| Pesach

A legal system by its very nature is detail oriented. While laws represent the values of any given society, a law once established takes on an independent life of itself. It is for this reason that laws must apply in all situations, even in those for which the law was not originally intended. We all understand why one cannot go through a red light, even at 3:00 in the morning despite there being no cars in sight. 

It is no different in the halachic system, a system which has been adding details for thousands of years. It is for this reason that many (though not all) rabbinic enactments the applicability of which is no longer evident remain in force. The yearning to attach oneself to a glorious past ensures that not only the law, but even customs, often remain in force long after their original impetus is no longer relevant. 

Our legal system also reflects an underlying philosophy of life, expressing in concrete terms the essence of what Jewish life is meant to be. Eating matza must inspire us to ensure that all can enjoy freedom. The entire journey to and from Egypt is primarily meant to ensure that we be sensitive to others. The Torah even notes that the Exodus must lead to integrity in our business dealings framing the obligation of honest measures in the context of the exodus (see Vayikra 19:36). The ire of the prophets of Israel was raised when the link between law and its underlying purpose was severed - with law becoming no more than rote mechanics devoid of its true purpose. 

It is in this vein that Rav Yisroel Salanter, the great 19th century social critic of rote observance, when asked what the most important item to be concerned with when baking matza, answered that it was to ensure that the barrels that the workers used to transport the water not be too heavy. Without proper labour conditions the matza would be truly unfit for use. 

We often fail to internalize the purpose of a given mitzvah. To properly do so requires serious effort on our part. It is much easier to perform the mechanics of the mitzvoth by habit, often not thinking of their messages for us. Ironically, this is often most true in those mitzvoth where we have the greatest amount of details. We understandably get so caught up in these important details that we can lose sight of the larger meaning behind the mitzvah. And there is no better time than Pesach for this problem to surface. How many people work so hard preparing for Pesach that they have little energy left to actually enjoy the holiday. We run the risk of getting so caught up in the details that we lose sight of the overarching themes of the holiday. There is, we must not forget, a mitzvah to be extra happy on Yom Tov. 

Our Sages were not content with the mere recitation of the Haggadah (or the siddur for that matter); "All who elaborate on the story of the Exodus are to be praised". One must focus on its underlying message. And that message is not limited to one night of the year. The mitzvah to remember the exodus is "all the days of our lives" (Devarim 16:3). And there is much to remember and focus on. Pesach celebrates Jewish nationhood and forms the basis of our relationship to G-d. It includes concepts such as alleviation of hunger, employee-employer relations, freedom of speech, collective punishment, environmental issues, sensitivity to the stranger, the observance of Shabbat, and so much more. They are the issues that we must deal with each and every day. 

Whereas the first days of Pesach focus on seder, a specific detailed order, the last days are meant to focus on the purpose of our freedom. We left Egypt in such a hurry that we did not have time to reflect on the meaning of our actions. (Had they thought about it, no doubt many more would have stayed behind). As the holiday unfolded, our focus shifted. With the Egyptians buried at sea we had time to reflect on the meaning of the events and thus to sing the praises of G-d. 

A human being has only a limited amount of energy, be it physical or spiritual. If we use too much in one area we run the risk of not having enough left for other equally important areas. We must learn to pace ourselves not only when working physically but also when working spiritually. If we run too fast we may not finish the race. May we merit finding the proper balance in our mitzvah observance, allowing the proper attention to detail to help enhance the underlying message of the mitzvah.