Why do we celebrate the Seder? My kids tell me that's no question: We're here to celebrate our freedom. That's what the holiday is called, "Festival of Freedom." We were slaves in Egypt, now we are free, so let's finish the Haggadah already and get to the meal.
I'm glad they feel so free. As for me, I'm still a slave. For me, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, never died. I labor for him all day and all week long. He tricked me into it: First he let me have all these nice things I really wanted for nothing. Later he started demanding money for them. When, one time, I didn't pay all the money, he demanded even more money. So I have to keep working real hard to give him all the money he demands.
I carry a picture of Pharaoh in his present incarnation in my wallet. It has his very intimidating new name engraved on it. He's called "Master Card." I can't leave home without him.
But my kids don't go for that. They say that in the Haggadah it says Pharaoh let us go free. Well, I know the Haggadah a little better than them. The fact is, the Haggadah, like every other piece of Torah, is full of puzzles and seeming contradictions--just so you'll ask questions. If you read any piece of Torah, especially the Haggadah, and you have no questions, you obviously didn't read right.
(That's why the "Son Who Doesn't Know How to Ask" is seated at the end of the table. Not the Wicked Son. Not the Simple Son. The "Unquestioning Son". Not just because unquestioning is very unJewish, but because it means you're plain not paying attention.)
Let's get to the point: We just finished making kiddush, in which we call this "Festival of Freedom." What do we do next? "This is the Poor Man's Bread...Now we are slaves, next year we will be free."
Is that a contradiction or is that a contradiction? Are we free or are we slaves?
So my kids tell me that we're celebrating that once we were slaves and then we got free, so we celebrate. The fact that we all got into a mess and became slaves again, well, too bad. We can still commemorate the past.
Let me tell you something: I'm not into commemorating the past. If I'm going through all this trouble in 2001, 3313 years later, to clean my house for Pesach and make a big Seder, it must be more than commemorating something that cancelled itself out with history anyways.
The problem of being a slave with all these contradictions, plus the stress of Pesach cleaning, really bothered me. So I went to see a psychotherapist. He listened, took notes and then told me that Mastercard is not Pharaoh. I am Pharaoh. More specifically, my unreasonable demands upon myself is Pharaoh.
My only real demand upon myself is that I should not be a slave. He said I shouldn't use that word, "should." "Should" means I'm making an unreasonable demand upon myself. That causes stress.
Stress, in his Haggadah, is slavery. Apparently, the Hebrews in Egypt were stressed out. Building pyramids was nothing. It's the stress that did them in.
"So," I asked, "What should I do? I don't want to be a slave."
He said I should do nothing. Wanting is ok. I can want to not be a slave. Shoulding is bad. It's unreasonable to should.
Now I was really confused. I always understood that "I should" was my liberator and "I want" was what got me in all this trouble to begin with. But the hour was up and there I was in the office showing my picture of Pharaoh to the psychotherapist's secretary.
"In summary," I thought, "I shouldn't say should." I had to make another appointment with the shrink to ask whether I should or should not say that I shouldn't say should. But, at his professional rates, I didn't think my little Pharaoh would let me.
At any rate, I decided, I don't need a shrink to achieve liberation. After all, liberation is a form of enlightenment. When is the last time you met a spiritually enlightened psychotherapist? What I needed was a guru. An elevated, transcendent soul who is essentially liberated, could pull me out of this muck and mire.
So I sat down and keyboarded out a letter, to the Guadalajara Rebbe. Then I fired it off to email@example.com. I waited online for my reply.
Then it came. Verbatim, as follows:
"We are all prisoners. The act of existence is our crime. The universe is our prison. Our bodies and our personage is our cell. The keys to liberation are held tight in the fists of our own egos."
Then a little note: "see Tanya, chapter 47. Also read Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Tzvi Freeman".
I meditated, sipped licorice tea, meditated some more, and I got it. Mastercard is not Pharaoh. "I want" is not Pharaoh. Neither is "I should." It's not the want or the should, it's the "I."
I looked in the Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, chapter 47. He says that when G-d gave us the Torah, He gave us Infinitude. We connect to Him through the Torah and we are free because we are then infinite and unbounded as He is. And he writes, "...so there is nothing stopping anybody except for his own will, for if a person does not want..."
Again, the same idea. We are all free. But our egos clutch tightly the keys. How do I get my ego to let go of the keys?
For practical, realtime liberation, I need "The" Rebbe. The Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This is the practical advice of the Rebbe, in a Passover discussion:
"Make a part of your life an act that takes you beyond your bounds--helping people who are not part of your family or circle of friends, doing something that does not fit your own self-definition. Invite someone to your seder who you're not so comfortable with. At first, it may not feel so good. But you have set yourself free."
So, again this year, I come to my seder. I leave the world of my puny self and walk through the door into something infinite, timeless and eternal, because it is bound with an infinite, timeless and eternal G-d. I am no longer part of me. I am part of us and part of His Torah and therefore part of Him.
To prove it, I say, "Let all who are needy join our seder. No matter who."
I've broken free. This year, let us all break free. Not just at the seder, but every moment of our lives. Forever.
This year in Jerusalem.