Talking the Talk...
When it comes to speech, few people can beat the Jews. Whether it's been in our own language, Hebrew, or in any of the adopted languages of the other nations in which the Jews have sojourned, words have always been one of our strong-points. Perhaps this is why the first month of the Jewish year, Nissan, (roughly March-April) is associated by Kaballa and Jewish mysticism with the ability of speech. Every month has its particular talent, and this month's talent is speech.
When we speak, two things are happening. One is that we are expressing ourselves. It can be intellectual expression, or it can be emotional expression, but it's from inside ourselves. The second thing is that speech communicates. It lets another person or being know what we are thinking and /or feeling. There is something new in the creation when, by listening to one another, we begin to fathom what is going on inside another person. Until then, there was no relationship with the "other". All of a sudden comes along the power of speech and we can begin to recognize, understand and hopefully even empathize with one another.
Speech is also a mark which let's us know whether a person has reached mental maturity. When his speech demonstrates intellectual subtlety together with emotional nuance, then he has certainly reached some level of maturity. If, on the other hand, his speech reflects only base desires and a lack of subtlety, then chances are he has a lot of growing up to do.
Some 3300 years ago, the Jewish people were stuck in the land of Egypt. One "Pharaoh", king of Egypt, wasn't about to let them out of his land and back to the land of their forefathers. The plan from Above was that the Jews should leave Egypt, camp by Mt. Sinai and receive the blueprint of creation -the Torah- and then go straight to Israel in order to put it into effect. Pharaoh though, didn't recognize anything from Above, and he had other ideas for the Jews. The sages of Kaballa, ever ready to use the Hebrew language to understand what is going on beneath the surface, took a good look at the word "pharaoh". They decided that it had the same Hebrew letters as the word "Haoraph", which means "the neck". Pharaoh, the sages said, was the physical manifestation of a spiritual sickness which is associated with the neck. This sickness prevents the mind from filtering down to the heart, and prevents the intellect from influencing the emotions. A person can't grow when this happens. He's stuck forever in a state of infancy. He also can't speak, because the same sickness prevents the heart and the mind from expressing itself. Psychologically speaking, this is the equivalent of slavery. One whose intellect is prevented from influencing and growing his emotions is the equivalent of a slave. Speech, on the other hand, is the way a free man expresses himself, and Pharaoh wasn't about to let that happen.
But, as we said, there was a plan from Above for the Jews. They were meant to grow up, and to leave behind the limitations of their collective infancy. They were meant to become a nation of priests, a people whose head affects their heart, and who are able to cultivate love and fear of that which is Above. Pharaoh, with his obstinacy, so interfered with this plan, that G-d had to do something drastic in order to remove the Jews from his influence. The hour was late; left any longer under Pharaoh's control, the Jews would have lost any self-will to emerge from slavery into the realm of freedom. What was needed was an emergency dose of revelation from Above in order to blow Pharaoh "off the neck" of the Jewish people and let them develop naturally. In spiritual terms, the Kaballa describes this dose as a huge injection of G-dly intellect into the Jewish psyche, in order to cure the Jews of the spiritual sickness known as "Pharaoh", and allow the Jews to grow and mature normally, into a nation of free-thinking people. In fact, the G-dly influx was so huge on the night of Pesach, the revelation was so great, that it filtered down to the heart as well, which was G-d's real goal. He wanted a people who would serve Him with both mind and heart.
When we eat matza (unleavened bread) and drink wine on Pesach, we are reliving this new-found ability to make a connection between the mind and the heart. the matza represents the ability to humbly intuit that which is Above (this is the faculty of "hochma", according to Kaballa) while the wine represents the ability to intellectually understand what has been revealed ("bina"). Together, they are the intellect which filters down to the heart and induces the emotions to grow and mature. Once the sickness clinging to the neck is eradicated, we are able to speak as well. And the more we do on that on the night of Pesach, the better. Because a free person, a healthy person, talks about and shares his experiences. It's his way of creating a bond, as well as passing on collective experience to subsequent generations. And it's a necessary ingredient of maturity. It happens again and again every year, because every year we have new limitations which we must escape, and every year, He wants to grant us a new spiritual high.
So, we eat matza, drink wine, and tell of the exodus from Egypt. When the spiritual intellect filters down to the heart, the infant grows up to a child, the teenager becomes a mature adult, and the sult rises to new levels of emotional and spiritual maturity.
That's the plan for this month. Are you ready for it?
The Month of the Mouth
Yet another significant activity takes place this month involving the mouth. This time, though, rather than dealing with what emerges from the mouth -speech-the commandment involves what goes into the mouth: namely, matza. We are told by the Torah to eat a certain amount of this unleavened bread, and to do it while reclining, in a specified amount of time. The Passover Hagada asks the question "Why?" or in Hebrew, "This matza, for what?" The Kaballists go to town on this question, turning it into a statement which reveals a lot about what matza signifies. The word for "what" in Hebrew, "mah", is actually a reference to one of the names of G-d, which has the numerical value of 45. In this case, the essential name of G-d refers to humility and self nullification. So, the question in the Hagada becomes a statement: "This matza is for the sake of "what" -for the sake of 'what' -for the sake of lowliness and self nullification. This trait is a necessary condition for acquiring faith, and so the Chassidic masters said that when eating matza on Pesach night, we are literally internalizing faith.
But, the Torah actually implies that there are two types of matza. One, called the "bread of affliction", (or the "food of faith", by the Zohar), is from the verse (exodus 12:18) enjoining us to eat matza on the first night of Pesach. The other, called the "bread of abundance" ("food of healing", by the Zohar) is from the verse (Deut 16:3) commanding us to eat matza during the entire week of Pesach. What's the difference? Chassidic literature tells us that matza of the first night of Pesach, represents the initial revelation which took the Jews out of Egypt. It was both great and sudden. It was too intense to internalize. Therefore, it left the Jews in a psychologically precarious state, in which they were just as prone to return to their former limitations as they were to continue forward to full spiritual maturity (with receiving of the Torah). It was only upon eating the second matza, the "bread of healing", which was the matza of the rest of Pesach, that they could reflect upon their new-found freedom and realize they now had their own identity and freedom of choice. Only then could they make a mature and settled choice to leave behind the shackles of Egypt and proceed to full assumption of Jewish people-hood. Since we now have the Torah and its commandments, the distinction no longer exists, and even the matza which we eat before midnight represents free and mature choice. Nevertheless, the lesson remains: it's not enough to have faith, one must have cultivate understanding as well. Therefore, the second matza is spelled with the additional letter "vav", in the form of a straight vertical line, to indicate the added measures of G-dly intellect being drawn down and revealed to the Jews after midnight.
The month of Nissan, like every month of the Jewish calendar, carries with it several correspondences, such as one of the twelve tribes, a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, an organ of the body, a sense, or talent, and a constellation, or "mazal", as written in the holy books, the Sefer Yetzirah, the Bnei Yissachar, and others.
The tribe of the month of Nissan is Yehuda. King David came from the tribe of Yehuda, and he embodied two opposite traits. On the one hand, he was a natural leader, possessing an innate ability to direct and command men in both war and peace. On the other hand, King David was humble, possessing the ability to admit his mistakes and learn from them. These two traits are reconcilable when we take into account the "sphera", or G-dly emanation of the month. It is that of "keter", (lit, crown), which carries with it the implication of faith. A king who has faith, which King David had in abundance, is humble before G-d and willing to learn from his mistakes, while at the same time the power and will of G-d flows through him and he is the conduit for the expression of G-dly will in the world, as was King David.
We see faith manifested in another way this month. Nissan is the month of miracles, as the name, "Nissan" itself suggests the Hebrew word for miracle, "nes." The previous month of Adar saw the hand of G-d working in one kind of miracle, the "silent miracle", in which He works behind the scenes in hidden ways to bring about the desired result. This was the situation of the Purim story of Queen Esther, in which only at the conclusion of the story do we realize He was guiding the progress from episode to episode until the very end. But the month of Nissan introduces an openly miraculous conduct which we see with the naked eye. Such was the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea, in which the Jews managed to finally escape the Egyptians and witness their destruction in the waters of the Red Sea. Yet, even such a miracle demanded faith. The sages tell us that the miracle did not take place until the leader of the tribe of Yahuda (Nachshon ben Aminadav) jumped into the water all the way up his neck. Only after he took the first steps toward what he knew to be the right direction, the mountain of Sinai in order to receive the Torah, did the waters part. The lesson is clear. It's not enough to know the goal. Faith demands that even when we don't know how to achieve the goal, we must tae some kind of first bold step. Only then does the way become clear.
The taking of bold steps is related to the organ of the month of Nissan, which is the right leg. The right leg is the decisive one, the one which, given enough foresight and gut level instinct, does not hesitate to take action. While some people might hesitate to act even when they know the right path, the true leader (coming from the house of Yehuda), unhesitatingly takes the first step with the right leg as soon as he knows the time is right. We know as well that the Torah itself corresponds to the right side, as the verse (Devarim 33:7) tells us "From His right, comes the law of fire to His people."
The letter of the month is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the "hey". This letter is referred to by the Zohar as the "light letter" -light because it is abstract enough to be the source of all other letters of speech. While most of the other letters are formed by the action of the lips, teeth, palate and tongue, the "hey" emerges from the throat itself, and is thus the letter of breath which precedes speech. The Talmud tells us that while the world to come was created with a "yud", (the small, tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet) this world was created with the "hey". The "hey" has three lines, two of them connected while the third is disconnected, to tell us while this is a world of thought, speech, and action, it's the action which is most important. And action, unlike the other two, demands a leap of faith. It's not connected to thought and speech, which express our intellect and emotions, but only loosely associated with them, in a world of its own which is defined by our ability to have faith, make decisions and live by them.
The sense of the month, as we already indicated, is he ability to speak. This mat seem contradictory to the previous paragraph which put the emphasis on action, but the sages said that the speech of G-d is itself considered action. The "yud," with which He created the world to come, is the letter of thought, which gave rise to the spiritual creations such as angels and the higher spiritual worlds of "yetzirah", and "briah". But, the "hey" is the source of His speech -with which He created the physical world- and possibly because of this the most important commandments of this month are performed with the mouth.
...And Walking the Walk
Out... but not quite
Since we spend a significant amount of time preparing for and involved in the "seder" of "Pesach": that is, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, together with all the ceremonies involved, such as eating matza, drinking wine, and consuming "bitter herbs" around the Passover table, it's appropriate to understand what the main point of the seder really is.
Here are some "stumpers" regarding the whole story:
We start the night by saying "This is the bread of affliction" Why are we talking about "bread of affliction" when the story is supposed to be about going out of affliction into freedom?
We continue and say, "We were slaves in Egypt - and if G-d didn't take us out then we and our children and our children's children would still be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt." How can we say we would still be slaves when G-d promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) that the fourth generation of his offspring would return to Israel? If he was promised that they would return (and we know they actually were in Egypt only 210 years), then how can the author of the Hagada say that not only we but our children and grandchildren would still be slaves in Egypt?
"In the beginning our forefathers served idols, but now G-d has drawn us close to worship Him" - Drawing closer to G-d in order to worship Him certainly didn't start in our generation. It started in the time of Abraham, who refused to bow down to idols and passed his faith on to Isaac and Jacob. So, what does the Hagada mean with the statement, "now G-d has drawn us closer"?
"In every generation there were enemies seeking to destroy us and He saved us-" Since the Jews were given the job of receiving the Torah and serving G-d with the commandments of the Torah, what is the point of stating that He saved us? If He hadn't saved us, how could we have served him? If those who wanted to destroy the Jews were more righteous than they, there would have been some point, but they were evil people, so why is it so surprising that G-d saved the Jews from destruction at their hands?
"And He built the Temple in order to atone for our transgressions- What does this have to do with the Exodus? Whatever is said about leaving Egypt in order to enter the land of Israel makes sense in this context, but why does the Hagada emphasize the building of the Temple as the epitome of the Exodus?
The answer to all this will seem very surprising. We generally think of the Exodus as having been a complete exit from slavery in Egypt. The truth is that the Exodus was not complete. The sages of the Kaballa tell us that the purpose of the sojourn in Egypt was to serve as an atonement for the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. If the atonement had been complete, the Jews would have left Egypt and gone straight to the land of Israel with the Torah. Since, however, they did not emerge from Egypt of their own will, nor did they act righteously in the desert (they committed the sin of the golden calf), the atonement is not complete to this very day. The Jews in Egypt were on a very low spiritual level, from which they would not have escaped were it not for the sudden revelation of G-d from Above to take them out. Since they themselves were not yet ready to come out, the Exodus was not complete.
Why did the Jews sink to such a low level that they were not ready to exit of their own will? The Torah tells us that the Egyptians were very hard on them there, and made their lives bitter. True, the Egyptians were meant to create the environment in which the Jewish people would undergo purging and refinement from the transgression of the Tree of Knowledge. However, the Egyptians created such a difficult and tortuous servitude that they far surpassed what G-d had intended them to do, and put the Jews in a position from which they would not have escaped if it weren't for the revelation of G-d from Above.
If so, then what did the Exodus achieve? If, after all the noise and fuss, we're still not out of Egypt, then why do we celebrate Pesach? The answer is that the exodus from Egypt was the beginning of a process in which we are still involved to this very day. Our leaving Egypt may not have been a complete exit, but nevertheless it got us on the road. It provided the impetus and the initiative for the final redemption. The sages tell us that in Nissan the Jews were redeemed (from Egypt), and in Nissan the Jews will be redeemed (from the present exile) and be brought to Israel. Knowing al this, we can answer the questions which we asked above from the Hagada.
We start by stating that "this is the bread of affliction", because we are still not completely out of "slavery". We as a people have still not reached the stage in which we are safely out of the mental confines of Egypt -out of our collective limitations- and therefore we are still eating of the bread of affliction.
We continue by saying that if He didn't redeem us then we would still be slaves in Egypt, because if it were up to us alone, we indeed would not have left Egypt. We would still be under the influence of the Egyptians and their control. It was G-d alone who pulled us out.
And we say that now G-d has brought us closer to Him, because we of our own volition didn't approach Him. He came to us, and the process continues to this day.
As long as the process of atonement and return to G-d is not complete, there will always be a presence of evil and of enemies whose purpose is to destroy the Jews. As long as the Jewish people themselves are not purged of evil, there will be enemies from without who mean to do in the Jews, which is why we say the statement, "In every generation we have had enemies - and He saved us."
And because the ultimate purpose of this cleansing and purification process is to lead to the final redemption, with the coming of the Jewish messiah and the building of the third and final Temple, therefore the closing statement of the Hagada is just that: He built us the Temple in order to atone for our transgressions.
(from Likutei Sichos, vol.17, p.78)
Were you ever faced with an impossible task? Was there ever any task imposed upon you of which you had no idea how you were going to perform it? Such was the situation of the newly formed Jewish people when they emerged from slavery in Egypt. They were told that they had to go into the Sinai desert in order to receive the blueprint creation -the Torah. On the one hand, directly in front of them was an unfordable body of water, while behind them was the whole might of the Egyptian army. There were actually four options among the Jews about what to do next. One group said, "Let's give up and go back to Egypt". Another group said, "No, let's turn and fight them." A third group wished to pray, and a fourth group said, "Let's jump into the water and go." Of course, from our standpoint in history, we know which group succeeded in persuading the others.
We know, also that every step of Jewish history is accompanied by some sort of spiritual corollary. If the Red Sea split, allowing the Jews to pass through, then something else "split", allegorically, allowing us to achieve new spiritual heights hitherto considered unattainable, (just as we thought it was impossible to cross the Red Sea until Nachshon took the plunge). In G-dly terms, what was going on here?
The sages of the Zohar divided the creation into two general realms. One, the realm of the tangible physical creation, they called "the revealed world". The other, the realm of the hidden spiritual creations, such as angels and the higher worlds, they referred to as "the hidden world", because it is hidden to the eyes of the normal human being. Sometimes, they referred to the revealed world as "land", since land creatures are visible and detectable, while they referred to the world of hidden spiritual creatures as the "sea". Just as the sea conceals the creatures which inhabit it, so the creatures of the spiritual worlds are beyond our everyday detection. Interestingly, the last of the ten "spherot", or G-dly emanations, "malchut" (which is G-d"s earthly presence, or the "shechina"), is also comprised of a hidden and revealed aspect, called "sea" and "land", respectively.
So, what split when the Red Sea split? The Chassidic masters tell us that it was G-d's hidden world which split when the Red Sea split. The hidden world split and revealed spirituality and G-dliness right up to the highest levels. The Midrash tells us that even a servant at the Red Sea could see what the prophet Ezekiel could see when the sea split. G-d, for a split second in Jewish history, parted the curtain and revealed the highest spiritual realms on the seventh night of Pesach. He showed us the essence of spirituality, including all of the creatures of the hidden worlds on that night. As part of the tantalizing revelation of Pesach, He let us know what it was that He had in store for us once we would be granted the Torah six weeks later in the desert, and be able to strive on our own from then on to achieve spiritual status.
Why did it take seven days? Why did the Jews, upon leaving slavery en masse, not come directly to the Red Sea? Why did they wander around in the wilderness before confronting the sea? The answer is that there was a process going on. The entire first week of the exodus was a week of revelation and kindness, but it took some time to sink in that they were really on their way into the desert. The head can dictate, but the heart has its own set of rules. Specifically, the sages of the Kaballa say that there are seven stages which the heart must pass through in order to absorb a new reality. They are, respectively, love, fear, harmony, security, equanimity, attachment, and acceptance, and they correspond to the seven emotional supernal spherot Above. The reality of leaving Egypt took seven days to absorb, while the reality of receiving the Torah took seven weeks. Both represent the process that the heart needs in order to take in and absorb a new situation. Only after the new reality of leaving the limitations of Egypt sunk in, were the Jews were ready for the high level of spiritual revelation which was dished out to them when the Red Sea split.
Countdown to Take-Off
The initial hours of the exodus were a major gift from Above. So much so, that we must eat the final matza of the Pesach night, which is the famous "afikomen", before the midnight hour. The word "afikomen" is from a Greek word meaning "gift", and symbolizes the Passover sacrifice, or Pascal lamb. The sages had an interesting way of expressing this. They said, "After the Pascal lamb, we don't add afikomen." That is, after the revelation associated with the Passover offering, there are no more gifts. This statement is in response to the question of the wise son, so it obviously contains a deep message. The evening starts with an initial burst of G-dly illumination from Above, on the night of Pesach, but after that, we're on our own. The Passover offering at the end of the evening is the conclusion of free revelation from Above. From now on, everything is dependent upon our own initiative. We now have to do our own work in order to integrate this G-dly illumination and make it part of our own spiritual repertoire. But, for that, He gave us a technique, as well"
After the first night of Pesach, the Torah tells us to start counting. With the completion of the first day of Pesach, we have to count seven days, for seven weeks. The month following Nissan, Iyar, ushers a period of thought, introspection and meditation, as we count to the main goal of Matan Torah, the givimg of the Torah on the fiftieth day of counting"