Friday, April 15, 2011

Pesach: Frum From Birth? Baal Teshuva? Convert? All of the Above?

As we know, the Seder night is directed by the Hagadah. The Hagadah is a series of texts, arranged by an unknown compiler, and accepted by Am Yisrael as the ‘tourguide’ in our fulfillment of the commandment as obligated by the Torah HaKedosha to tell over the story of the Jewish People’s exodus from their slavery in Mitzrayim, as the Passuk says, “ViHigadita LiBincha BaYom HaHu” – ‘And on that day (meaning the night of the Seder) you shall tell it to your sons.’ The word Hagada comes from the word in this verse, “ViHigadita.” We fulfill this Mitzvah in the section of the Hagadah called Magid - which means ‘Telling” – from the same root.

This is an important introductory point. On these nights of Pesach when we speak about Yetzias Mitzrayim we are performing a full-fledged Mitzvah from the Torah HaKedosha. And therefore we would expect that this Mitzvah operates like all others.

One important facet that applies to virtually all Mitzvos is that we recite a Bracha, a blessing on them. For example, when we blow Shofar, shake the Lulav or put on our Tefilin, we say a Bracha. The common denominator between all of these blessings is that they are recited before the Mitzvah is performed. This is called Over Le’Asiyasan - ‘Preceding the Deed.’ We make the Bracha and only then do we do the Mitzvah.

If what we said is true, that V’Higadita LiBincha, the telling of the Exodus’ story, is a Mitzvah like any other, then it would make sense that it would have a Bracha attached to it. And it does.

The problem is thatMagid’s Brahca - which is a lengthy and dramatic one – appears only after we have completed the Mitzvah, thereby violating the previously stated rule of Over Le’Asiyasan! So what gives? Why by all Mitzvos is the Bracha before, and here, in the case of Magid is the Bracha only recited after?

In order to answer our question we need to delve into three things. First, what is the significance of Pesach-night? What exactly are we celebrating? The second question is, that in light of whatever the first answer is, how does the Mitzvah of Magid serve as the proper vehicle of commemoration? What does Magid do that helps us remember or celebrate that which we are celebrating? And if we combine these two things with a look at another exception to Over Le’Asiyasan, then hopefully everything will come together.

Let’s explore.

The final plague, and thus the apex of what all the plagues came to accomplish was the death of the Bechoros, first-borns of Egypt. On the contrasting background of the death of the Egyptian Bechoros, God showed Bni Bichori Yisrael - ‘ My children, the Jewish People are My first-borns’. When you mess with my Bechoros, I’ll come after yours. This climactic moment of all the plagues came to display, and dramatically so, that the Jews are at the epicenter of God’s plan. God promised Abraham that he would have a nation. At this moment God showed that He was on their side.

When the Jews were leaving Mitzrayim, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu was finishing off the Egyptians by bringing the sea (which a moment before had been doing a miraculous anti-gravity split) down on them the Midrash tells us about was going on in Heaven at that time. Chazal tell us that all physical objects down in this world have a Malach, an angel, a supervising spiritual entity that presides over it in the upper spheres of existence. The Egyptians were no different, and they, as a nation had their own Malachim, as do the Jews. At the time when the waters were descending from their unnatural position and wreaking havoc on the Mitzrim, the Malachim of the Egyptians looked on in horror. They didn’t understand. Chazal tell us that the Jews were at the lowest spiritual state possible upon their exodus, and the Egyptian Angels didn’t see it fair that their earthly counterparts be slaughtered while the seemingly indistinguishable Jews walked away as free men.

It was at that moment that a certain fundamental principle was set in place. The Jewish People are the Chosen Nation. And regardless of sin, no mater what circumstance they might find themselves in, they are the Chosen People anyway. We are God’s children - Bni Bechori Yisrael. We are his emissaries in this world, and even when they are seemingly indistinguishable from Egyptians, nonetheless Mitzrim are Mitzrim, Jews are Jews, and it was time for us to get out of there. The slaves of Egpyt became Jewish People via the exodus. The promise that HaKadosh Baruch Hu made to Avraham Avinu that his children would become a great nation came into fruition with Yetziyas Mitzrayim It was upon Yetziyas Mitzrayim that the Jews, as a nation were born. This is Pesach.

Every year this happens again. Rav Dessler explains (as brought from earlier Kabalistic sources) that the cycle of the Jewish calendar, and the various holidays in it are not merely commemorations or celebrations of events that have been swallowed up by history books. We are taught that Jewish history is alive, and that when the date of any given holiday returns, so does the energy that created the original event. This is the greatness of the spiritual opportunities that are present in every Chag. We are not simply remembering, rather we are experiencing and those lucky people who tap into the holiday correctly have the unique opportunity to bring that light into their lives.

In regards to Pesach this means that every year the Jewish People are chosen again. As we return to the fifteenth night of the month of Nisan the spiritual force which separated us from the Egyptians and set the reality of Bni Bechori Yisrael - comes back, and the Jewish nation becomes re-formed. In effect, we are re-chosen all over again, every year deeper and deeper.

With this we can understand the cryptic commandment in which Chazal tell us that in every generation every person is obligated to view himself as if he himself left Egypt. Not hi ancestors. Him. Now we understand how and why. Because he who correctly taps into the energy of Pesach really does leave!

The question is how do we tap into it? The answer is through Magid. Says the Sfas Emes, our words are far more powerful than we think. When we speak about the exodus, with our words we create a reality infested with the energy of the exodus. The more we speak about Yetzias Mitzrayim the more we enter into a world of redemption. We become a part of the story. We are painting a picture with our words. We are bringing ourselves literally (albeit not physically) into those very moments when the Jewish people were isolated as the chosen nation. When we speak about the plague of Frogs – it happens all over again. So too with every plague. And when we talk about leaving Egypt, on the spiritual level we really are. And this way, by the end of the Seder we too have walked through the whole exodus and have become chosen ourselves.

Let’s put this on the side and examine another exception to the rule of Over Le’Asiyasan, and that is by a Ger, a convert. As we know a convert needs to go to the Mikveh (a type of spiritual bath – christians stole the concept of baptism from this), before his full emersion he is not a Jew, but the moment he comes out, the instant in which his head pokes out of the water, he is eternally transformed into a full-fledged Jew. The immersion in the Mikveh here requires a Bracha, but the convert makes this blessing only after he comes out of the water. Why do we not apply Over Le’Asiyasan here? The obvious answer is that it’s not Shayach, it’s relevant for a non-Jew to make a Bracha, nowhere do we see a precedent for that. So automatically the convert only has the opportunity to make the blessing once he is Jewish, and that only happens once emerges from the process, so we don’t apply Over Le’Asiyasan here.

Says the Chasam Sofer, in light of the above we can understand why we don’t make the Bracha of Magid until after we finish the process. Magid is supposed to bring us to the point where we are Jews on a whole new, deeper, more profound, more internal level than we were before the Seder started. And therefore it’s not Shayach to make a Bracha on the experience until it’s over. Because if Magid is no less dramatic than a conversion process – in which we become the Chosen People again – where we become Jews again - then of course it is the moment that we complete this process that is most ideal to make the Bracha. Magid is our yearly immersion in the Mikveh, and when we emerge we come out as Jews, but on a totally different level. This is our exodus for the year, and the more we enter into the redemptive energies present at the Seder, the deeper potential for a connection with my inner Jewish identity will be available for this year.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we experience Magid to the fullest. Magid is one of the pivotal moments in the year. It is no less dramatic than the determining moment for how Jewish – how connected to Hashem we will be – this year. If we can fully enter into Magid and all of the redemptive qualities that it possesses, then there is no doubt that we will live lives of Shleimus and Simcha moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and the Geulah Sheleimah!

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