Monday, April 02, 2007

Pesach – The Festival of Faith

Pesach – The Festival of Faith

by R. Dovid Gottlieb

The Zohar (cited by many, including the Seder Ha-Aruch v.2 p. 207) refers to matzah as “michlah d’himnusa” – the food of faith. More generally, many seforim consider the entire holiday of Pesach to be the “Chag Ha-Emunah” – the Festival of Faith.

The reason for these appellations appears clear. As the Ramban (Shemos 13:16) famously explains, the events of yetzias Mitzrayim both express and confirm the most basic foundations of our faith. The existence of God, His active involvement in the events of this world, the notion of reward and punishment – all of these yesodei emunah are demonstrated through the story of our exodus from Egypt. The overriding significance of this singular event is the reason that the opening pasuk of the aseres ha-dibros couches the existence of Hashem in terms of being the One “asher hotzei’si’cha me’eretz mitzrayim” – who took us out of Egypt and not with the more expected description, as the Creator of the world.

While no doubt true that this belief in Hakadosh baruch Hu is central to the message of Pesach, the Slonimer Rebbe, zt”l (Nesivos Shalom – Pesach #4) points out that “yeish od madregah . . . b’emunah” – there is another dimension of belief that is central to the chag of Pesach. “(she-)yehudi m’chuyyav le-ha’amin” – we are obligated to believe; “ki yisrael hem ha-am ha-nivchar” – that we are the Chosen Nation. We declare it in the mussaf davening of every chag but it actually stems from the holiday of Pesach: atah ve’chartanu mi’kol ha-amim – God chose us and transformed us from just the benei Yisroel into am Yisroel; from just the children of Yaakov into His people; from just a family into a nation.

There is one obvious implication of our chosenness which isn’t always so obvious. As my friend R. Daniel Cohen aptly described, it is that we must realize that not only do we believe in God; God believes in us – and thus chose us as His people.

If Hakadosh Baruch Hu chose us it’s because He believes in us. He believes in our capacity to partner with Him in the drama of human history. In fact, this belief is so significant that it is understood by the Midrash to be a description of God Himself.

The pasuk (Devarim 32:4) describes Hashem as perfect, just, righteous and as a “kel emunah” – a God of faith. The question should be obvious. Human beings can be described as believing or faithful, but in what sense can it be said that God believes? The Sifrei (Devarim #307, “tzur”) explains that this is in fact a fitting description because He does believe, (she’)he’emin bi’veruav – He believes in his creations. And if this is true about all of humanity it is even truer about his relationship with the “banim le’makom”, the Jewish people.

Rav Ahron Soloveichik (Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, p. 149) adds one final and crucial point. If Hashem believes in us and if He trusts, then we have no choice but to believe in and trust ourselves. We are often filled with doubt – doubt about our capabilities, doubt about our worthiness, or many other kinds of doubt. But we must remember that Hashem is a “kel emunah” – He has confidence in us. And therefore we should have confidence in ourselves.

Furthermore, we should feel obligated to live up to that confidence; to do whatever we can to make sure that Hashem’s confidence is well placed. God’s trust is a mechayyev – it obligates to do whatever we can to live up to our lofty calling. To truly be His partner we have to be active participants and not passive observers. This is the lesson of Krias Yam Suf as Hashem criticizes passivity – “mah titzak eilay” (Shemos 14:15), don’t stand around crying; “va-yisa’u” – get moving, jump in. And that’s just what Nachson ben Aminadav did.

There used to be an ad campaign with the following tag line: “On the road of life there are drivers and there are passengers.” We must be God’s drivers. His belief in us demands nothing less.

This powerful insight relates has particular relevance to one of the leitmotifs the seder: raising children.

There can be no doubt that the particular mitzvah of “ve’higadeta le’vincha” which defines the seder night also represents the larger responsibility of chinuch ha-banim. And in that crucial arena of responsibility we must use Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu’s emunah as an inspiration and a guide. As the saintly Piezetznah Rebbe, Rav Klonimus Kalman Shapiro hy”d, reiterates time and again in his classic work Chovos Ha-Talmidim, giving children a belief in themselves and in their capacity to achieve greatness is THE essence of chinuch.

Our responsibility as parents and educators is to make sure that each and every one of our children knows that the sky is the only limit on what they can accomplish. Following the lead of Avinu Ba-shamayim, we must make sure that our children know – profoundly and in their deepest kishkas – that we, their parents, believe in them.

As we gather together with family and friends to celebrate Pesach, the Chag Ha-Emunah, we must remember that faith is a two-way street. Just as we have faith in the Ribbono Shel Olam, He has faith in us. And not only must we believe in our own potential, we must make sure that our children know that they we believe in theirs.

Adapted and abridged from a drasha delivered at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore, MD on Pesach, 5766.

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