In an article for Pessach 5773 (2 of 3), Rabbi Cherki says: To be free, learn how to transform evil acts into good ones.
The highlight of the holiday of Pesach, which is fast approaching, is the evening Seder. On this night we tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and it is very meaningful for us. It is written in the Hagaddah, “In every generation, every person must see himself as if he went out of Egypt.” Not, “every person of Israel” but rather every person. Everybody in the world must see himself or herself as a participant in the process of redemption.
For the nation of Israel this was a collective national experience. We were released from slavery and became free. But we learned from it that we should teach all the people of the world that freedom is a real possibility.
What is freedom? It is the ability to break out of the deterministic and ironclad laws which surround a person. A person must also have this capability from a psychological point of view. And in fact he is able to break out of the habits which control his life.
Habitual behavior is in essence the greatest enemy of mankind.
The Torah teaches us to be born anew repeatedly, as it were. And we have the opportunity to put this into effect on the night of the Seder. As part of this ritual, a person is indeed born again. We pull ourselves up and out of Egypt.
The Hebrew name of Egypt, “Mitzrayim,” is related to the word “meitzarim,” a boundary – something that limits what a person can do. But on this night we open our mouths and we begin to talk. This is another play on words: “Pe sach” in Hebrew can mean, “The mouth speaks.” This is an apt description of the day, when a person is finally able to be true to his own self. When it happens, a person discovers that he is freed from any restraint in the world and that he is a direct slave of the Master of the Universe. Any act of slavery in the world degrades the slave except for service of G-d, which allows a person to be free.
Rabbi Yehuda Halevi wrote, “Slaves of time are slaves to other slaves. The only one who is truly free is a slave of G-d.”
How does a person become free?
On this night, we eat two main foods – matza (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). Matza is bread of totally free people, it has no debt to pay to anything that puffs it up (such as yeast). This is a simple type of bread, that of a person who is ready to live a simple life and who is capable of becoming truly free.
Maror, the bitter herbs, reminds us of the bitterness of slavery. Here we might well ask a question: How is it that on a night dedicated to our going free we eat food that reminds us of slavery? Wouldn’t it be more logical to eat the bitter herbs one night and then follow this by eating the matza the next night? The answer is that this is precisely what we want to teach – The G-d who sent us into bondage is the very same G-d who set us free.
We have a purely monotheistic faith. If we did not eat the matza and the maror together, we might have thought that there is one god who sent us into slavery and another one who set us free. We might imagine a war between different gods. But this is not so. We do not live in a world of internal duality, we live in a world where everything is united. From within the bondage and from the difficulties of life, a person in the end finds the strength to become free.
What binds the matza and the maror together? There is a third food, which today we are prevented from eating – the Pesach Sacrifice. This in essence reveals the unity of the slavery and the freedom. This sacrifice is a symbol of unity in all of its elements. It has many aspects which we will not delve into here, but it is clear that the halacha emphasizes the unity of the matza and the maror by means of this sacrifice.
Between freedom and bondage: The lamb, which was offered as a sacrifice, was worshipped by the Egyptians. The lamb was the god of Egypt. But the Torah commanded the people to perform a heroic act. In order to become free the people were instructed to slaughter the god of Egypt. They were required to disassociate themselves from the excess spiritual approach of various cultures which prevent a person from clinging to G-d. However, the Torah commanded them not only to slaughter the lamb but to eat it too. That is what we are required to do on the night of the Seder. We must be able to internalize the values of the objects which we rejected at first.
At first a person rejects the forces of life which put him into the clutches of evil, but in the end he learns to sublimate them and to be able to use the very same forces for good instead of as before, when these forces led him to do evil things. In the Chassidic outlook, this is what is called “sweetening” the evil forces. There are forces which are inherently evil. A person has many urges, such as lust, impulsive anger, and intellectual desires. All of these can lower a person’s spiritual level. But after going through a process of repentance, a person can make use of the same forces in his service of G-d.
Thus, we are not living in a world divided between absolute good and absolute evil. Rather, we live in a world of good which also raises up forces that start out being bad, but we then transform them into good forces. In this way we become free in a true and complete way.