How are we to understand geulah, redemption? Is it something that comes upon us suddenly, or is it a slow process? Are we part of creating and bringing the redemption (and therefore, our actions matter), or are we to be passive and allow geulah to act on us, or even despite us?
If we examine the historic day of our people's redemption, the 14th of Nissan, we find that the 14th is a divided day. In the morning, we are still permitted--and even commanded--to consume chametz. From noon on, we are biblically forbidden to partake of chametz, but we are not yet commanded to eat matzah; in fact, we are forbidden to partake of the matzah until after nightfall. This leaves a vacuum of sorts during the day of the 14th that is neither chametz nor matzah. From noon to nightfall, no chametz, no matzah. What is this neutral time all about?
Interestingly, the holiday of Sukkot has no such vacuum. We may eat until the night of the 14th of Tishrei in our comfortable permanent homes. It is only at nightfall of the 14th that we enter the sukkah. The moment we are forbidden to have a meal outside of the sukkah is the same moment we are commanded with the mitzvah to eat in the sukkah.
The movement from home to sukkah is sudden; there is no transition. The sukkah is very much like real life. Moving--or being forced to move--from comfort comes quickly; it overtakes us. Moving from a distressed situation to a more comfortable situation takes time; it has lapses. That is possibly why there is this gap on the 14th day of Nissan, noon to nightfall. Similarly, the Holocaust fell upon us suddenly, with no time to prepare or react, whereas redemption is a slow, laborious, and painful process. So, too, the trip of our forefathers down to Egypt was fast, but the Exodus and the trip to the Land of Israel, our homeland, took us over forty years. Suddenly, we realize that items are gone, and it takes a lot of searching time until we successfully recover our valuables. Loss is quick, recovery is slow and deliberate. It has lapses and neutral periods of time.
Redemption is all about healing, recovery, becoming whole again. It is a treasured gift, one that cannot be acquired in a hesech hada'at (loosely translated as inclining your mind to it), without careful preparation and planning. It is a gift that can only be found after one searches for it as one would search for diamonds. We are mistaken to think that by merely leaving slavery, we automatically are free and redeemed. Leaving avdut, servitude, does not necessarily mean entering cherut, freedom. There is a vacuum, a space between the enslavement of chametz and the freedom and redemption of matzah--a space we must first fill if we are to achieve true and total redemption.
Even today, we have these three spaces. Morning to noon for chametz; noon to nightfall, a vacuum; and nightfall, redemption and matzah. We have a minority of Jews who are still in avdut, servitude--Jews who are still trapped in Ethiopia, Syria, and the like. Like chametz, they are not yet free. We have Jews who have made the move to Israel for the start of their redemption, at nightfall. And then, there are the Jews like us. We are in between; not enslaved, with our free and wonderful lives here in the USA--but still living in galut, exile, and not fully redeemed, whether we recognize it or not. We are between the chametz and the matzah. For us, it's the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan. In truth, even those living in Israel are not yet secure, and thus not yet fully redeemed, physically or spiritually. You see, redemption can only be fully achieved if all of us are redeemed: all for one or none.
We see this as well when looking at the arbah kosot, the four cups. There are four "languages of redemption," four phrases describing the process of geulah. The first language of redemption that signifies the first of the four cups is vehotzeyti etchem miMitzrayim, "I removed you from Egypt." The phrase for the fourth cup is velakachti etchem li le'am, "I took you to be my people." Between this first cup of vehotzeti and the fourth cup of velakachti, we need to undergo the process of vehetzalti me'avodatam, "I will deliver you from servitude", as well as vega'alti, "and I redeemed you." And yet, even after all four cups, we still haven't reached veheveiti etchem el ha'aretz, "I will bring you into the Land"--how many were sacrificed and continue to be lost to us in the last hundred years of Jewish history to get us, as a people, to the veheveiti etchem el ha'aretz?
Like Israel of old, it took more than just one miracle to get us from the chametz of Egypt to the matzah of redemption in Israel--from the ha lachmah anya, the bread of affliction, to the matzot mitzvah, baked with the recitation of Hallel. There was the miracle of the ten plagues and there was the miracle of kriyat yam suf, the splitting of the sea. There was the miracle of water from a stone, the miracle of the manna, and the miraculous military victories over Amalek, Sichon, Og, Midyan, and much more; miracle after miracle to get us, finally, to the Promised Land.
Like Israel of old, we, too, require the daily miracle and providence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, of G-d, blessed be He, to continually sustain us. But these daily miracles require our participation as well. Just as each of the ten makkot, plagues, required Moshe and Aharon to stretch out their hands as they held G-d's staff to start the miracle of each plague, so, too, we must become partners with Hashem in the miracle of our own future redemption, to help move ourselves from the no-man's land that is neither chametz nor matzah, neither the painful exile nor the promised geulah sh'leimah, the total redemption. We have the power given us by Hashem to affect His miracles and our own destiny; to help free ourselves. For in the end, only we--with Hashem's help--can fully achieve the true geulah sh'leimah for all of Israel.
For us, it will require a metaphorical bedikat chametz, inspection for hidden chametz, to locate the chametz in ourselves, the seor shebeishah--the chaff that is hidden in our hearts and souls must be located and purged. Once found, we need to rid ourselves of the chametz: sell it (mechirah), or throw it to the winds, toss it in the sea, burn it (biyur), so that we may move from chametz to matzah--to a pure existence, one that is balanced, humble, and redemptive. We must once and for all rid ourselves of this pollutant chametz because we know that chametz sheavar alav hapesach, owned on Passover, is assur, forbidden to us.
This is what Chag haPesach, the holiday of Passover, is truly all about. Pesach--movement from one place to another, from one domain to another, from a state of non-redemption to a state of total redemption.
May we merit it this year.
Chag kasher v'sameach,