Eat Matzah, Don't Kvetch
The story goes back to the work camps during the WWII. Every morning in the camp a group of Jewish workers got up extra early before dawn and prayed shaharit, the morning service before facing their grueling day of work. One morning, one of the group approached the Bluzhever Rebbe after they had prayed. He asked the Rebbe if the morning blessing recited daily ‘Blessed are You Lord, G-d of the universe who has not made me a slave’ was appropriate to say, since really they were slaves. Virtually all of their waking hours were spent in forced labor, maybe except the hour spent walking to and from the work site. After hours of backbreaking labor building a road with their bare hands, they would walk back to the camp for an hour only to eat some measly rations and then to fall into bed exhausted. The next day would be a repetition of the previous one, and this went on seven days a week. The Rebbe said he would think about the question. The next day the Rebbe told the man that yes, indeed, they should say the blessing. While it was true that physically their lives were not theirs, and that for all practical purposes they were slaves, however they very fact that they could get up every morning before being marched out and pray to their creator and true master showed that their spirits were still free (as related in Chasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach).
Passover and the story we tell at the Seder is the story of the Jewish people going from slavery to freedom. While it is a story of political freedom from the slavery of Egypt, there is also a more personal message that we can draw from the experience. The Haggadah says, “Each person is obligated to see themselves as if they had left Egypt.” What does this mean, what is our own personal modern day freedom journey? The word in Hebrew for Egypt is mitzrayim, which comes from the root metzar, which means straights or confinement. It is that place where we feel limited, blocked, held back and constricted. We all have our own personal slavery. Some might feel it comes from external constrictions, lack of money or job opportunities, or how we look. However the Torah view is that it is not these externals which ultimately give us our sense of personal freedom, actualization and fulfillment. The path to true personal freedom does not come from the outside, but it comes from within. We are all slaves to our own weaknesses, to our addictions, and to our negative mind set. The Zohar, the book of kabbalah teaches that Pharoh represents the yetzer hara, the lower voice, the negativity within us. This is the source of our negativity. Let’s take the negative mind sets we allow to take us over as an example. We all know people who constantly kvetch and complain, who are always negative and focusing on what is wrong instead of what is right. We do not like being around such people because they are so negative. And then we realize that we do the same thing. We focus upon the frustrations that happen during our day, and we allow them to ruin our peace of mind and joy of life. The appliance we ordered on Amazon arrives broken and we are in a bad mood for the whole morning. We worry about what could go wrong instead of focusing upon what has gone well. We fall into a behavior of kevetching and complaining, instead of focusing upon what is going well in our life and counting our blessings. This is an example of the slavery we need to free ourselves from, the slavery to our lower voice, our inner weaknesses and negativity. We all have our own personal slavery; for some it is laziness, for others addictions, for others self-destructive behaviors. So yes, the Jews in the Bluzhever Rebbe’s ‘congregation’ in the labor camp may have been subjected to terrible physical conditions, however they retained their inner freedom of the spirit, and even their faith. Unfortunately in our society today we often see the opposite reality. We have lives of prosperity and opportunity, yet we are unhappy and cannot find peace of mind. We lose our sense of purpose and slip into negativity and fall prey to our weaknesses. This Passover let’s try and use the beauty and inspiration of the seder and the holiday, and the feeling of renewal of springtime that accompanies Passover to find that inner spirit and strength to overcome our weaknesses and negativity, and to redirect our lives towards, joy, inner strength and sense of purpose. Chag Sameyach.