Freedom in This Season

by Rabbi David Zaslow
April, 2003

As we know, there are many levels of freedom. One person is free on the outside and bound on the inside. Another is bound in chains and free in her soul. Passover in Hebrew is פֶּסַח pesach and the word has its etymology in the leaping or skipping movement of lambs. “Passover” is not really the correct translation for Pesach. “Leaping Over” might be more accurate. Leaping implies that the obstacle is still there. The journey from here to there, from slavery to freedom, is one that we all make. Often we don’t really eliminate our obstacles, we simply leap over them. Maybe the term “a leap of faith” comes from this notion. How do I get out of my chains, habits, negative attitudes? How to I remove myself from the forces of the Pharaoh that I grew up with? How do I get out of my private Egypt, which in Hebrew is מִצְרַיִם mitzrayim, meaning tight, bound, and narrow places?

The answer may be in our biology. Birth requires the infant to make his first major journey. From the womb into the realm of gravity, the infant must travel through her first narrow place. From birth on, movements and changes will not be so easy. Yet the remembrance of our birth will shape our destiny; will be a determinant factor in the way we handle problems and challenges throughout our lives. I do not like the term “birth trauma” as much as “birth template.” Birth and death are the two most powerful experiences in our lives. They bookend both beginning and end. All issues in between (i.e., during life) will be placed upon the template of what we remember from birth and how we anticipate death.

Pesach is the season of our liberation. All the images in the book of שְׁמוֹת Sh’mot (Exodus) come into play during the springtime. We want to get outside. We need to get outside. We want to be free, liberated. We yearn to fall in love. The festival of Passover is a marker for what is already happening biologically and in nature. The seder dinner is not just a reenactment of a historical event, but a dress rehearsal for what we are each going to do in our lives the morning after the celebration.

During Yom Kippur we dwell on our sins. We chant עַל חֵטְא ahl chayt, confessing that we have sinned. We take inventory of all that is inside. We mark each internal item with a label: “keep,” “discard,” or “change.” We make new vows, dissolve the old ones, and methodically make a file of all transactions. It is a careful, a care-full process.

Not so during Passover. Pesach is a care-free, an almost care-less process. It requires action quickly. We need to act NOW. The angel of death will ride over our homes at midnight. Quick. Clean house. Quick. Take the lamb of our innocence and steak its blood (our own anguish) on the doorposts. Quick. The dawn is coming. We leave in a hurry. No time for inventory and careful filing or analysis. Now is the time to make the leap, to make the skip.

Have a problem? Skip over it! Have an old habit that you want to change? Skip over it! Have a negative behavior pattern? Skip over it! Don’t analyze. Don’t think about your problems too much: just make the change. The words from the Torah describe God as having taken us out of Egypt “…with an outstretched arm and a mighty hand.” What a metaphor! It means that we’re not alone. If we take the first step, God will lead us to freedom. In the springtime there is “nothing to do” to make liberation happen. It just seems to happen by itself. Something invisible in the universe will take care of it. Not all the time. Not during the autumn, but yes, now, during the spring, this is possible.

A wonderful Christian once asked Reb Zalman if Jews were saved by grace or works? The Rebbe answered, “From Yom Kippur to Purim (autumn through winter) we’re saved by works. From Passover to Rosh HaShanah (spring through summer) we’re saved by grace.” It’s a funny answer, but it’s true. Judaism sees a balance between our actions (works) and God’s actions (grace). We need both grace and works. We’re the ones who make the preparations for a long winter, storing up food and supplies. But during springtime? We feel the hand of God’s grace descending. If we wait, the bounty of the land and trees will feed us like living angels of the Holy One.

It’s not a choice between grace or works. It’s both, each one in its time and proper season. Doing it yourself: that’s the “works” of autumn. Leaving it to God: that’s the grace of Springtime. Liberation is not something to strive for. It’s built into the hard drive of the seasons, of our biology. There’s nothing to do, just BE! So, when the moment comes and you hear God’s voice say “make the change,” LEAP.

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