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Jan. 26, 2007
/ 7 Shevat, 5767
Never Despair! Just Dough It
Rabbi David Aaron
Finding hope in hopeless times
Getting out of Egypt was more than a political emancipation of the nation of Israel. It was a spiritual transformation.
The Israelites were not only physically enslaved but also spiritually enmeshed in Egyptian culture. Egypt was the epitome of egotism and haughtiness. Of course, we all know that a person who is egotistical actually lacks self-confidence and true self-esteem. His or her haughty airs are really a cover-up, a compensation for a painful sense of inadequacy. Maimonides, the great 12th century philosopher, explains that humanity's lack of self worth was what led to idolatry. The Egyptians and other ancients were unable to fathom that G-d would personally care about them. Therefore, they sought out help from an intermediate power other than G-d. They believed that their lives were guided by the stars because G-d, the Creator, could not personally care about them. They reasoned, "Of what worth are we that the Creator of the world would have any regard for our situation?"
The Exodus story, however, teaches us that this attitude is false. This historic event demonstrated that G-d's love and care for us is unconditional. Therefore, when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, we were obligated to come there and, so to speak, greet G-d face-to-face. Of course, the presence of G-d fills the earth and we are in His presence whether we are in Jerusalem or in New York. However, in Jerusalem that truth was (and still is) more readily experienced. On the holiday of Passover even a simpleton could experience a sudden quantum leap in his spiritual level and enjoy a personal loving relationship with G-d. Each and every one was then able to bask in G-d's loving presence.
ROLLING IN DIVINE DOUGH
During the seven days of Passover we are required to eat only matza unleavened bread that looks somewhat like a cracker and is made of just water and flour.
The matza reminds us that our ancestors were slaves to the Egyptians who treated them as if they were subhuman and fed them brittle and tasteless bread. The matza is, therefore, referred to as the "bread of affliction." However, matza also reminds us of how our ancestors left Egypt in an astounding record time, faster than it takes dough to rise. How can matza be both a sign of painful affliction and joyous freedom?
The Zohar refers to matza as the "bread of faith." In other words, when we eat matza, we are internalizing the message of faith that it embodies. That message is: Know that even if you hit rock bottom and feel far and alienated from G-d, G-d is right there to help you and free you from your enslavements, addictions and obsessions. Even when you've been trapped in your personal Egypt for years, and it seems that it will take years to get out, know that, as the Psalmist put it, "the salvation of G-d is within the blink of an eye."
Although matza is the bread of affliction and exile, in a blink of an eye, it can become the bread of freedom and redemption. Revolutionary transformation is available to us all, as long as we believe it can happen. The paradoxical symbolism of the matza teaches us that G-d Himself, at any moment, can create a miracle. Even if we reach the bottom, we should never despair or give up. matza, the "bread of faith," is an antidote to despair and nurtures within in us faith and hope.
The Exodus from Egypt assures us that if the Israelites could get out of Egypt, then we, too, can get out of any situation. Certainly, G-d could have orchestrated the Israelites' liberation differently He could have arranged for them to earn their freedom through some worthy deed. However, He did precisely the opposite. He brought them out without merit so as to instill forever within us the confidence that His love is unconditional. Therefore, no matter how low any of us may fall, we should never despair.
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The paradoxical symbolism of the matza also teaches us that, in the very bitterness of affliction and exile, lies the sweetness of freedom and redemption. The great Hassidic Master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, taught, "Being far from G-d itself is for the purpose of coming close…the downfall can be transformed into a great ascent."
It all depends on the way you look at it. The matza is basically tasteless. But, if you want, you can taste the freedom and redemption that lies at the core of affliction and exile.
Perhaps this is the meaning of G-d's response to Abraham when he requested a sign that the land of Israel would be an eternal inheritance for him and his descendents. G-d showed him the future history of exile. At that moment, Abraham experienced a great fear. But G-d comforted him saying, "Know that your offspring will be strangers in a strange land. There, they will be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years. [But] also the nation that will afflict them I will judge, and your children will leave with great wealth." In other words, although your offspring will endure much suffering, they will survive and even profit from it.
So don't worry, don't lose faith. Even the darkest hours are the very seeds of growth, transformation, renewal and redemption.
Rav Nachman of Breslav also taught, "Sometimes when you want to come close to G-d, you encounter new and even greater obstacles than before. However, don't let that discourage you. G-d is only challenging you, so you will try even harder and thereby come even closer. It's really all for the best."
The Sfas Emes, another great Hassidic Master, taught that on Passover we can achieve a huge leap forward in our spiritual evolution. In other words, although in general, great feats take much time, on Passover, we can move at a pace that transcends the limitations of time.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzraim, which also translates as "narrowness." Indeed, Egypt represented the deification of the narrow confines and limitations of nature, time and space. To leave Egypt also meant to leave this narrow and confining attitude. It meant leaving the world of nature, governed by physical laws and subject to logic based on what only the physical senses can perceive, in order to cross-over into a new spiritual worldview the world without limitations, the world of hope and unconditional love.
Adapted from Rabbi David Aaron's latest best-seller: "Inviting G-d In
Celebrating the soul-meaning of the Jewish Holy days"
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, Inviting G-d In, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2006, Rabbi David Aaron