Pesach. Z’man chairusainu (the time of our freedom). As we recline on the plush, upholstered chairs arranged around our dining room tables, how are we supposed to relive the slavery of Mitzraim? How can we make it a meaningful experience?

The following parable might give us some insight:

A king ventured out to a nearby forest where he encountered a young man tending to a flock of sheep. The king was enchanted by the sight of this shepherd wearing a worn overcoat, sitting on the ground next to his staff, sweetly serenading his flock with a chalil (recorder). He initiated a conversation with this shepherd and was astounded by his brilliance and his clarity. He invited the shepherd to return to his castle where they continued to discuss many varied topics. Ultimately, the king asked the him to join the kingdom as an advisor to which the shepherd agreed.

As an advisor to the kingdom, he quickly outshone the other, more senior advisors and after a relatively short period of time, was appointed Royal Treasurer. This, as could be assumed, aroused the jealousy of the other advisors. They began to slander him to the king, claiming that he was bilking the treasury and amassing much personal wealth from this fraud. Although the king at first refused to believe them, their persistence aroused a certain degree of suspicion. He finally agreed to make a surprise visit to the advisors house, situated on the outskirts of the city, to see if he was ‘living it up’ as they had claimed.

The king and his entourage of miffed, senior advisors made their way to the home of the Royal Treasurer. As they entered the simple, small dwelling, they ashamedly realized that they were grievously mistaken. There was no evidence of wealth whatsoever. He was clearly performing his duties in an honest fashion and pocketing nothing for himself. The king was angrily eyeing his older advisors as they were completing the ‘grand’ tour of the home.

Suddenly, they came to a door that was firmly locked. The sign forbade even house members from entering. The Treasurer tried to skip over the room, but the entourage would hear nothing of it. The more he begged them not to enter, the more they were convinced that they had discovered his secret stash of stolen goods. All eyes turned to the king. “Open the door!”, came the royal order.

The Treasurer nervously fumbled with the keys. His face had turned beet-red. As all looked on with gleeful anticipation, he slowly swung open the door. A gasp arose from those standing closest as they saw an empty room with a simple chair in the middle. Draped over the chair was a worn overcoat, on top of which was a shepherd’s staff and a chalil.

All stood in shocked silence trying to understand the significance of this room and why he had insisted that it remain locked. The Royal Treasurer slowly turned to the king. “Your Majesty”, he began, “I’m sure you are very curious as to the purpose of this room. I will explain. From the time that you brought me to the palace, my life changed dramatically. I went from a simple shepherd to one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. I was afraid that it would go to my head, I’d forget my humble beginnings and I wouldn’t appreciate all that had happened. Therefore, every morning, before I go to the palace, I lock myself in this room for a short while. I wear my old overcoat, rest my old staff over my knees and play my chalil. Only then do I leave for my lavish office in the palace.

We too enter that room... We have a Pesach Seder. By remembering from where we came we can learn to appreciate where we are. By understanding how and why we got to where we are, we can understand the accompanying expectations and responsibilities. Avadim ha’yiynu le’Paroah b’Mitzraim (we were slaves of Paroah in Egypt) va’yotziainu Hashem Elokainu mi’sham (and Hashem, our G-d, took us out of there). Why? In order to be free... What sort of freedom? A freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want to? To ‘let it all hang out’? No, that’s not true freedom. It was in order to receive the Torah... In order to become His nation.... In order to realize that our lives in this world are merely auditions for the true reality of the next... In order to enable us to keep all of our desires, hardships, achievements and pitfalls in perspective... In order to live meaningful, honest lives that will enable us to connect to Hashem for eternity. In order to be free.

We recite the bracha (blessing) “Shehechiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu lazman ha’zeh (that You have kept us alive and sustained us and allowed us to reach this time)”. We often think that time passes by as we remain fixed. In reality, we pass through the circle of time. In this bracha, we thank Hashem for allowing us to reach this point of the cycle.

Our holidays don’t commemorate events. Rather, they afford us the opportunity to relive and re-experience those events. Our year is an odyssey through the spiritual version of Epcot. As we travel through the year, coming to the different dates, we ‘enter’ those different time periods. Each one is a different environment than the other. A different world. That very same potential that was maximized at that earlier point is available every year at that same time. We enter that time period. Each holiday represents the opportunity for us to be affected as profoundly as they were ba’yamim ha’heim baz’man ha’zeh (in those days at this time).

On the sixth of Sivan we don’t commemorate the fact that the Torah was given. That same spiritual availability and potential that was at Mount Sinai returns for us every year. We enter that pavilion. We receive the Torah.

We continue on our travel until we enter the pavilion of mourning and tragedy on Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av). It’s not simply that our holy Temples were destroyed on that day and we therefore mourn. We enter that same dangerous, vulnerable time period every year. We are warned to avoid any court cases with gentiles during that entire month.

We travel on. Rosh Hashana is a new pavilion - a different world - a ‘location’ of judgment. Yom Kippur is the day that Hashem forgave the Cheit Ha’egel (sin of the golden calf). That became the pavilion of repentance and forgiveness which we enter on the tenth day of Tishrei every year. A few days later, on Succos, we literally enter the same abode in which we resided in the wilderness. That same intimate closeness with Hashem is available for us.

We travel through the winter. Along the way, we enter the pavilions of Chanuka and Purim, each offering their own unique environment and potential.

Finally, we arrive at the month of Nisan. The time of redemption - the time of freedom. The physical manifestation of this spiritual entity is apparent. Springtime. Rebirth. Rejuvenation. A new start. That same potential is in the air. It enables us to throw off our shackles. To no longer be enslaved to the Paroah in each and every one of us. The Paroah who ignores the clear Hand of Hashem, thinking that something can be gained by ignoring the words He sent through Moshe. The Paroah who calls out to Hashem when he’s in pain but forgets Him the very next day.

This potential freedom is available this Shabbos Pesach. We may enter as slaves but can be transformed into free people...

Wishing you a joyous and meaningful Pesach, a chag kasher v’sameach and a good Shabbos,

Yisroel Ciner

This week’s parsha-insights is dedicated to the merit and memory of my mother, aleha hashalom, Miriam bas Aharon Aryeh, whose yahrtzeit is the tenth of Nisan. TNZB”H.

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