Passover: The Original “Think Different”

by Rabbi Jacob Rupp February 26, 2018


istock-5004261071Sometimes during the Seder, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

What is the message we are trying to drive home to our families, to ourselves?

Right before the meal, there is a famous line in the Haggadah that says that if we don’t mention three things, Pesach, Matza, Maror, we haven’t fulfilled our obligation.

Let’s start there.

The Pesach is the Passover offering we used to bring before the Temple was destroyed.  It is symbolic of G-d choosing us, of “passing over” our homes and inflicting punishment on the Egyptians.  The uniqueness of the Jewish people and our destiny is message number one.  The Jewish people are not subject to trends or the standards of nature.  Our birth and continued existence are miraculous–statistically impossible (or highly improbable) yet clearly predicted and assured by a 3,300-year-old document.

The second and more immediate concept is the tight Divine providence that runs our lives.  Unlike the concept of “the Universe” that is so popular these days, G-d runs every miniscule aspect of our lives.  Your Uber showed up late?  G-d is teaching you something.  You nailed a huge goal? G-d allowed you to do that. If you start to open your eyes to seeing how everything in your life is from G-d, you begin to internalize the concept of “Passover.”

And more than that, G-d passing over the homes of the Jews teaches us a little bit about the importance of being Jewish.  So often, we think we need to do things to be beloved to G-d as if His love is not conditional on our action, it is based on who we are.  A fundamental principle that was a huge game changer for me was understanding that I was already good enough, without having to prove something.  When you want to start loving yourself or others, look at who they are, not what they do.

Matzah, the next component of the Seder, represents our lack of time.  The Jews were planning to make bagels and knishes on their way out of Egypt, yet were forced to leave immediately, before the bread had a chance to rise.

When it comes to your destiny, you don’t have the luxury of time.  As Shakespeare says, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”  A person who serves G-d doesn’t wait to make perfect preparations and wait for conditions to be right before engaging in their responsibilities.

It says in the Ethics of the Fathers: Do not say when I’m free, I will learn because maybe you will never be free.  When it comes to our destiny and our job in the world, the task is to accomplish the best you can with whatever you have now.  In this regard, Judaism is totally different than other spiritual practices, which advise removal of the pressures of the world to find inner peace.

From a Jewish perspective, real inner peace and growth must be achieved and accomplished in the insanity of life, specifically before we are ready.  Our darkest moments, when we face doubt, fear and lack of clarity is when G-d says, “NOW!”  If G-d forbid we wait until conditions are better, or we feel more comfortable, we oftentimes find ourselves left on the dock and the opportunity no longer available.

Our job in life is to show up and to try.  It also says in the Ethics of the Fathers, “It’s not up to us to finish the job, but we also cannot desist from doing the work.” If we would be able to finish every job and be successful every time, we would put our trust and faith in our own efforts, instead of relying on G-d to do His part as long as we do ours.  And that approach is the secret to living a Jewish life.

Finally: Maror. the bitterness of slavery.  The astute reader will point out that “Marror,” chronologically happened before G-d passed over our homes, and before we left Egypt in haste.  So why must we mention our suffering at the end of the process?

Hindsight is 20/20.  When we feel lost and abandoned it is because we are in the midst of our ordeal and not through it.  The pain and suffering we endured at the hands of the Egyptians was only understandable when we recognize what came out as a result. Conventional and trite as this lesson may seem, the more safe and comfortable our world, becomes the more this concept gets lost.

We seek to end suffering without realizing that suffering is what causes growth and change.  Greatness is achieved through suffering.  And once we start to appreciate the discomfort and challenges of life as growth opportunities instead of experiences to be avoided, we can live alive, unafraid and appreciative.

And these core concepts form the foundation of the Seder; G-d separated us and chose us.  As such, we have a mission that must be executed before we are ready, because if we were the masters of our destiny, able to pick the ideal conditions in which we lived, our success could be attributed to us alone instead of G-d.  And once we do try and we do succeed with G-d’s help, the bitterness in our life becomes a badge of honor and a necessary part of the journey.

With these concepts firmly implanted in our mind, we are able to start our festive Passover meal. Α


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