Passover is known as the festival of freedom. But it might also be known as the holiday of love.
What was the most depressing condition of Egyptian slavery in the Torah? According to the Belzer Rebbe, the Israelites suffered most deeply not from slavery itself but from their acceptance of slavery. It crushed their spirits. They did not think themselves deserving of something greater. Part of the depredation was to steal self-esteem from the oppressed. Moses had to convince the Israelites that they were in the image of God. They were worthy of self-love. His task was to raise the self-regard of those who had been kept down for so long, and assure them they merited redemption. The phenomenon of oppression creating self-loathing is well known in human history and certainly in Jewish history. We have suffered a great deal throughout the ages from self-hating Jews. Perhaps, inspired by the lesson of Passover, renewal can come in part through Jewish self-love.
Building on self-love is love of one other. It is no coincidence that on Passover we read "The Song of Songs." This explicit and erotic love poem demonstrates the passion at the center of Judaism. Part of that passion is romantic love. Judaism does not belittle the body; sexuality can be sacred as well as immensely powerful. Human touch is a Divine gift. Pesach is a time of hearts attuned to other hearts. The beauty of Song of Songs reminds us that passion is not antithetical to faith, but integral to it. A glance at the great works of Jewish mysticism teaches that erotic images speak about that which is highest and best in us. Devekut, clinging, which is used to speak of the great relation one can have to God, is first used in the Bible to describe the relation of a man and woman.
On the Sabbath before Passover we read the prophet Malachi. The passage ends with a promise that one day the hearts of parents will turn to children and children to parents. Gathered round the Seder table these words take on a special meaning. Peach is the quintessential celebration of the family. That "home" love too is vital to the Passover festival. All forms of human love: self-love, romantic love and familial love find their expression in the story of the Israelite people and the celebration that recalls our story.
Finally undergirding all is love of God. Moses says to Pharaoah, "I shall not see your face again," for Pharaoh's is the face of hatred. At the end of the Torah we learn that Moses saw God face to face. God's is the countenance of love. The Exodus is the story of going to Sinai, which our sages compared to a huppah, a wedding canopy, and the Torah is the ketubah, the marriage covenant. Passover reminds us that at the heart of Judaism is the deep yearning of God and human beings for one another.
Passover celebrates love. It is not the love of candy and cards, but a love where souls are obligated and ennobled. It is love deep, passionate, purposeful and true. Passing through the waters of the sea are a prelude to rebirth. Passover is a spring festival, and the blossoming renewal of the world can also mean a reawakening of the human heart. Here is wishing you all the many varieties of love on this festival of freedom -- for deep love comes only from the heart set free.
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