Pesach—Adjusting Our Vision
Why Are We Here?
One of the keys to a proper celebration of Passover is knowing what questions to ask, and how to answer them. So, before we start into studying the details relating to the first Pesach, and all the details of how to conduct a home seder, there is a question we need to address. For some, this might seem like an obvious question, with an even more obvious answer. But it is important that we explicitly address this question, or we won’t really understand the significance of Pesach.
What is this all-important question? Simple… Why are we here?
Of all the things you could be doing this Spring, why are you choosing to commemorate the Passover deliverance? With all the other stuff that needs to be done around the house, why are you studying about Pesach? Why are we reading certain passages from the Bible, and learning lots of Hebrew words, and what do we hope to gain from participating in a seder?
Actually, in answering this question, we are going to highlight a principle that has the potential to revolutionize every aspect of our Bible study. This life changing idea was summed up well in the title of a television show that ran through the mid-1950’s—“You Are There”.
The goal of that program was to re-enact historical events in such a way that the viewer felt a part of the action. It was intended to be a form of entertainment that taught through bringing the audience into the events, so that one gained the feeling of having actually lived through the historical scenes depicted on the screen. Programs like this attempt to rectify a standard problem experienced by those who teach and learn history–an difficulty in fully grasping the significance of the events.
Likewise, many of us simply read the Bible for the sake of learning, “what happened to the Hebrews way back when”. We read the stories of Joseph and Pharaoh, of the hardship suffered by the Hebrews in bondage, of the plagues, and the final deliverance, and we are satisfied to be able to repeat those stories in all their glorious detail. This is even recognized among seminary students and professional clergy as one of the greatest of occupational hazards—learning texts without personalizing them. If we stop there, then we have not really gained the full value that is available to us.
Every time we pick up the Bible, we need to do some role playing. Meditating on a text means that we place ourselves in the action, somehow, and learn the lessons that were first learned by our forebears. Even Joshua, immediate successor to Moshe Rabbeinu, was exhorted,
Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed.
We need to meditate on the Scriptures, not merely read them through so we can regurgitate the stories. It is necessary to spend time placing ourselves in the stories, seeing ourselves in the place of the characters, experiencing what they experienced, making decisions as they made decisions, rejoicing in the blessings with which they were blessed, and feeling the consequences of their mistakes.
A wonderful illustration of the need for such meditation is found in parsha Yitro/Jethro, specifically Shemot/Exodus 19, with its description of the divine manifestation on Mount Sinai. This passage tells of an awesome and terrifying encounter with the divine. It speaks of mighty, thunderous voices, fire, lightning, and smoky darkness so deep and weighty that it could be felt. If we merely read this through, then we have learned nothing. Instead, we must imagine ourselves at Sinai, experiencing the terror of standing at the foot of an erupting volcano. We must hear the sounds, as though thousands of shofarot (rams horns) were being blown right in front of us. We must feel the ground shake beneath our feet, see the lightnings and hear the declarations.
When we place ourselves in the sandals of the people standing at the base of Sinai, then we have begun to gain an appreciation for the significance of what they experienced. The Torah begins to come alive for us as we share the sensation, deep down in our kishkes, of the awesome power and glory manifested that day!
When we have learned to meditate on the story, place ourselves in the middle of it, experience the events for ourselves, and walk away changed just as the original participants were changed… then we have begun to enter into the story ourselves, and we have taken the step of integrating the events into our lives. This sort of meditation is necessary if one truly wants to appreciate what happened to the fathers. More importantly, it is absolutely mandatory if one expects to allow Scripture to change our hearts, minds, and characters. This sort of transformation comes through deep meditation on the Scriptures, where we lose ourselves in the original events, and allow ourselves to be altered in fundamental ways through the re-experiencing of what we find there.
Scripture must be internalized, and made part of our personal experience, in order for it to serve the purpose for which it was given.
Dwell on this idea for awhile. Try it out with a few of your favorite Bible stories. You’ll find that, though this practice is not specific only to Pesach, it will enhance your celebration this year in a way you may never have imagined.
So, what is the answer to the original question we posed? Why are we here? We are here to recall. More than that, we are here to re-create, re-experience, and refresh our memories of the very first Passover. May we carry this idea with us as we prepare for this very important community memorial.