What is most right about Pesach is that it is all wrong. Pesach violates
all the rules, dashes every expectation regarding how things are supposed
to happen. Therein lies its essence.
Let’s start with the name. Why “Pesach?” Why has this name, taken from G-
d’s “passing over” the Jewish houses, won out over the names used by the
Torah itself, and the themes reflected in our liturgy?
The Torah calls it the “Festival of Matzos”, or sometimes the Festival of
the Spring. In the popular mind, as well as the Siddur, it as a holiday
of freedom. To be sure, we recall that G-d “passed over” the houses of
the Jews while killing the Egyptian first-born. It is hard to see,
though, why this image is so much more striking and enduring than all
others. Why did it stamp its imprint so thoroughly, and confer the
popular name on the holiday for all time?
The answer can only be that passing over and skipping are the most
essential and fundamental characteristics of Pesach. They sum up the
essence of the holiday. Indeed, without some all-important passing over,
there never would have been an Exodus.
Redemption is only secondarily about the oppressive weight of our chains
and shackles. Chiefly, it is about the inner nature of Man. Man is
redeemed when all the forces that keep him small, narrow, limited, and
constrained are removed. Most of those work within him, and are harder to
break than the restraints of the taskmaster.
Man can only be redeemed through awareness and enlightenment. The
Egyptian experience, explains the Ari z”l, was so steeped in the darkness
of tumah, that the chitzonim had seized hold of Da’as
itself. Man’s understanding was compromised at its root. He was not
simply challenged by conflicting claims to truth. His ability to discern
truth was fundamentally impaired. Repairing the ravages of tumah
never takes place in an instant. Man must ordinarily take small,
incremental steps, raising himself arduously from one level to the next.
He climbs higher one step at a time, and no steps can be missed.
So it is in regard to glimpses into the nature of Hashem.. They do not
come as disconnected impressions, arriving willy-nilly to one who seeks G-
d. Deeper comprehension of G-d follows a precise order – following in
lockstep with the sefiros. Each successive Divine light that He
reveals to us comes after the one that precedes it, and is more basic than
By all ordinary measures, whether looking at where Man was, or the road
the Divine Light had to take, redemption should have been impossible,
coming when it did, to a Klal Yisrael without merit and without
enlightenment, and mired in tumah.
G-d, however, is not fazed by what we regard as impossible. By its
nature, tumah functions only in places that are hidden from the
clear, manifest illumination of His Presence. He brought the redemption
by causing such illumination of His Light, that the beclouding forces of
tumah vanished in its presence.
On the verse in Shir Hashirim  “He [Hashem] skips over the
mountains,” a Midrash sees an allusion to a dialogue between Moshe and
the enslaved Jews.
Moshe: “In this month, you will be redeemed!”
Jews: “How can we be redeemed? Egypt is full of the ugliness of our
Moshe: “Because He wishes to redeem you, He pays no attention to your
idolatry, but ‘skips over the mountains.’ “
The sense of this is that G-d revealed the extent of His love for the
Jewish people by skipping! G-d’s attribute of Love was ignited
through israusa de-leayla, an awakening from above, manifesting
itself in great love for His people.
When Hashem says, “I carried you on the wing of eagles,” He means the
revelation to them of His love by calling them “my first-born (i.e.
cherished) son.” This revelation instantly catapulted them to a
reaction they would not have ordinarily been capable of – they responded
with a powerful love that welled up in the Jews for G-d. The Jews to whom
Moshe came were frustrated and despairing of redemption, sensing
themselves so distant from any merit. With mutual love in place, however,
the previous indiscretions of the Jews lost all significance. “Love
covers all iniquity. ” Moshe’s answer to the incredulity of the Jews
was that their idolatry would be washed away in the presence of Divine
This sequence itself required skipping and passing over. The Zohar 
calls reverence for G-d “the primary commandment,” and love of G-d the
second, which can only follow in its wake. Without reverence for Hashem,
it is all too easy to pervert love, to take it and attach it to objects
that will diminish him, rather than elevate him. His lower impulses must
first be purified and elevated through the corrective of constant
awareness of Hashem as Lawgiver and Judge.
We see now why the word “Pesach” is so fundamental to the holiday. No
word could better characterize the deeper meaning and significance of the
miracle behind the miracles. G-d smashed the Egyptian deities and tore
asunder the laws of nature, but not before He had violated rules even more
basic. To redeem the Jews, Hashem redrew for the moment the road map of
human service to G-d, and disturbed the rhythm of the sefiros.
In both areas, He passed over all that was expected of Man and of G-d
Himself, and allowed love to conquer all.
The paytan wrote, “You lifted up Pesach to the head of all the
festivals.” With but a single exception, all festivals follow some
isra’usa de-lisasa, some awakening within us. Pesach, however, is
the head, the source of all these festivals, the font from which all
awakening draws. The israusa de-leayla of the original Pesach
not only made the Exodus possible, but it nurtures Man’s quest for
connection whenever he reaches towards Hashem. To this day – in all
places and under all conditions – when we inspire and arouse ourselves to
closeness with HKBH, we are in fact drawing from the great, holy Love that
Hashem aroused within Himself at the first Pesach.
Shabbos, too, is a consequence of israusa de-leayla. As “an
eternal sign between Me and the children of Israel,”  Shabbos arouses
the great Love Hashem has for Israel, and through it, the love Israel has
for Hashem. Love, as we have seen, banishes all remembrance of
wrongdoing. It is in this sense that we can appreciate Chazal’s
contention that “he who observes Shabbos is forgiven, even if he had
worshipped idols like the generation of Enosh” 
A widespread custom also points to the sharing of this theme of the
display of Divine Love. On two occasions we recite Shir Hashirim,
the perfect expression of the love between Israel and G-d, and
between G-d and Israel. The night of Pesach is one of them. The other,
not unexpectedly, is Friday afternoon, just before Shabbos is ushered in.
The power of redemption revisits us each year at Pesach. “This night is
safeguarded by Hashem for all of Israel for all generations.”  In all
times, for all Jews, in all situations and conditions in which they find
themselves, redemption beckons anew on Pesach, and reveals the great Love
Hashem has for us. Through the holiday of Pesach, a Jew can tap into that
love, and draw redemption upon himself, freeing himself from his own
personal limits and blockages. He can, if he wishes, extricate himself
from any and all of the forty nine levels of tumah and degradation.
We can explain in this manner the mystifying introduction to the Haggadah.
Ha lachma anya – this is the bread of poverty. Generally,
Man’s actions have a precise and measured impact upon the hidden spiritual
worlds. Our mitzvos, our good deeds, our prayers create new patterns and
combinations of the elevated spiritual forces. In a sense, we earn our
keep, we help sustain the universe, we support its existence and well-
being, through our spiritual productivity.
Pesach is different. Like the poor man begging for food, we receive
something without paying our way. We were redeemed in Egypt, despite
lacking the spiritual currency with which we are usually expected to
compensate Hashem for what we take. Each Pesach provides us as well with
the same gift-basket of Divine awakening, undeserved and unearned. We
therefore announce, “All who are hungry, all who need, let them come.” We
invite all those who find themselves spiritually needy and wanting to
partake of G-d’s offer. It is a rare opportunity for us to skip over the
usual plodding steps we usually need to take. We can avail ourselves of
His Great Light, even if we are not deserving of it. IV
We are by no means finished uncovering what the name “Pesach” teaches us
about the fundamental character of the festival. The Kedushas Levi finds
a remarkable clue in the difference between the names assigned by HKBH,
and by Klal Yisrael.
Hashem calls attention to the matzos, while we refer to the “Pesach,”
the skipping over. Each emphasizes the love and appreciation that
one party in the relationship has for the other. To G-d, the matzos
represent the willingness of the Jews to follow His lead to an unknown and
inhospitable wilderness, without thought of the next meal for themselves
or their children. The speed with which they sallied forth into the
unknown speaks eloquently in praise of their faith, trust, and love for
The perspective of the Jews, of course, was quite different. They would
point in awe at G-d’s incredible sign of His love for them. The skipping
over the Jewish homes during the plague of the first born displayed a
Divine providence and concern that was effective on the scale of each
individual. The Jews were not only saved, down to the last individual,
but their redemption was custom-tailored and micro-managed. How
appreciative they were of the love and concern that accompanied this all-
important and final plague!
Mutual admiration creates successful relationships. Taken together, the
two names of Pesach – including the one that Klal Yisrael substitutes for
the earlier, Torah given name - tell one of the most important stories
about the nature of the festival. G-d wished to create His people through
the Exodus, but insisted on forging a relationship based on mutual love.
We had to choose G-d as much as He chose us.
Here we discover another sense of the notion that Pesach stands at the
head of all the Festivals. The reciprocity of love between Hashem and His
people expressed by the names of Pesach defines not only a single holiday,
but lays the foundation for the practice of the others. “You chose us
from all the nations. You loved us, and were satisfied with us. You
called Your great and holy Name upon us…Give us, Hashem our G-d, this
holiday with love and willingness” is an oft-repeated refrain of the Yom
Tov davening. It accentuates our most important goal of the holidays: to
implant, deepen, and nurture within us the feeling that Hashem has chosen
This, too, is what we seek with the mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov,
the holiday rejoicing and celebration. Through the Yom Tov joy we declare
that we are completely satisfied with Hashem’s conduct of his life. (The
Opter Rebbe used to stress that Creation is fulfilled in a Jew’s feeling
complete satisfaction and joy in the way Hashem conducts his life.) When
we are pained and troubled with the vicissitudes of everyday life, our
natural feelings are deadened or masked. We lose sight of our basic
satisfaction with Hashem’s ways, frustrating our ability to feel our
natural joy in our relationship with Him. Through the Yom Tov
celebration, and the opportunity for peaceful contemplation of our lot
with a settled mind, we remind ourselves of the essential joy that owes to
being close to Hashem.
That closeness, too – like so much more – owes to the revelation of love
for us that expressed itself in that first skipping, the first Pesach.