Attaining Freedom

May 9, 2009

6 min read


Rectifying Adam's mistake through matzah and wine.

The Egyptian bondage was far more than physical. The worst part was that whether you were a lowly laborer or an upper level taskmaster, you had no time to think. You had no ability to experience any depth to life. You were consumed with the work to the point that every last drop of your mental and physical energy was spent. Your mind's burden was to make a better brick, to get your slave-laborers to work harder, to reach your quota. It was total enslavement of the body, and more importantly, mind.

Whether slaving for Pharaoh 3,000 years ago or working to make ends meet today, the structure of society imposes a very real oppression. The mind gets immersed in a restricted reality. The deeper truth is concealed. We all live in a world that conceals reality, that wants us to remain spiritually asleep. (Perhaps that explains why the Hebrew world for 'world - olam' is related to 'heelam - hidden.') Business is "busy-ness." We are kept so busy from dawn to dusk that we have no time to think. This is a very real type of slavery.

Symbols of Freedom

Passover is called the "time of our Freedom." Eating matzah and drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder symbolize freedom and are tools to help us escape bondage not only Seder night but throughout the year.

According to the Talmud, two of the opinions regarding the identity of the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate are wheat and grapes -- the raw material of matzah and wine. (Interestingly, an apple is not one of the opinions.) Passover is an opportunity to rectify Adam's mistake. We use grapes and wheat in two of our central Passover commandments in order to fix the destruction wrought by his failure.

Haste is Waste

The Arizal explains that the root of Adam's sin was haste. He ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge that first Friday afternoon. Had he waited until the Sabbath he would have been allowed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. However he was pressured by the primordial snake to partake of the fruit right away. It pressured him to act. It told him the opportunity would pass. According to the Arizal's understanding, haste was at the root of the first man's sin.

Matzah is a tikkun, a "rectification," for that sin. Matzah is dough that is not given time to rise; it's dough made in haste. By eating it at the Seder we show that haste can be used as part of a mitzvah, towards good.

This experience is meant to stay with us the entire year. Sometimes, for instance, a person is tempted to do something wrong. His yetzer hara, the inclination to do evil, is pressuring him to commit the wrong now. At the same time, perhaps only for a moment, his soul provides him with a flash, an instinct, which tells him if he resists the pressure right now he can overcome the urge to commit the wrong. If he doesn't act in that instant, he may fall.

The mitzvah of matzah reminds us that we once fled in haste from a place of bondage. Eating it at the Seder is a way of saying we use the very thing Adam sinned with -- haste, pressure, no time to think -- and transform it into a spiritual entity. We understand that haste caused us to fall, and that the way to correct the wrong is to use haste in a mitzvah.

Wine also serves to rectify Adam's sin, but differs from matzah in that it represents the positive use of time, not merely nullification of the negative use of time. Matzah is the forbidden fruit (wheat) without chametz ("leavening"), without time. Wine is the forbidden fruit (grapes) with time used positively. The older the wine -- the more the ingredient of time is put into it -- the greater its quality.

Wheat and wine represent two different ways to fight the evil inclination. Sometimes the yetzer hara comes upon us quickly and the moment to act is now! At other times, the best way to battle the yetzer hara is to plan in advance, to think ahead, to anticipate its presence. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of medicine.

Similarly, sometimes teshuva, repentance, is an almost instantaneous flash of inspiration. A person suddenly sees the wrong of their ways and wants to change. More often than not, however, it's the end of a long, slow process taking years and years. The person thinks about life a lot, perhaps experiments with different lifestyles, and one day realizes they have come to the conclusion that there is truth in what the rabbis have been saying all these millennia.

This, too, is a rectification of the first man's sin. Had Adam taken time to think things out, he would have realized the emptiness of the primordial snake's pressure tactics. He would have come to the realization that there is more to life than the instant gratification of the forbidden fruit.

Of Great Whites and Primordial Snakes

I was once reflecting why God created a world with such terrifying creatures such as Great White sharks, crocodiles, lions, bears, cobras and other fearsome predators. Wouldn't it have been enough for God to just have created a world with bad people, with human being who had the free will to choose evil? Why did there also have to be these nightmarish creatures?

Then, it struck me that these creatures are metaphors for evil. If you were swimming in the ocean and all of a sudden saw the fin of a shark, you would get as far away as possible. You would most probably avoid the possibility of such an encounter in the first place.

Why do we treat possible encounters with our yetzer hara, our evil inclination, differently? Why do we tempt fate and put ourselves in situations of possible temptation?

The yetzer hara is a Great White shark. If you saw a Great White Shark in the ocean or King Cobra on the road, you'd flee like a maniac. Yet we tend to be insensitive in those areas where we have become accustomed to evil, to whatever degree it is.

More than freedom from physical bondage, the freedom we celebrate and symbolize on Passover is spiritual freedom. There is no greater enslavement than addiction to our baser selves. Everything we do on Passover can have the most profound impact on how we live the rest of the year. We just need to take the time to think about it.


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