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The Systems of the Jewish Year


By Rabbi Sender Haber

After a week of celebrating freedom it is worthwhile to take a few moments to examine the idea of freedom and how it can have an impact on our lives beyond Pesach.

The Gemara in Pesachim tells a story about Rav Nachman and his slave named Daru. At the seder Rav Nachaman asked Daru how he would react if his master set him free and gave him thousands of dollars in gold and silver. Daru said that he would jump for joy and praise his master. Rav Nachman said “with your words we have fulfilled the obligation of asking the Mah Nishtana”. He skipped Mah Nishtana and continued the seder with “Avadim Hayinu”

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Drush 12, 1929) asks a very simple question. How was Daru’s statement about freedom a fulfillment of Mah Nishtana? If anything, it was a fulfillment of Avadim Hayinu? Daru’s statement was explaining why we celebrate, not asking why things are different.

Rav Moshe quotes another Gemara about Daru. In Bava Kama Rav Nachman writes that if he were to lose Daru he would incur absolutely no financial loss because Daru was not worth his food and board. Daru’s only skill was dancing at parties and people who dance at parties do not make enough money to support themselves. Daru was lucky to be a slave because otherwise he would have starved to death.

When Daru was jumping for joy but he had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was dependent upon Rav Nachman to support him. Even with the thousands of dollars in gold that he would receive, he would eventually run out of money and find himself with nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep.

When the Jewish people left Mizrayim the Matzah was the one thing that didn’t work out. Everyone who deserved to leave left, the Egyptians were unable to touch us, and we got to keep some of the Egyptian’s wealth. The matzah was the only ‘fluke’ - our bread did not have time to rise. Instead of finally eating normal food, we were forced to eat the same flat bread of poverty that we had eaten for hundreds of miserable years as slaves in Mitzrayim. At the seder the son looks around him and sees “only Matzah”. We seem to have been holding onto that “Matzah” of imperfection for thousands of years. Nothing works out perfectly. We may be ‘free’, but we are always running, rushing, not getting things right, and trying something new. Nothing is permanent. We are like Daru, celebrating and dancing around when we are not free at all.

Daru is ‘exhibit A’ of the Mah Nishtana. He thinks he is free, but he is really going to starve to death. We ask the same questions of ourselves: Are we really truly free? Are we really so happy? We get excited about things from time to time, but do they have lasting value? Do we really live in a perfect world with perfect lives, or are we like Daru – jumping for joy when we are really starving to death?

The answer to the Mah Nishtana is that we are free. We may not be truly independent or in a great situation, but we are still celebrating.  We are celebrating the fact that no matter what situation we are in, we have the ability to hook up with something larger than ourselves and bigger the entire world that we live in.

Before Yetzias Mitzrayim, people looked at the Jewish people as a slave nation. We had no aspirations or hope of ever becoming anything else. By leaving Mitzrayim we gave ourselves goals as individuals and as a nation. We became so free that we became people that could never be enslaved again. There has been plenty of persecution, suffering, and abuse throughout the years, but nobody can truly enslave the Jewish nation. We possess a neshama and a mission that simply cannot be subdued or neutralized. Hashem has made us free.

Another way to put it is to say that we have achieved the freedom to rise above it all. It is the freedom from the feeling of jealousy that we feel when someone gets something that we deserve. It is freedom from the irritation that we know we shouldn’t be feeling around certain people. We want to be free from our addictions, free from bad moods, and free from laziness. We want to break out and get on with our lives. The bracha of Pesach is the true Cheirus that we can imagine and attain each and every year.

The seventh day of Pesach symbolizes the final step of our freedom. Until the sea split the Jewish people were not yet convinced that they had made the right choice. In the back of their heads they still saw the Egyptians running after them. It was only after they saw the Egyptians washed up on the shore of the sea that they were able to breath a sigh of relief and get started on the rest of their lives.

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