Mobile, AL (WKRG)
Rabbi Yossi Goldwasser of Chabad of Mobile joins us to talk about one of the most important holiday observances in Judaism. We normally ask guests for this segment to write out their responses to questions in advance for closed captioning purposes. In this text, you’ll notice the Rabbi wrote God as “G-d.” He explained to me this is out of Talmudic tradition. So out of respect for that, I have left his text as he wrote it.
Here’s the text of most of what we talked about:
Chad: Passover begins at sundown tomorrow, for the people that don’t know, what is Passover?
Rabbi: Passover is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.
Chad: The story of Passover ties directly to the ten plagues that God sent to free the Jews from Egypt, what is the significance of these plagues?
Rabbi: On a simple level the plagues can be seen as an intense punishment for a nation who cruelly enslaved and tortured the Jewish people. However there must be a deeper significance to the means G-d used to punish the Egyptians, obviously, there are more typical modes of punishment than water turning to blood and frogs and locust.
When Moses approached Pharoh asking that he let the Jewish people free to serve G-d, Pharoh answered: “Who is this G-d?” Through the diverse miraculous plagues, G-d revealed to everyone Who the true creator and ruler of the world is and the extent of His involvement and mastery over every aspect of our world.
On another level each plague contained a lesson for the Jewish people for all times on how to attain true freedom in their service to G-d, for example, the blood represented cultivating a passion for serving G-d and the like.
Chad: What are some of the special customs associated with a Jewish Passover?
Rabbi: The laws of Passover are spelled out clearly in the Bible, as directives from G-d to the Jewish people for all time. We are commanded to rid our homes of all leavened foods throughout the entire festival and prohibited from eating leavened food at that time. We are commanded to eat matzah, flat bread that is not given time to rise when baking. We are to retell the story of the liberation from Egypt on the first (and outside of Israel, second) nights of Passover which we do at a special meal called a Seder and are to eat maror, bitter vegetables during the seder to remember our bitter slavery. Of course, there are many diverse family and community customs during the seder as well, such as different songs sung, foods served, and mediums of bringing the retelling of the story to life.
Chad: What are the foods specific to Passover and what do they symbolize?
Rabbi: I mentioned the maror, the bitter herbs eaten by the Seder. The matzah reminds us of how the Jews left Egypt in great haste without giving time for their bread to rise. On a deeper level, the flat matzah reminds us of the importance of humility as opposed to puffed up full of air regular bread. Four cups of wine are drunk by the Seder symbolizing four expressions of freedom. Charoset is another food traditionally eaten by the seder, which is a mixture of fruits, nuts, and wine symbolizing the mortar used to make bricks as slaves.
Chad: What are the important spiritual lessons in Passover?
Rabbi: The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, shares the same root as the word Meytzarim which means limits or boundaries. Although we like to think of ourselves as free people we often find ourselves enslaved to hard to break habits, peer pressure, negative thought patterns or physical passions. True freedom is being able to be true to yourself and to G-d, and being able to act on that uninhibited by any internal or external pressure. Passover encourages us to work on obtaining personal freedom by breaking free of things that limit us and gaining the confidence and self-control to do what is right. An important part of being true to yourself is being able to accomplish your purpose in the world, making the world a better place by using the strengths G-d has gifted you with, being an asset to the environment He placed you in, and fulfilling the commandments He has given you, 613 for Jews and the seven Noachide laws for all mankind.
Chad: The Passover story is well known by people of all faiths. What lessons does it contain for those who are not Jewish?
Rabbi: G-d created the world in a way that His presence and control is usually not obvious. He wants us to have to look deeper into the world to discover Him and to have to struggle to make the right choices. But there are times when G-d makes things easier for us by breaking the laws of nature and showing us open miracles, reminding us that He is always there running the show. The miracles in the story of Passover helped the Egyptians and all who heard what happened come to believe in G-d. Believing in G-d is one of the seven universal laws for all mankind. Knowing that G-d runs the world is a great comfort, and an obligation as well, to live our lives morally and justly, in the way G-d wants us to. If all people lived with more of an awareness of G-d in their lives, we would all be kinder, better people and the world would become the holy place G-d intended it to be.