money, career, fame.
They control our existence as surely as the edicts of any tyrant. Their
incessant demands sting us like the taskmaster's lash. They drive us
We used to say man will bow to G-d or he will bow to tyrants. That was
before the era of mass entertainment and a consumer culture.
Now we say man will worship G-d or he will bow to Hollywood, Madison
Avenue, video rentals, the Internet, electronic gadgets, the World Wrestling
Federation, the Home Shopping Network, personal autonomy and Dow Jones.
As the observant Jew sweeps bread crumbs from his house, the Passover calls
upon us to disavow that which enslaves us, to sweep it from our lives. Egypt
is a state of mind.
The rabbis say redemption wasn't completed with the Exodus, or the giving
of the Law at Sinai, or the possession of the Promised Land, or the building
of the Temple. Its fulfillment is in the future.
Passover celebrates the redemption that was and anticipates the redemption
that will be, when the world is at last free of chains -- psychological as
well as physical -- when all humanity will acknowledge His
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©1999, Creators Syndicate