Passover, its Essence in its Name
By Menachem Levison
The essence of a thing is in its name. From the names in the Torah we can understand the essence of a thing. This was the importance of Adam giving names to all the creatures. He looked at them, saw their essence which was tied up with the powers of the Hebrew letters from which they were created and called them by these letters, hence their name.
The difference between Hebrew and all other languages is that all other languages are mere agreements, meaning that as an example, the word "door" has no inner connection with a door, but rather there is a agreement that the word "door" shall mean door. In Hebrew, the word is related to the essence of the object. Therefore the letter that make up the word for "door" (in Hebrew: "delet") are directly related to the letters that make up the name of the object. This is quite a deep subject and is generally studied only by mystical scholars.
Passover is unique in that it has two names. One name is the name that the Torah gives to this holiday, Chag HaMatzot (the festival of the unleavened bread) - this is the name to which the Torah refers to the holiday, and through which we use in prayer. The second is the name that we give to the holiday, Passover. Rarely is this holiday called Chag HaMatzot, the common name is Passover. Yet, a Jewish custom has the legal status of being Torah, so even this has significance.
Passover is reckoned as the first of the three pilgrimage festivals. This gives a special importance in that it sets the tone for the other festivals that follow. Perhaps the outstanding feature of the holiday is the emphasis on remembering the leaving of Egypt, not just on the night of Passover, but also on every day and night of the year.
The word Passover comes from the Torah which states that "G-d passed over the house of the Jews when he smote the first born of the Egyptians." In Hebrew, "pesach" (Hebrew for Passover) means even more, it means a "leaping" or "skipping" over the houses of the Jews. Passover means not just passing over, but leaping over - reaching from one side to another with a great leap, skipping all that is in between.
We must remember that the exodus from Egypt came after a long and difficult bondage. Many generations of Jews had been slaves in Egypt. The situation had deteriorated to such a degree for the Jews that when freedom was given to the Jews, a full eighty-percent preferred not to leave!
Egypt at this point in history was the leading nation in the world and the wealthiest nation. Its culture was the dominant culture and Egypt was considered the most scientifically and technologically progressive country in the world.
And with all of these lofty plaudits, it was the most debased and vile place to dwell.
The Jews, living as slaves, the lowest level of social stratum in this dominant society, were soon to be released from slavery which left them not only physically impoverished, but also spiritually impoverished. This release would require a change that must transpire very quickly. In just a few weeks after leaving their lowest level of being, they were destined to become the recipients of the holiest gift given to mankind, the Torah!
The entire purpose of leaving Egypt was only for the purpose of receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.
The Ten Commandments, which were giving at Mount Sinai, started with "I am the Lord, your G-d"; the loftiest spiritual understanding that can be attained. The last of the Ten Commandments, "Do not envy what your neighbor possesses", which was completely opposite of the life that was seen in Egypt, in which life was cheap, and emphasis was on material pleasures.
It was just on these two points, the oneness of G-d, and the pillar of interpersonal relations, which highlighted the supreme opposites that awaited the Jews at Mount Sinai, between the Torah defined life versus the inhumane debased life of the Egyptians.
It is apparent that it would have taken the Jews many years, if not generations, of study and hard work to educate themselves and cause changes in their attitudes to become truly a freed people, not just in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual and intellectual sense. In order to leave such a depraved community such as Egypt and come to a spiritual and personal plateau indeed required a giant leap. This was made possible because of the leap that was begun by G-d when he leaped over the houses of the Jews and began the exodus from Egypt. It was because of this leap that we had the power to leave the slave mentality, take with us the material wealth of Egypt, skip the middle ground of personal development (from a slave mentality to that of a free man) and become truly free intellectual and spiritual beings.
This has served to become the hallmark of our service to G-d, our ability to leap over all obstacles, whether physical or spiritual, which hinder our service to G-d. This applies both in the national body of the Jewish people and also in each individual Jew. Whereas we may spend a large proportion of our day taking care of physical mundane needs such as eating, drinking, etc, yet we have the ability to transform ourselves into spiritual beings.
Each Jew possesses the inherent ability that was given to him to reach far beyond his "natural" limits. These are abilities that G-d himself has given to him for the sole purpose of reaching spiritual levels not considered possible by other peoples. He can leave a situation of spiritual poverty and in a very short time he can weld a firm connection with G-d.
This is what is in the name of Passover. Just as G-d passed over the houses of the Jews to save them from the plague of the first born, skipping from one side to the other, so too, a Jew can skip from a very low level of spirituality to reach the highest levels with one swift bound.
In addition, this will permit us to go from one redemption to another, in a manner that will cause the righteous Messiah to appear before our eyes, so quickly that we may have no prior ability to prepare for his coming - and may it be speedily and swiftly in our days!
from the March Passover 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine