Have you heard about the nationwide project? Offices and schools are closed. Every constituent must attend. Excitement abounds as even the president and government officials participate. This massive undertaking requires that everyone shows up on the first day. The president arrives with great fanfare. With a golden shovel he breaks ground. Celebrities, socialites, and the elite personally help to launch this project. On the second day, the president excuses himself. Everyone else continues to participate with real passion. On the third day, the celebrities and governmental officials have all left, but the rest of the nation remains to continue work on the project. On the fourth day, the only ones who show up to work are the Hebrew people. By the way, the scope of work is revealed to be 400 years of backbreaking slave labor to build the massive treasure cities of Pisom and Ramses. When the Hebrews try to leave, they are forcibly conscripted into Pharaoh’s chain gang. They are slaves of the most powerful country in the world, forever.
This is the beginning of the Passover story which we all recount at our annual Seder. We personally pass on this history from father to son until the end of time. We describe the open miracles which secured our freedom and destroyed the Egyptians. After generations of incredibly challenging servitude, the Hebrew people were liberated by Hashem. He claimed us as his own nation to serve and worship Him exclusively.
I have heard the Passover tale compared as a moral lesson to the struggles we all face with bad habits and even for addiction. The initial pleasure which originally draws us in is quickly eclipsed by the powerful feelings of hopeless repetition of harmful behaviors. We may fail to recognize the abundance of goodness in our lives as we focus more on what we now crave, rather than what is best for us. The more we pursue that initial lure, the less fulfilling our lives can become. Left unchecked we can feel like we are enslaved to our habits and to our desires. One can feel helpless as life becomes all about satisfying the growing demands of our bodies rather than allowing us to strive and commit ourselves towards a higher purpose.
Passover is a holiday which focuses on destroying chametz (leavened bread). We can think of chametz as a metaphor for the impurities which corrupt us. As we eradicate the chametz from every nook and cranny of our homes, we can also cleanse the flaws in our character. As we search for and remove every tiny crumb, we can think about our priorities as we remove the flaws and improve ourselves.
Is it counter-intuitive to think that obeying mitzvos (Hashem’s commandments) is the right path to becoming truly free? Why should it matter which shoelace I tie first? Does what I eat make any real difference? What if instead we choose to do whatever we want? What if there were no obligations, no consequences, no expectations? Doesn’t that sound ideal?
Doing what we want is simply another way of saying to do whatever our physical urges compel us to do. If we are hungry, we can eat. If we are thirsty, we can drink. If we feel tried, we can rest. There is nothing inherently wrong with these activities. But if our entire existence is only about satisfying our urges then how are we any different than an animal which eats and drinks and sleeps when it feels the need? Can it be said that we are slaves in service to our physical needs? Are we living to eat?
Hashem allows us to choose a life of meaning and higher purpose. He gave us the original manufacturer’s instructions, the Torah, which tells us how to elevate our existence and be in control of the physical body whose purpose is to house our eternal neshamah (soul). This Pesach when you spend quality time with those you cherish, when you wear your Yom Tov finery and when you enjoy the holiday delicacies, remember that we are royalty. Strive to be worthy of the gifts with which Hashem endows us every day and to use them in service to Him.