| Parshah |

Prison Break

Leaving Mitzrayim, then, was essentially about leaving the prison of materialism for spirituality


“This festival of Matzah, a time of freedom…” (Kiddush of Leil HaSeder)


Pesach is called a “time of freedom,” while Shabbos is called a “time of rest.” What’s the difference?
The Torah word for tranquility is menuchah. There are two levels of menuchah — a lower level of body-oriented tranquility, as well as a higher level, serenity of the soul.
To serve Hashem properly, we need a certain amount of physical calm. But Shabbos gives us the higher level of menuchah. On Shabbos, we transcend physical tranquility and focus on our soul.
But in order to reach that identification with the neshamah, we first need to free the soul. (Rav Itamar Schwartz, Bilvavi)

It was late Friday night of Shabbos Hagadol several years ago. It had been a long week of cleaning, and I was exhausted. I turned to put a salad bowl in the sink — then suddenly I couldn’t move. My back twisted into an excruciating cramp. A click, and I collapsed onto the floor in agony.

A neighbor in Hatzalah came and gave me a strong injection of pain medicine. Still, any movement was excruciating. I was helped into bed, and there I lay immobile.

Mitzrayim comes from the word meitzar — prison.
Our body and soul are in constant contradiction. Our soul is a tzelem Elokim, while our body, which was created from earth, desires materialistic things.
Before we’re born, all we seek is closeness with Hashem. But upon birth, our soul is imprisoned within its body.

Despite the pain killers my doctor prescribed, on Leil HaSeder I was still unable to do anything. My kids moved the couch next to the table and I lay on my back —not the best position to drink four cups of wine and eat matzah. Every bite was difficult. Lying below table level, my face felt like it was being coated with matzah dust, and I couldn’t even wipe it properly. I was floating in this surreal out-of-body plane of existence.

I was present at the Seder, but I wasn’t really there.  Action was going on around me, but I was forced to stay completely still. I may have been at complete rest on the couch, but I certainly wasn’t free.

Mitzrayim comes from the word meitzar, prison. When the Jewish People were enslaved in Mitzrayim, they had to work with chomer, with materials.  Leaving Mitzrayim, then, was essentially about leaving the prison of materialism for spirituality.
On Pesach, we seek to free our soul from its greatest imprisonment — the body. When we reveal our desire for the spiritual, we escape our bodies’ hold and reach this spiritual freedom. 
If a person attempts to reach freedom by relaxing his body, he’s using the wrong power for the wrong reason. For example, if someone seeks enjoyment on Chol Hamoed to gratify his body, thinking this will give him menuchah, he misses the avodah of Pesach. Our goal on Pesach isn’t to attain physical serenity but to achieve freedom — to move beyond the confines of the body to connect to Hashem.

The hours went by. I was close to tears, exhausted from doing nothing, caught in a cycle of pain. Then we started Hallel.

Hallel and Nirtzah in our family is sacred. It’s the grand finale, when we cast away all exhaustion and inhibitions.

I wanted to be part of it. To sit up and join the singing, to drape my arm around Yitzi’s shoulders and watch Binyamin shuckle with his eyes closed.

Instead, I was staring at the ceiling wondering vaguely if anyone had cleaned the light fixtures. (Yes, my boys have managed to get chometz in my lights…)

The minutes were ticking by and I was missing all of it.

But then I got a grip on myself. I was there. I was present. Maybe I couldn’t move, but I could think and enjoy. Instead of staring at the ceiling, I closed my eyes and began humming softly. I couldn’t raise my voice to hit the high notes when I was flat on my back, but my thoughts could help me reach those heights. I silently thanked Hashem for the ability to be together with my family on Leil HaSeder. As the singing segued into a rousing rendition of L’shanah Habaah, I whispered a silent tefillah that next year I should be healthy, sitting up together with everyone else.

Right now, I may have been confined to the couch, but my thoughts soared free, ever higher.


 (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)

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