The Spiritual Liberation of Pesach

On Pesach (Passover), we celebrate our liberation from the oppression we suffered in Egypt, as we say in the holiday prayers, Pesach is the time of our liberation. The Chatam Sofer asks (Drashos, Vol. 2 p. 218b), how can we rejoice and celebrate being free while we continue to suffer persecution from the nations of the world to this day? The Chatam Sofer answers that the main liberty which we gained at our exodus from Egypt, and which we celebrate on Pesach, is not the liberation from physical oppression, but the liberation of the soul. The Beis Halevi says (Drush 6) that the primary intention of Pharaoh in enslaving the Jews in Egypt was not the physical labor, but to lower the Jews’ spiritual level. And succeed he did! The Zohar says (Zohar Chadash, the beginning of Parshas Yisro) that the Jews has sunken to the forty ninth level of impurity (out of fifty). The Zohar says that it is this spiritual liberation from Egypt which we primarily commemorate. This, says the Shlah (Pesachim138), is the primary liberation we celebrate at the Seder on the first night of Pesach. Says the Chatam Sofer, this liberation, the spiritual liberation, is a liberty we attained for eternity. Even as we suffer physical oppression by the nations of the world, we are free from the shackles of impurity, and have unlimited potential to rise in spiritual levels.

The Power of Torah in Attaining True Freedom

This liberty was not just a one-time incident, but a trait we all possess and have the power to develop. The Mishnah says (Avos 6:4) that the only true free person is one who is involved in Torah. The Sfas Emes writes (Yisro, year 5654) that through Torah, every Jew has potential to access his personal spiritual freedom. By being involved in Torah, one gains the power to utilize his mind to control his natural desires. The spiritual liberty is something we need to constantly develop to gain more and more control over ourselves. True liberty is being in control of ourselves and rising above our bodily inclinations.

Overcoming the Yetzer Hara: A Battle of the Mind

One of the main ways a person becomes trapped by his material inclinations is by means of his imagination. Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz says (Da’as Chochmo Umussar, Vol.3 Ma’amar 114) that the primary tactic of the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) with which he gets a person to sin is through imagination and fallacies. We become trapped by our imagination which captures our mind and lures us to inflated pleasures. The Yetzer Hara uses the power of imagination to limit the scope of our potential and leads us to false perceptions.

Wisdom and the Yetzer Hara: Seeing Through Illusions

The verses in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes, 9:14-15) depict a small city besieged by a king with a great army, which was saved by a wise person who was not remembered. The Talmud says (Nedarim 32b) that this is a parable. The small city represents a person, the mighty king symbolizes the Yetzer Hara, and the wise person is the Yetzer Tov (Good inclination). What is the wisdom the verses are telling us we should utilize to defeat the Yetzer Hara? Rabbi Shalom Shwadron once visited a wax museum. At the entrance, stood two armed guards who didn’t flinch and just ignored everyone. When people saw that they did not respond, they realized that these too were just wax statues. When Rabbi Shwadron saw this, he said, “Now I understand the message the verses is teaching us!” The Yetzer Hara seems like a mighty king. He tempts us with great pressure, promising great pleasure if we follow him. He threatens us with predictions of failure when we want to push ourselves to climb to new spiritual heights. But the Yetzer Hara, and all his army, are no more than wax manikins. All we need is a little bit of wisdom from the Yetzer Tov to see through the compelling image the Yetzer creates, and then we are free from his threat.

Developing Spiritual Freedom: A Journey of Self-Control

Every person is a prisoner of his own Yetzer Hara. Every person is trapped by the images his mind conjures, which place limitations upon what he really can accomplish. Pesach is a time for us to focus on our spiritual liberation and develop it further. Our Sages tell us (Shir Hashirim Rabboh 5:2) that God says to us, “Open up for me a hole the size of a needle point, and I will open for you entrances which wagons pass through.” All we have to do is take a little step in gaining control of ourselves by rising up against the illusion the Yetzer Hara creates, and God is ready to help us gain true liberty in life.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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