(T.B. Shabbos 97a)
This is an expanded version of the article of the same name that appears in Introspection 5766-1.
My father was a
wandering Aramite. He went down to Egypt, and he
sojourned there with a few people. He grew into a great,
mighty, formidable, nation there.
A weighty and curious trepidation precedes Pesach. How will I prepare adequately, existentially, for this redemption? For it is not re-enactment but an actual exodus. It is not an assumed role but a true personal memory that must be unearth'd. There is a climate of trauma that surrounds this time. Will I be shattered and re-formed? Will I be blessed, through my efforts in this redemption, with the complete consciousness of the ultimate redemptive presence of God? Will I know freedom?
But what is freedom?
Jean-Paul Sartre, The Reprieve, tells us: "Outside the world, outside the past, outside myself: freedom is exile." But the Talmud is not so wild with freedom. Shemot 32:16 tells us: "And the writing was the writing of God, engraved (charut) upon the tablets." T.B. Eruvin 54a explains: "The writing of God is freedom (cherut) upon the tablets." What we gain from proximity to God, from His narrative to us, provides us with true freedom. But this freedom is not outside the world, the past or the self. It is the strong-hold on which all three meet. Yet there is a cry of truth to Sartre's sentiment.
Sigmund Freud describes the state of great discomfort, even pain, which occurs when we think about death or any absurdity. He calls it unheimlich, unhome-like: it lacks familiarity; it surrounds us with strangeness, complete vulnerability without mercy or hope. Hasn't everyone felt this in some unlawful moments? We are affected towards doom by the wild workings of time that allows us at one point to have a home and at another to be homeless. History, the story of time, is one of our fiercest prevailing masters. And what is History if not the world, the past and the self? Would it not be a great comfort to imagine a freedom "Outside the world, outside the past, outside myself?"
Humanity sustains a great romance with eternity, fueled from just such a search for comfort. Everlasting unchanging Truth, and our ability to succumb ourselves into the vapor of eternity, would consequently vaporize the oppression of time, the unhemlich. Avivah Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture, Parshat Bo tells us that, "in Ramban's view... the heart of the narrative (is) not a physical redemption but an eternal realization of the truth of God's relation to the world." Story is replaced by truth. History is replaced by eternality. And whatever trepidation we might have had is replaced with a rather impersonal freedom, for eternal freedom is a freedom that arrives without redemption.
This lack of redemption is not just logically impossible, in that an eternal freedom excludes the space in time for the slavery necessary to provoke redemption. Eternal freedom cannot couple with redemption because that is an existential impossibility. Ha'amek Davar, Shemot 6:7 says that the four cups of wine designate the four stages of redemption. He says there is a fifth cupit is without obligationbut it represents the evolution of personal determination and growth. He says this is the apex of the redemptive experience. True growth, true redemption, is not able to occur without a whole-hearted involvement in an eventas an event not as a mere thought or contemplation. If our whole being is not at stake when attempting growth, then the non-disposable essence of a person is allowed to safely observe the expansion of what, at its most intimate, is a harvested grain of the essence. We cannot dismiss the oppression of time without dismantling our sense of significance. Despite the Ramban[i], we cannot forget that this story of Exodus is our story, our history.
To not forget is one thing, and not really so difficult for us to do; eternity turns and we hear the rustle and the distance the rustling sound journeys is calculated by our absorbed hearts with the passivity of habit, only it makes our hearts tremble. We dont forget that we are the product of events. The difficult task is how to remember. We could trick ourselves into eternity and remember the events of the exodus like we remember thoughts, like shards of truth decorating eternity. But the task of Pesach is not to remember, but to have a memory, (memories have such an affectionate shape we could never excuse them from physicality). And not just to have a memory, but to re-live that memory on the seder night. On all other nights I travel from intense event into the security of eternity (Torah); how on this night can I travel from the security of eternity into the intense event?
In Devarim 4:9,
Moshe Rabbeinu says to the people:
Moshe is speaking at a time when those who directly witnessed the revelation to which he refers are already dead. What did these people, the living ones who Moshe warns, see to remember, to protect and to transmit?
To see is to know
that you are a slave in
"It is because
of this that God acted for me when I left
Ibn Ezra, Shemot 13:8 clarifies a paradox: it is not because of the redemption that we fulfill God's commandments. It is because I fulfill God's commandments that I was redeemed. There is a great inversion of time, an overlap of all things in time, so that the cause is the effect and the effect the cause. Our future is determining our past. If I am told the story, if I internalize it and keep it in my heart, if I teach it to my children -- I will be redeemed: the story will occur. God's faith in His children is a redemption that begins with its ending.
When, in Yirmiyahu 2:2, God says: "I remember to your credit the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you went after me into the wilderness, into a land not sown", we find that part of our nature -- we call it forward and make certain it is still a viable aspect of our rhythm. We begin by learning about the exodus and, through learning about the experience, a memory about the experience is created.
If the learning is internalized learning, we are able to make this memory a part of the self, an adjuring memory. Internalized learning is a learning that has as its integrity genuine wonder, and pressing questions summoned by wonder. Or HaChaim, Shemot 13:8 tells us that the same basic answer is given to the wicked son and to the one who does not know how to ask. The latter son is disparaged not for his lack of intellectualism but for his lack of wonder. Furthermore, Rashi, Shemot 13:14 tells us concerning the simple sonwho asks only "Ma zot? "What is this?that this is a foolish child who does not know how to dig with his question but actually stops it. He consequently receives a simple answer, as it is verily the form of the question that breeds the answer. The tale of slavery and rescue, written in the text and commentaries, is not full-bodied on its own; it lacks the beatbeatbeat of the private memory which breathes poetry within each of us when we take it as our own. If we provide our learning with dimension, so that it is not hollow, so that it lives, then we meet it, and then it is not just the event of learning but what is learnt that takes on the oblique form of a memory. To imagine slavery is the beginning of being a slave and an act of freedom.
Some memories are
so rambunctious and brave
Rashbam, Shemot 12:26-27 says the format of the Haggada shows us that it is the present situation to which we must respond during the Seder. We are not telling the story of you (lachem) but of me (li) ("to me and not to him"). I have a memory, hazy senses, each one playing all parts, but I am only half way there. This memory must be disentangled and refurbished until it is the present. Nature assists us: the slamming nature of this memory is traumatic and leads to a "wound in memory"[ii]. As with all trauma, memory revolts into a re-experiencing, rather than a cerebral recalling of the event. The memory, newly created, must be so strong it creates a past that darts into and expands over the future and the now.
There is one last stage to this paradoxical redemptive process. Now the story must be told. The importance of the telling of the story is articulated in Shemot 10:1,2:
"You will then fully realize that I am God When you tell your children and grandchildrenI have made Pharoah and his advisors stubborn so I can demonstrate these miraclesAll of this so you will TELL THE STORY."
The telling of the story allows for the process of redemption to begin anew, but this does not make telling an altruistic act for the teller. There are stories we don't want to tell: they hurt or shame us, we fear repercussions; at times we are just shy. As Moshe doubts that the people will take him seriously, surely we each doubt that our story will be considered seriously. We doubt our own stories until we tell them. Which stories do we tell; which can we not refrain from telling?
Kaplan, The Living Torah, Bereishit 28:12 says:
"The ladder (which Jacob sees) represents all the
spiritual levels which would be given to Jacob and his
descendants. It is shown to him now, when Jacob is about
to start a family."
Franz Rosenzweig writes: "All that God ever reveals in revelation is revelation... He reveals nothing but Himself."[iii] Is this not even truer for human beings: that all we have to enunciate, while we reveal our remembrances, is ourselves to our selves, to that voice talking which is also watching and listening? Within our Pesach narrative is our pledge to listen to see God and the everlastingness of our petition. It is an elevated love that declares itself with unafraid entreaty. For the teller, telling the story completes the redemption much the same way verbal confession completes repentance. Though it is inverted and full of paradox, the journey of Pesach is a personal one suffering the oppression of time, the nemesis of eternity.
Is this really a
bad thing we could ask? Sometimes it is a simple biased
Now and an insignificant uncluttered Here that we desire,
and if that requires accepting the lurching of the unheimlich
in unlit corners, well, what real danger is there in
that? The danger is that we will not realize the danger.
Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death warns, The
greatest danger, that of losing ones own self, may
pass off as quietly as if it were nothing. The
desire for such nothingness is a scar from the slavery in
"But because of their broken spirit and hard (to bear) work (Avoda), they did not hear Moshe." Shemot 6:9
When Moshe spoke to the Jews of the impending Exodus, they could not hear. The root of the problem was their Avoda. The wicked son uses the term Avoda in his (cynical) question: he asks "What is this labor (this ritual) to you?" Abarbanel, Zevach Pesach explains: "His choice of this particular term implies that he regards the Pesach celebration as a purely material formality, neither divine in its origin, nor spiritually uplifting in its practice." The wicked son sees the Exodus only as a history, with neither unified nor linked events. The labor which broke the spirits of the Jewish slaves and continues to break ours is also un-unified and un-linked to anything before or after it. What does a slave care for the preparation and produce of his slavery? Although unlinked labor is the very raw pit of an event, the very opposite of eternity, it carries with it the same weakness as eternity. Events, in their pure form as unattached event, do not allow for any consequence upon the essential to be at stake and therefore, once again, nothing is significant. Or rather, nothingness is significant, for, when the self suspects what it is involved with is not the essential, it will look to whats outside for the essential. But, in a world where the present is disconnected from its past and future, so that within the event the past and future are absent, from the perspective of the one within the current event outside the event is nothingness.
This explains how
it was the Jews did not hear Moshe even though, as the Sefas
Emes, Va'era tells us, it was hard for the Jews in
finds order in chaos; all thought, all emotional bonds or
outbursts, all art in one way or another is an act of
ordering and linking. It is consciousness of something
that gives it life. Consciousness can reject and destroy
or it can accept and create. The slavery in
This is like a man in prison who is told you will be released tomorrow with a lot of money. The prisoner answers: please, let me out today and I will ask for nothing.
This is the slave talkingGod attempts to bring forward the mind of freedom into the slaves mind. When we did finally leave, with their gold and silver, we left trembling and quickly, our bodies were bruises from the clench we held on haste all through the night.
Logically, we can
understand the Jews haste. Gods calmness is a
result of His luxurious position. Isnt it fair to
allow the Jews their fear? But fear does not necessarily
lead to haste. Haste is dissatisfaction and distrust in
the linking interval between now and now. When human
consciousness grows anxious with the presents
ability to slide into the future, we lunge at that
future, disregarding the insult to time, and times
revengeful disinterest. Human consciousness betrays
itself to absence. Rashi, Devarim 16:3 explains
that the haste of the exodus originated in the Egyptians.
The haste diffused into the mindset of the Jews[v], a mindset perfectly set to
accept this influence due to the years in slavery. In
The difficulty of
capturing such freedom is illustrated by the four sons.
These four sons represent the stages in the
acquisition of freedom.
The first three
stages can occur without awareness. We only truly grasp
that we traversed these stages when we have completely
absorbed the radiant energy of the wise son. The first
three stages are about distancing ones self from
the past, ideals for the future are absence. In the final
stage our emphasis is on what we wish to find in the
future, but in giving a body to the future we return to
the past to understand what it was in the past that
enslaved us. Maybe we are still afraid of Pharoah, but we
are not afraid of our fear and so we can sojourn into it.
Because we have started to make out a form of the future,
the past too becomes a thing, something bound in its own
limitations and therefore possessing the ability to be
overcome. The past is able now to be a memory. If we did
not have this memory, memory in general, we would have
nothing for our consciousness to stand upon. God was hard
on us when we left
This is the significance of the paradox. Because the experience of the exodus is created through a memory, which in turn was born fresh from learning, we are able to marry eternity and the event. To complete the thought of Franz Rosenzweig mentioned above:
"The fact that we do not live within the laws of world history or to state it positively, the fact of our everlastingness, renders all the phases of our history simultaneous. In the history of other peoples, reaching back for what has been left behind is only necessary from time to time; for us it is a constant, vital necessity. And we must not forget that it is a vital necessity, for we must be able to live within our everlastingness."
If we do not live
"within the laws of world history"[vi], what laws do we live
within? God's Lawthe law that bore creation. It is
by this law that the world is sustained, and all life,
and yours and mine. As it says: "If
But to know what
the Torah tells us, to accept it as we accept air, is to
remember it as a living entity, as an encounter, to see
it embodied. In the Tanya[viii], the Alter Rebbie
supports the assertion that the human soul was formed by
a more intrinsic part of God than the body was, and the
body formed by a more intrinsic part of God then the rest
of the world was, through the following proof. It says
that the world was formed by the word of God, the body by
the hand of God, but the soul by the breath of God. Our
words are very distant from us, less so the work of our
hands, but very much a part of us is our breath. And yet,
what are words but manipulated breath? There is a thin
but sturdy veil that marks off what is part of the make
up of a person and what the person is only a vessel for.
Certainly sometimes words are only carried by our breath,
but are characterized by something far away from their
carrier. And sometimes, words are characterized by the
breath that creates them; the words are then the carrier
for the breath. The Torah and the exodus are situations
of the second option. The intensity and consistency of
our relationship with these words will ensure our
existence--this will protect us from the emptiness of
disconnection, from insincere time laid out as dots, from
the void of unrealized expectation. In our learning, we
conquer the oppression of time by growing closer to God
and re-uniting with everlastingness. We find some of the
comfort of eternity we searched for, but are protected
from the pitfalls of eternity by passion. Such learning
is too raw and full of wonder to be considered an act of
intellect. It is an act of will and, so, its by-product
is the creation of actual events as sense-tingling as the
memory of yesterday and the experience of today. If we
survive to the end of the paradox, the memory of the
exodus is a complete memory, forever uninvolved with the
normal mode of memory. I will have the memory of being
Pharoah and his advisors and his citizens as well. As
Freud put it, "Where It was, there I should
be." This is the memory created when all time is
absorbed in my time and the high level of consciousness
is reached so I can say: I am a slave in
The eternity discovered through such history is not the eternity of God. As Rosenzweig reports, it is an eternity we create. The human eternity is a Frankenstein of saintly proportions, masterminded by human consciousness, fleshed by time, muscled by memory, and the donated brain is our very own. But the still and kind look in the creatures eye is a donation of Gods.
Moshe reminded a generation who did not see that they saw. He reminded them about a memory in their heart which was not a memory in their past. The fear that time produces and the mirror image of this fear, a worship of absence, are demons of history clashing and crashing over whatever parts of ourselves we, with love or hate, sense can carry something of eternity with them. The evil son attempts to overcome his history by disassociation, he throws out his personal memories and asks: "What is it to you?"
This is the freedom
of Sartre, but the freedom of God tells us we are smarter
than the event. There is clearly an unprecedented and
pure advantage to studying and internalizing the very
blueprint of our being. We can enter the event with the
strategic advantage of already owning the memory. We can
merit something of eternity and redemption. The wise son
too says: "which our God commanded you", but
his is a "you" of humility. He is aware God is
present and he accepts that God spoke, but the two
awarenesses lie scattered, nodding at each other from
across the room. The wise son is building strength to
make them one.
[i] See, however, with implications on this view of history, Ramban, Addendum to the Mitzvot Lo'Ta'aseh, Sefer HaMitzvot L'HaRambam, Lo Ta'aseh 2.
[ii] Michael Kigel, Translator's Note to Levinas: the Life and the Legacy.
[iii] While these words could possibly be interpreted in a manner that would reject the concept of Torah Mi Sinai, i.e. that the Revelation was of some perception of God and not a concrete revelation of Torah, they do not have to be understood in this manner. The Revelation of Torah is the Revelation of God for it is through Torah that we are able to gain any perception of Him. While Rosenzweig may not have been intending to enter into the discussion of the relationship between Torah and God, these words do touch upon this subject. Torah is not only a work of direction. It provides a glimpse of the Divine Essence. It is through Torah that God reveals Himself -- and it is this recognition that provides the basis for the continuing discussion. On the subject of the relationship between Torah and God, see, further, Rabbi Norman Lamm, Torah for Torah's Sake
[iv] Devarim 16:3
[v] See Avivah Zorenberg, The Particulars of Rapture, pg 181-182.
[vi] See, also, Henry Abramson, The Jew in History, Nishma Journal VIII.
[vii] T. B. Shabbos 88a
[viii] As explain by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman.