Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Passover, or Pesach, is the holiday celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. We
should not say "commemorating" the Exodus, because, as our Sages so
carefully emphasize, our holidays do not merely commemorate historic
occasions. They represent times of the year when special possibilities
arise. On Shavuos, the holiday celebrating our receiving the Torah on Mount
Sinai, it is an especially good time to learn Torah.
What is it that we can do on Pesach, that is easier now than at other times
during the year? Passover is a holiday of redemption, of liberation, of
breaking free. We might think, then, that if we live in a free country,
Pesach is a good time for the Messiah to arrive -- but other than that, it
has little to offer us by way of special powers.
This, however, is entirely untrue. We are all prisoners in some way, and
this is a good time to liberate ourselves.
Do you not have several bad habits? We all do. We have habits that we would
rather break, habits that are physically, emotionally, and spiritually
harmful to us. We know this all too well, but we still haven't broken free.
We have something called a Yetzer HaRa, an Evil Inclination. On Pesach,
romaine lettuce is considered the best "maror," or bitter herb, because
initially it tastes relatively sweet, but its aftertaste is bitter. This is
appropriate, because the maror is in memory of our servitude in Egypt --
where the Jews were lured sweetly to serve Paro, and then were forced into
bitter slavery. And so it is with the Evil Inclination: initially it looks
sweet, but the aftertaste is bitter. The Jerusalem Talmud says this in
Tractate Shabbos, but few fail to see this in their own personal experience.
The word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim. Those same letters, accompanied
by different vowels, produce Metzarim -- boundaries. Mitzrayim represented
not only a profoundly debased spiritual level, but limitations. Pesach is
the holiday for breaking through those limitations, for breaking free of
all those things that imprison us, for moving through the spiritual
barriers that hold us back.
The force which helps us to liberate ourselves comes from Torah. As we find
in the Chapters of the Fathers (6:2), "And it says: 'The Tablets are the
work of G-d, and the writing is G-d's handwriting, engraved upon the
Tablets.' [Exodus 32:16] Do not read 'charus' [engraved], but 'cheirus'
[freedom], for there is no free person save one who engages in the study of
This is a profound claim: "there is no free person save one who engages in
the study of Torah!" But the Talmud says in Kiddushin 30b: "I created the
Evil Inclination, and I created Torah as an antidote for it." When we
engage in Torah study, we take into our hands the only necessary tool to
break free of our bad habits, and move forward with our lives. That is true
freedom. A "free" person who is imprisoned by bad habits is not free, he's
a slave to his Inclination. Torah is the antidote that helps that type of
slave to free himself.
Right now is the ideal time. If you've been trying to find a time to "kick
the habit," here it is -- and we should make the most of it!
Wishing you much success, and a Happy Passover,
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.