Thank you for allowing me to bring you a message on Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat before Pesach. I am not a biblical scholar like our rabbi was, however, before anyone can be a teacher, he has to be a student and I am a student of life and I love the principles that our Torah teaches us. Today I would like to focus on Pesach rather than bringing you a message on Parashat Tzav. I will leave the expositions of the parashot to the two good men in our community who do a wonderful job of that each week: Alejandro and Mauricio. Thank you both for your time and your efforts to teach us how to apply Torah to our lives.
However, the word, Tzav means command and when God commands something, we are far better off when we hear and obey or else, we suffer the consequences. We humans have been given the option to choose to obey or disobey because of “free will.” Since so few people today truly want to know what is written in this wonderful book, our Torah, the world is reaping the consequences. The bottom line is that it is the key to solving all our problems. Instead of constantly dealing with symptoms we need to get to the root. The use of drugs, legal and illegal is increasing exponentially; government control over vast populations is worldwide; money is losing its value; sexual deviancy is the norm and is being promoted in all forms; people are depressed, anxious and paranoid. Life as we knew it even one year ago has changed dramatically. But this has not been a quick process; although it feels like it happened overnight, it has actually taken years to develop, as it did when our people lived in Egypt for over two hundred years before slowly allowing themselves to become enslaved. They could have left at any time to return to the land of their fathers, but they chose to remain… until our God chose the time to deliver them from slavery. But how will we win this battle today? Will our God rescue us as He did the ancient Israelites? Our prophet Zechariah said to Zerubbabel … “it’s not by power; it’s not by might, but by my Spirit, says the LORD.” That is how.
We need to learn from our history; for every time we forget the mistakes of our past, we are bound to repeat them. Today once again, our freedom is at risk because we are allowing ourselves to become enslaved once again! The gods of the world are at war with the God of Israel. We, however, who trust in Him, need to be like the ancient Israelites the night before they left Egypt… ready, “with a belt round your waist, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand”, even if you don’t know what to expect. They left Egypt with the help of our Creator. Like them, with His help, we can remain strong because we know that we are not walking alone.
Tonight, we will celebrate the Pesach. How does our God want us to do that in this day and age? That first Seder can never be repeated. All we can do is hold a traditional remembrance celebration. But in the same way that our God asked us to be obedient then, by putting the blood on the doorposts of our houses, He wants us to be obedient today. What would you have done if you were living in Goshen at that time? We don’t always know why God asks us to do certain things; they may not make sense, but we do know that if He said it, we are better off to obey. The Israelites knew that the goats or the lambs were considered gods to the Egyptians. They knew that killing and eating them would upset their oppressors. They knew that they were being blatantly rebellious to their slave masters but…they had already seen what their God, the God of their fathers could do. The plagues were all direct attacks on the gods of Egypt. Our gods today are far more subtle; as we spoke about last week, they are things like…My Time…My money…My possessions…My education…My ideas…My belief systems…My illness…My religion…My health…My children…My parents…My Superstitions… me, buying into the ideologies that are spreading around the globe as we speak. Are we willing to turn away from these gods; things animate or inanimate that turn our focus away from our Creator so that we feel ashamed when we have to face Him.
Are we willing to face our Creator? The Israelites knew that He was going to do what He said He would. He had kept His Word to that moment. If you and I were to draw a life map, when we look back, how often can we say that we knew that God was somehow intervening in situations where we didn’t know what we were going to do…. that He was there for us. That’s what we need to remember. Putting the blood on the door was a matter of trust.
At Pesach, our Creator also asks us to clean out the chametz, the leaven from our homes. Leaven represents pride. Pride unchecked brings us to be like the Pharaoh who hardened his heart against the God of Israel destroying not only his own life but the lives of his people. Are willing to break our pride and deal with the issues that come up for each of us in our own personal situations? As we allow ourselves to be humbled, we begin to walk the path to freedom. This is important …you and I cannot humble ourselves. Who are we kidding? Our egos are far too strong. However, the good news is that we only have to be willing to be humbled, to be willing to see that those tough or even horrible circumstances and failures from our past are lessons in humility and in their proper perspective, they can be used for our personal growth. If we face life with an iron vest protecting us from experiencing failure, we will never grow. If we see the past as something impossible to overcome, we will never be free. We need to risk…risk living, testing the waters, confronting one another, not being afraid to love and be loved or to hurt and be hurt. Sometimes we will fail, and our nature will take over; that’s when we want to give up, to retreat but every failure, every mistake creates an opportunity to humble ourselves before God, to make things right and to start over again. As our Rabbi used to say: He is a God of Beginning Again.
A human being can never set us free; only God can. No political or religious system without the Creator at its helm, will ever be able to set us free. They will only enslave us. My people, the Hebrews got into trouble when we asked for a king. God told Samuel to tell the people what a king would do to them when they chose a human king instead of the Bore Olam as their king.
Obeying His Commandments is a struggle because it involves responsibility. It’s hard to assume responsibility because it involves making hard choices every single day. Sadly, many people unconsciously or consciously choose physical, emotional or even mental illness instead, because the journey is simply too rough for their sensitive souls. We need to develop a thicker shell while we give our inner being over to trusting the Creator.
The world requires that we adjust to it, so we need an “adjustment meter”. Our adjustment to change depends upon who and what we trust. If we trust in false gods, we will lose but if we focus on and trust in the One and only Almighty God and obey Him and be available to Him with every gift that He has given us, with everything that we are, with everything that we have…we will love our life and we will be blessed, but no one said it was going to be easy. It’s hard work to be faithful to the end. Only two people of all those who left Egypt were faithful to the end…Joshua and Caleb. Even our great leader, Moses didn’t make it into the Promised Land. Who among us will follow in their footsteps?
That to me is the message of Pesach. It is the first of the months for us. It is the chance to begin again. Have we really searched for the chametz in our soul or just give it lip service? Are we ready to offer up our chametz as an ola, a burnt offering to the Creator?
Pesach is the first of the three Pilgrim Festivals, the Shalosh Regalim. It is the time to bring our extra offerings to the sanctuary as we bring ourselves and the best of our resources before Him. The haftarah portion today is from Malachi 3. I remember reading this challenge where God said that we were robbing Him by not bringing our best offerings to Him; He said “test Me in this and see if I will not pour out the storehouses of heaven so that you won’t be able to move.: Well, I love a good challenge, so I did test Him and that’s exactly what happened; from that moment our God has never let me down… but that’s a story for another day. Simply put, our God always keeps His Promises to us. When we obey, we are blessed; when we disobey, we suffer the consequences, and we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. Pesach is not about having our sins taken away by the blood of the lamb; it is a time of thanksgiving, that in spite of our shortcomings, when we obey Him, He will always stand vigil over us. When are humble enough to face ourselves and our Creator, He shows us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Once we do, then we can truly live.
Chag Pesach Sameach Peggy Pardo