Pesach Reward and Redemption

Nov 17, 2014

by Rabbi Yitzchak Hirshfeld – Rosh Yeshiva Shapell’s

To the human eye, and indeed to the eyes of angels, the fact that the Jewish people merited redemption from Egypt was perplexing. The angels’ complaint, “These are idol worshippers and these are idol worshippers,” underscores the stark reality that the Israelites were on the verge of descending into the fiftieth, and ultimate, level of impurity.

G-d, however, saw things differently. We will soon be retelling the story of the Exodus and we will tell our children, the Israelites in Egypt were different. They did not change their names, nor did they change their language, nor their dress. Worship false gods they did, engage in sinful behavior they did, but they were different.

Why did that make all the difference in the world?

Rabbi Baruch M. Ezrahi in his newly published work Birkat Mordechai explains: G-d distinguishes between actions and essence. Names, language, dress- these are the first to be discarded if one wants to escape the essence of his Jewishness, the essence of his being a son or daughter of Abraham the Hebrew. Holding on to these reveals that the great bond with our forefathers is still in place. True, we are rewarded and punished for our deeds, but we are redeemed for our essence.

This started me thinking: what happens in the other direction? What happens if our actions are Jewish but we have somehow lost contact with that inner core? What happens if our food is kosher (even very kosher) but our identity is no longer Jew but doctor or lawyer or…? If our discourse is in a language which our grandparents just would not understand? If our dress belies an acceptance of values which contradict the essence of what a Jew should stand for?

What constitutes a successful Pesach? Golden fluffy matzah balls? The kids behaving themselves all through the seder? (Lehavdil), keeping the mitzvot of the seder punctiliously? While all of the above factors are important, and the keeping of the mitzvot is necessary, they are not yet sufficient. To experience Pesach successfully we must experience redemption.

Redemption is something granted and re-granted by G-d in every generation. It means that we become servants of G-d by being rid of the yoke of Pharaoh, the yoke of forces whose only goal is to come between us and our Creator. It means realizing a personal freedom where decisions flow from an inner spring of G-d’s presence in our lives.

As we seek redemption, let us look not only to what we do, but also to who we are. We may be rewarded and punished for our deeds, but we are redeemed for our essence.

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