The ultimate goal of the exodus from Egypt, when Jews became a nation, was the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The three names given to the festival which celebrates the exodus - Chag HaMatzos, Z'man Cheiruseinu
and Chag HaPesach
- correspond to the three stages necessary to achieve the birth of a Torah nation.
Pesach celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after many years of enslavement. Its importance has earned it the title "head of festivals." Three names are given to this festival:
- In the Torah it is called Chag HaMatzos, the Festival of Matzos.
- In the festival liturgy it is also called Z'man Cheiruseinu, the Season of our Freedom.
- Our Sages termed it Chag HaPesach, the Festival of Pesach.
These three names are interrelated, for this festival has a central theme, comprised of three concepts expressed in its three names. Because Torah is precise,
these three names and their associated concepts follow their order of importance: First, Chag HaMatzos
, which is the festival's Torah name; then Z'man Cheiruseinu
, which is the name given by the Men of the Great Assembly
to be recited in prayer; last is Chag HaPesach
, the name used by our Sages.
The central theme of this festival is that the exodus from Egypt marks the birth of the Jewish nation. But it was not simply the emergence of the Jews as a nation; other peoples also become nations at one point or another. The singular distinction of the Jewish birth was that then Jewry assumed a new identity. They became a Torah nation.
The Jews were not taken out of Egypt simply to free them from slavery, but primarily to receive the Torah, thereby enabling them to fulfill their raison d'?tre of introducing G-dliness into a spiritually barren world. Thus an integral part of the exodus, indeed, its ultimate goal, was the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, as stated: "When you have brought out the people from Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain."
A Torah nation means that the very fibre and being of Jews - as individuals and as a nation - is Torah; everything else is peripheral. Torah and Jew are indivisible and one without the other is unthinkable.
To become a Torah nation, Jews needed to undergo a radical change. They had been sunk in the moral depravity that was Egypt, a spiritual nadir that absolutely precluded their ability to accept the Torah as they were; indeed, they had reached such depths of impurity
that their situation was at complete variance to sanctity and Torah. More importantly, because Torah totally transcends the finite grasp of humans,
it was completely foreign and new to Jews, beyond their framework of existence.
It needed a radical act on G-d's part to make the hitherto inaccessible within their reach, and a corresponding radical change in the very essence of Jewish identity to be able to accept it. The radical act on G-d's part was the giving of the Torah, when G-d Himself "descended on Mt. Sinai" and abolished the division which previously existed between the spiritual and the physical. From then on, Torah was "clothed" in physical matters, and G-d's wisdom thus became within human grasp. The radical transformation in Jewish identity was effected by the exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish nation - a Torah nation - was born.
The three names bestowed upon the festival of Pesach - Chag HaMatzos, Z'man Cheiruseinu
and Chag HaPesach
- represent three stages of the process necessary to achieve this transformation of the Jewish people.
This process is best illustrated with an analogy. A teacher's job is to teach new concepts to his student, "new" in the sense that not only has the student not encountered them previously, but primarily in that they are (at present) beyond the student's mental grasp. The teacher, by definition, is much more intellectually advanced than the student. The student of his own accord cannot understand the new concept, especially to the teacher's degree of comprehension. The teacher must therefore present the subject in terms the student can comprehend, lavishly accompanied with explanations, parables and metaphors. Due to the present paucity of the student's intellectual capacity, the subject transmitted to the student will of necessity be a simplified version of the teacher's understanding of it. Simultaneously, however, the entire breadth and depth of the teacher's knowledge is vested, albeit in concealed fashion, in the version given to the student. Eventually, when the student ripens in understanding, he will arrive at a full knowledge of the subject as comprehended by the teacher.
There are three stages in this process of understanding a new concept:
- Because the subject is intrinsically beyond his mental ken, the student with his own intellectual abilities cannot grasp it. He must therefore set aside his own ego and be ready to receive the teacher's explanation.
- Although it is necessary to accept his teacher's explanations, a student simultaneously must use his own intellect to comprehend those explanations. It is not enough to set aside his ego; he must also understand and assimilate the ideas given.
- Although the student comprehends only the simplified version suitable to his present maturity of mind, the ultimate goal is for the student to understand the subject with the same depth as does the teacher. He must therefore be ready to transcend the limitations of his own intellectual capacities and reach the teacher's level. Then, eventually, he will be able to fathom the full depths of the concept.
A process similar to learning a new concept was necessary to give Jews their new Torah identity.
- To accept the Torah, the Jews needed to set aside their attitude in Egypt which was antithetical to Torah, and instead, "When you have brought out the people from Egypt, you shall serve G-d on this mountain." A servant serves his master with complete submission, faithfully ready to receive and carry out all instructions. Torah can be accepted only when the "we will do" precedes the "we will hear." Submission to the yoke of heaven comes first; understanding follows later.
- Simultaneously, service to G-d - submission to the yoke of heaven - does not mean a Jew has no identity of his own. Torah becomes a Jew's essence and identity. Just as fish cannot live out of water, so Jews cannot live without Torah. It is natural for a Jew to fulfill Torah and mitzvos, for, as our Sages have described the Jew's raison d'?tre, "I was created to serve my Master." Thus, "There is no free man except one who occupies himself with the study of the Torah." Torah, although it must be accepted as a servant, is a Jew's true essence, and one who runs counter to Torah is running counter to one's own nature. One is truly free only when serving G-d.
- The giving of the Torah wrought an infinitely great change in Jews. No longer would Jews be bound by the innate limits of their finite existence. Because Torah is one with the infinite G-d, so, too, Jews' service in Torah and mitzvos would now transcend the temporal-spatial limits of the finite world.
These three stages are represented by the three names of this festival: Chag HaMatzos, Z'man Cheiruseinu,
and Chag HaPesach.
Matzah is "bread of poverty," and poor people are humble and free of arrogance. In contrast to chometz (leaven) which makes the dough rise, matzah is flat, symbolizing selflessness and humility. Chag HaMatzos therefore corresponds to the first stage in the birth of the Torah-nation, the acceptance of Torah with total submission.
Z'man Cheiruseinu, the Season of our Freedom, represents the way this submission and service to G-d is assimilated into the very fibre of a Jew - that a Jew is truly free only when occupied in Torah.
Pesach means "leaping over". The slavery of Jews in Egypt should have really extended for a longer period of time, both because their exile had a definite time span which had not yet elapsed, and because the Jews did not merit to be redeemed then. Yet G-d "leaped over" these considerations and took them out earlier. The Jews, in turn, celebrated the first Pesach also by "leaping over" - they transcended their innate limitations and reached levels previously inaccessible. Thus the name Chag HaPesach corresponds to the third stage of the "birth": service in Torah and mitzvos transcending the temporal-spatial limits of the world.
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 71-77
- (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 4a.
- (Back to text) Shemos 23:15, 24:18; Vayikra 23:6; Devarim 16:16.
- (Back to text) Siddur Tehillat HaShem, pp. 25, 253, 258.
- (Back to text) This name is found throughout the Mishnah and Talmud, and has become the common name. G-d calls the festival Chag HaMatzos to tell the praises of His people who followed after Him in the desert with nothing but matzah for provisions. Jews call it Chag HaPesach to tell G-d's praise Who "leaped over" ("pesach") the Jewish homes and spared them when He struck the Egyptian first-born (Kedushas Levi, Parshas Bo).
- (Back to text) Our Sages called the entire festival by this name, whereas in the Torah, only the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Nissan are called Pesach. See Moadim BeHalachah, p. 215, for a full discussion of this subject.
- (Back to text) Therefore even the order in which Torah places matters is instructive, Torah being cognate to the word horoah, meaning instruction (Zohar, Vol. III, p. 53b).
- (Back to text) The Men of the Great Assembly received the oral tradition from the Prophets (Avos 1:1), and predated the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud. The prayers we say today were composed by them.
- (Back to text) The prophet (Yechezkel, ch. 16) depicts the exodus as the birth of a child forsaken by all but G-d.
- (Back to text) This is why the time of the exodus is considered the beginning of the conversion of the Jews, and the giving of the Torah its culmination (Yevamos 46a) - and "a convert to Judaism is as a new-born child" (Ibid., 22a).
- (Back to text) Shemos 3:12.
- (Back to text) It is interesting to note that our Sages say (Sanhedrin 19b; Rashi, Bamidbar 3:1), "Whoever teaches his friend's son Torah, the Torah considers it as if he gave birth to him."
- (Back to text) R. Saadia Gaon comments (Sefer HaEmunos VehaDe'os 3:7): "Our people is not a nation except through its Torah."
- (Back to text) The Jews in Egypt had reached the "forty-ninth gate of impurity," one level less than that from which they could not have been redeemed (Zohar, beginning of Parshas Yisro).
- (Back to text) As stated (Mishlei 8:30): "I (Torah) was by Him as a nursling, and I was daily His delight" - Torah, before it was given to the Jews, belonged solely to the heavenly spheres, far beyond human reach. See Tanya, Iggeres Hakodesh, Epistle beginning Dovid Zemiros, p 160a ff.; Likkutei Torah, section beginning Ve'eyeh Etzlo Omon (p. 17d ff.).
- (Back to text) As our Sages have said (Shabbos 88b): Torah is a "treasure that was concealed by You" - and not within mortal grasp (until it was given at Mt. Sinai).
- (Back to text) Shemos 19:20.
- (Back to text) See Tanchuma, Va'eira 15; Shemos Rabbah 12:3. See further I Am The L-rd Your G-d, p. 193ff., for a discussion of the effect of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaMaamarim 5670, p. 3; Hemshech 5672, ch. 188.
- (Back to text) See Maamar VeYadaata 5657.
- (Back to text) See Hemshech 5672, chs. 39 & 199.
- (Back to text) See Avodah Zarah 5b.
- (Back to text) At the giving of the Torah, the Jews stood "in awe and fear, trembling and perspiring" (Rashi, Shemos 20:15).
- (Back to text) Shemos 24:7; Shabbos 88a.
- (Back to text) The famous parable given by Rabbi Akiva to explain how he dare defy the Roman edict against Torah study (Berachos 61b).
- (Back to text) End of tractate Kiddushin.
- (Back to text) Avos 6:2.
- (Back to text) Our Sages describe back-breaking work as something that runs counter to a person's nature - as the Egyptians forced the Jews to do in Egypt (Sotah 11b; Shemos Rabbah 1:11).
- (Back to text) Devarim 16:3.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Parshas Tzav, section beginning Sheshes Yomim (I).
- (Back to text) Rashi, Shemos 12:11,13.
- (Back to text) Shir HaShirim Rabbah on the verse Kol Dodi Hinei Zeh Bo (2:8); Pesikta Rabasi, Parshas Hachodesh 7.
- (Back to text) G-d also "leaped over" the houses of the Jews when He struck the Egyptian first-born - see fn. 4 above.
- (Back to text) See Rashi, Shemos 12:11: "You do all its (the Pesach) service...in a manner of leaping and skipping." Even at the time of the exodus the Jews needed to transcend their limits ("leaping"), because 1) it was the start and preparation to the giving of the Torah which was in this manner; 2) it reflected G-d's "leaping over" (as above).