Rabbi Berel Wein
The holiday of Pesach represents many basic values in Jewish life. Foremost, naturally, is that of liberty and freedom from oppression, slavery, and domination by others. The holiday is described as being the holiday of our freedom. But there is another basic idea and value that underlies the commemoration of our exodus from Egypt and the beginning of our freedom. That value is the human capacity to believe and keep faith with an ideal that has not yet been realized and that is yet to be exploited. In the retelling of the story of the Exodus, the Bible mentions several times in the narrative of the description of the redemption from Egyptian bondage the fact that people believed that they would be freed and that Moshe would be the one who would be able to lead them from bondage to freedom. It was this belief that fueled the entire narrative of freedom and brought about the eventual triumph over Pharaoh and the Egyptian nation. No matter how much lip service we pay to the idea of faith and belief, we always have a tendency to underplay its importance in shaping human events, both individual and communal. But faith, literally, does have the power to move and change the course of human history and personal existence. The L-rd may have performed untold miracles in order to extract the Jewish people from under the yoke of Egyptian bondage, but none of this would’ve been successful had the people not believed it would be successful and that they would achieve their freedom. One of the great ideas in Judaism, especially emphasized in the teachings of the great chassidic master Rabbi Zadok HaKohein of Lublin, is that within events that appear to be negative and tragic, such as the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, there are the seeds of redemption and hope. Even though there are tragedies such as the destruction of millions of Jews in Egypt, at the time of Moses, the inner soul of the Jew had faith that better times would arrive and that the redemption from slavery would actually occur.
That path is the definition of faith and belief in Jewish life throughout Jewish history. No matter how difficult and oppressive the situation appeared to be, already hidden within it were the solutions to the problem and the redemption from bondage. An expression of this is to be found in the song attributed to the Jewish partisans in World War II who hid in the forests of Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia, from where they continued to harass the Nazi beast. They created a thousand pinpricks that collectively hampered the operations of the German army on the Eastern front. The words to their song in Yiddish were, essentially, “Do not dare to say that this is our final road.” It is this faith that overwrites all obstacles and situations of anguish and despair. The holiday of Pesach always represents a soaring sense of optimism and a deeply abiding faith in the Jewish future and in the redemptive powers of heaven that will be exhibited in the coming of the messianic era. The matzah that we eat is called, in Jewish tradition, by its Aramaic phrase – the bread of faith. Matzah is potential bread, but it is not yet risen. It appears to be doomed to be flat and crunchy, without much taste or substance. However, we are aware of the potential contained within that matzah. Jews believe in the power and potential of it to rise and become the fluffy and the most delicious breads and pastry. We celebrate while the matzah is still in its flattened state. The commandment is to eat it in its raw state so that we can sense the power of its potential, when we will be allowed to eat it after being fully risen and tasty. Our entire fulfillment of the commandment of eating matzah on Pesach is to reinforce our innate sense of belief and faith in the future and in our ability to realize our individual and national potential. Belief eventually leads to action, and action leads to redemption.