A Pesach Message from the Kaliver Rebbe

My Dear and Precious Friends,

Slavery comes in many forms. Physical slavery weakens the body, psychological slavery constrains the mind, emotional slavery breaks the heart, and spiritual slavery diminishes the soul. While we are blessed to live in free societies, even the most casual observation reveals enslavement all around us. News headlines lament the latest type of slavery to chain our youth: the epidemic of drug addiction which destroys and claims many lives. But this is merely one incarnation of a bondage that holds portions of humanity in its unforgiving clutches. At the root of all such enslavements is the powerful inclination to indulge our basest, most animalistic desires without regard to the terrible consequences that can result from doing so.

Pesach is the precious holiday that gives us the opportunity to exercise control, and break free. Let us take its lessons to heart.

The Haggadah instructs:

“B’Chol Dor V’Dor Chayav Adam Liros Es Atzmo Ke’ilu Hu Yatza Mi’Mitzrayim.”

“In every generation, each individual must view himself as if he left Egypt.”

How is this possible, and what message is intended to be conveyed by this experience?

It is sobering and instructive to note that, as taught by the Medrash, not every Jew merited the exodus from Egypt. In fact, according to one opinion, during the plague of darkness, when the Egyptians were unable to see, many Jews who did not want to leave Egypt perished. Only one in fifty were redeemed. This begs the obvious question: Who would not want to go free from slavery?

The answer lies in the fact that ancient Egypt was known to be one of the most hedonistic societies in world history. Immorality was rampant. Following Pharaoh’s lead in denying Hashem’s very existence, the Egyptians mindlessly indulged their every desire, paying no heed to the seven Noahide laws. Ironically, the Egyptian taskmasters were enslaved to their own unbridled cravings.

Entering this ungodly environment posed a perilous challenge to the Israelites, children of the holiest of forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Who might guide them and serve as an exemplar of propriety to carve out a path of righteousness amidst the raging tides of immorality?

Hashem orchestrated events to cause Yosef, the son of Yaakov, to be sold into slavery in the house of Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s palace guard. Yosef was Yaakov’s favored son and merited studying the holy Torah with his father through the course of his youth. That experience would fortify him to withstand every temptation.

Thus, when Yosef was enslaved in the house of Potiphar, he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife, who tried desperately to cause Yosef to sin. She promised him great rewards if he would merely agree. It is but a small step to allow one’s physical slavery to yield to the psychological and spiritual slavery that can lead to the most heinous transgressions.

Amazingly, Yosef mustered the intense spiritual strength to withstand the challenge. Chazal tell us that at the moment he might have faltered, he saw the image of his saintly father conjured before him and remembered the time he had spent learning with him in the sacred tents of Torah. Calling upon that great spiritual reserve, Yosef responded with decisive moral clarity, “How can I perpetrate this terrible evil and sin against Hashem?” In that singular moment of resistance, Yosef the slave liberated himself to follow his conscience and most deeply held convictions for the sake of the honor of the G-d of his holy father.

Yosef was then further challenged in finding that his good deed landed him in Potiphar’s dungeon. But this too was intended to teach a lesson to posterity that once spiritually liberated, no physical enslavement can rob one’s essential human dignity and faith in the Almighty.

Indeed, Hashem rewarded Yosef and orchestrated yet another unprecedented development. From the depths of the prison pit, Yosef was catapulted into the position of viceroy to Pharaoh, clearly demonstrating that when sacrificing for holiness, one never loses. Even when surrounded by royal ministers, he remained true to his faith and proclaimed, “I fear G-d.” Thus, Yosef achieved the pinnacle of freedom, both physically and spiritually. His example was intended to serve as a role model for the Children of Israel to follow upon their descent to Egypt.

When the fated time of that Divine decree arrived, Yaakov sent ahead his son, Yehuda, to establish Torah study houses in Goshen where the Children of Israel could learn the holy Torah and walk in the ways of Yosef.

Unfortunately, over the course of time, after Yakov and Yosef passed away, many Israelites fell victim to the blandishments that contaminated Egyptian society. They frequented places of revelry. As explained by Chazal, the verse stating, “the land was filled with them,” alludes to theaters and circuses that were filled with the Sons of Israel.

Once the Israelites had become spiritually enslaved to Egyptian mores and values, they were susceptible to becoming physically enslaved to the Egyptians as well. Hashem delivered the Jews into their torturous hands. And so it was that the Bnei Yisrael learned the harsh converse of the lesson that Yosef had exemplified; yielding to temptation and sin leads to complete and total bondage.

Even when Moshe Rabbeinu came and told them that the time of their redemption was at hand, most Israelites did not listen to him. They did not want to leave, preferring to remain slaves so that they could continue to fulfill their base desires in Egypt.

However, a small minority of the Jewish people – one in fifty – despite all the temptations, continued to follow the path of Yosef and remained distinct from the Egyptians with regard to their names, language, and clothing. They steadfastly maintained their forefather’s standards of modesty and holiness.

Against each such individual stood forty-nine assimilationists who scorned their “extreme and primitive” behavior. But, like Yosef, these holy individuals faced down the scoffers, sustaining their belief in Hashem and Moshe, His servant. The lingering national memory of the image of Yakov teaching Torah to Yosef kept them strong and pure. In the end, this small remnant of Klal Yisroel survived and left Egypt, and received all the property of their former masters. The faithful, holy few were rewarded both spiritually and materially, and they achieved true freedom.

This lesson, that complete freedom can only be achieved through faithful adherence to the path of Torah and Mitzvos bequeathed to us from our holy ancestors, is painfully relevant today. Like the unfortunate majority of Jews who didn’t make it out of Mitzrayim, so many of our brothers and sisters have slipped away from us, swallowed up in the unholy societies we live in. The vital key to stemming this trend is rededication to authentic and pure standards of Torah education. We cannot allow the prevailing immoral culture, which bombards us at every turn, particularly through modern communication technologies, to infiltrate into our minds and hearts—and, G-d forbid, into the lives of our precious children.

In particular, our Yeshivas must stand out as bastions of pure Torah education. We have witnessed the relaxing of moral standards beginning approximately half a century ago, and the uprooting of previously accepted gender-separated classes in schools. This has caused the level of education to decline. It is more imperative than ever that our children receive their formal education from a young age only in schools where boys and girls are taught in separate buildings.

In every generation, our holy Sages instituted safeguards based on what they deemed necessary for that time and place. During the era of the Beis Hamikdash when they witnessed lax behavior at the Simchas Beis HaSho’eva, they issued Takanos that men and women be separated by mechitzos. During the age of Enlightenment, when there were breaches in standards of modesty, they strengthened and enacted regulations that promoted more stringent barriers.

But we must understand that the very barriers which seem to constrain, are the keys to our liberation from the enslaving immorality of our contemporary societies. This is the true meaning of the Hagaddah’s instruction:

“B’Chol Dor V’Dor Chayav Adam Liros Es Atzmo Ke’ilu Hu Yatza Mi’Mitzrayim.”

“In every generation, each individual must view himself as if he left Egypt.”

We must appreciate the fact that we are descendants of the remnant of Jews who remained faithful, who followed in Yosef’s footsteps and merited true freedom. We cannot betray that faith. We face the same challenges today and need to muster the same resolve and fortitude of our forefathers if we are to have any hope of sustaining our holy precious legacy, now and into the future. We must constantly escape the metaphorical Egypt that attempts to ensnare and enslave us in its unholy lifestyles.

Every Jew in every generation must leave that Egypt by clinging to the bounds of holiness as taught by the great rabbis of each generation according to the Torah. And when celebrating our holiday of freedom, we must resolve to educate our children in a manner that will provide them with a truly blessed life of material and spiritual freedom. In this way we will bring ever closer the day of our final redemption and freedom with the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash and the returning of the Shechina to dwell in our midst, Amen.

Wishing you and your families a blessed and uplifting Pesach!

Photos: JDN

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