30 Mar 2018

Pesah 5778: Get With the Times

Pesah 5778: Get With the Times

 If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of. 
— Bruce Lee

Time has long been a conundrum for us: do we pass through it or does it pass by us?  Is it different for different people in different circumstances? Does time really ‘fly’ when you’re having fun? Does it slow down to a gruelling pace when we’re bored? Or do we just perceive it that way? Einstein proved that time — its actual manifestation, not just its perception — is very much based on the reference point of the observer[1].


Einstein aside however, one aspect of time that we can recognise easily just through perception is that its meaning exists within our own consciousness. The relationship of past and future can only exist in a conscious mind that can remember and anticipate cause and effect. Aside for human consciousness, the world is not aware of time and its developments.

For example, take a glass cup that fell and broke on the floor and is now in several pieces. Those broken pieces are only a broken glass cup for a conscious observer. In the unconscious world, however, without a mind that is aware of past and future and that there was once a whole cup that is now broken pieces on the floor, they are just shards of glass. It is not broken, for one needs to know that it was once whole in order to see it as broken. Without the consciousness of mind, it just is what it is.

The same is true for us. Whatever person I am in any given moment is, in a purely existential sense — without human awareness — lacking nothing. In order to be seen as failing, or having potential, or deficient or whole, I must be able to consider the alternative. Without the consciousness of time — of past and future — there is no alternative. There is only what is at any given point. Thus, growth, possibility, opportunity, choice, development — all of which have meaning only as they are embedded in the context of past and future, are relevant only through consciousness.

Through our consciousness of time and our awareness of potentials, we have an ability to grow, act on possibilities, seize opportunities, make choices, and develop ourselves because of our freedom to act and affect outcomes and realities: the human ability to choose what one wishes to do in the world to make a difference.

Time is so central an element of the mechanism of freedom that it is woven into the fabric of Pesah. In fact, Pharaoh was concerned that the Children of Israel had time in surplus. He was concerned that they did not have enough work to occupy their time. Surely if they were busy enough they would not have time wonder about a future of freedom!

But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you distract the people from their tasks? Get to your labours!” And Pharaoh continued, The people of the land are already so numerous, and you would have them cease from their labours!” That same day Pharaoh charged the taskmasters and foremen of the people, saying, You shall no longer provide the people with straw for making bricks as heretofore; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But impose upon them the same quota of bricks as they have been making heretofore; do not reduce it, for they are shirkers; that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God!


He was not wrong. We lose our ability to entertain possibilities which are the lifeblood of freedom when our minds are preoccupied with the present task at hand. When we cannot see beyond the task that is currently before us we are slaves to circumstance; bound by the moment. To ensure that freedom of the mind is not available, taskmasters are put in place to keep the focus on work. This of course is the same type of distraction that keeps us from developing our own lives and growing beyond our current circumstances.

This is one of the tactics of the ‘evil inclination’ to preoccupy the minds of people so that they cannot contemplate the way in which they are leading their lives…This was similar to the plan of Pharaoh who said: ‘Make heavy the work on the people’ so as not to give them a respite in which to entertain any possibilities of rebelling for the sake of freedom.

(Mesilat Yesharim, The Aspects of Caution)


The centrepiece of Pesah is Matsah and its counterpart Hamets (leaven). No matter how careful one is on the festival of Passover to steer clear of leaven and to utterly remove it all from our midst, we are compelled by Torah nonetheless to live on the edge on Pesah night.  We must eat matsah.

It is a positive commandment of the Torah to eat matsah on the night of the fifteenth [of Nisan], as [Exodus 12:18] states: “In the evening, you shall eat matzot.” This applies in every place and at every time. 
(Rambam, Mishne Torah, Hamets uMatsah, 6:1)

But Matsah can only be made from grains that can become hamets!

A person does not fulfill the obligation of eating matsah unless he partakes [of matsah made] from one of the five species [of grain], as [Deuteronomy 16:3] states: “Do not eat hamets upon it… eat matzot for seven days.”[From the verse’s association of hamets and matsah, we may derive:] substances which can become leavened may be eaten as matsah to fulfill one’s obligation. In contrast, other substances – e.g., rice, millet, and kitniyot – cannot be used to fulfill the obligation of matsah, for they can never become leavened.

Which means that we take a great risk in eating matsah — we hope that it is not hamets! What is the difference between the two? One key ingredient: time.

If the dough is left without being worked for the time [it takes to walk the distance] of amil, it becomes hamets. A mil is one quarter (15 minutes) and one twentieth of an hour (3 minutes) (18 minutes total). (Shulhan Arukh, 459:2)

The whole concept of matsah was born out of the fact that time was rapidly passing and we could not afford to delay. As a key first step into living a life of freedom, we had to act and acknowledge the imminence of future that incessantly and rapidly approaches us.

Because the dough of our ancestors did not have time to become leavened before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them immdiately, as it is stated: “They baked matsah cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it had not risen; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any [other] provisions for themselves.”
(Passover Haggada)

We did not only consider the concept of freedom and time mentally, we were to act out the urgency of its passing when we ate of the Paschal lamb.

This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a passover offering to God. (Ex., 12:11)

The sensitivity to the passage of time and the unfolding of events plays a great role in our ability to live freely. Our freedom to make choices must be accompanied by our awareness of the outcomes of these choices. If the outcomes meet us by surprise, and we find ourselves subservient to them. But when we know them, we can anticipate them and choose accordingly.  In choosing our realities and outcomes in the areas of life with which we have such license, we are truly free.

To be able to perceive outcomes is to know what time will yield, what a coming day will bring. It is to know sequence. And sequence fills the night of Pesah. First by its very name: order or seder is how we refer to the night’s events!

And the night’s events are all about sequence. We recount or tell the story. We tell of what happened. We then begin to literally sequence or count for the rest of the night! We count the plagues,

And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders. (Deut., 26:8)

 [Each phrase is associated with two plagues:] with a mighty hand: two

and with an outstretched arm: two;

and with great visions: two;

and with signs: two;

and with wonders: two.


These are the ten plagues which the Holy One, blessed be He, brought upon the Egyptians in Egypt…. (Passover Haggada)

We count the graces of God that we experienced throughout the exodus:

How many degrees of favour has the Omnipresent One bestowed upon us…Thus how much more so should we be grateful to the Omnipresent One for the doubled and redoubled goodness that He has bestowed upon us; for He has brought us out of Egypt,

and carried out judgments against them,

and against their idols,

and smote their first-born,

and gave us their wealth,

and split the sea for us,

and took us through it on dry land,

and drowned our oppressors in it,

and supplied our needs in the desert for forty years,

and fed us the manna,

and gave us the Shabbat,

and brought us before Mount Sinai,

and gave us the Torah,

 and brought us into the land of Israel

and built for us the Beit Habechirah to atone for all our sins.

We count the key foundations to the Jewish people…

Thirteen are the attributes [of God],

twelve are the tribes,

eleven are the stars,

ten are the statements,

nine are the months of birth,

eight are the days of circumcision,

seven are the days of the week,

six are the orders of the Mishnah,

five are the books of the Torah,

four are the mothers,

three are the fathers,

two are the tablets of the covenant,

One is our God in heaven and the earth. (Passover Haggada)

 And we keep counting all the way to the giving of the Torah at Shabuot.

It is a positive commandment to count69 seven complete weeks70 from the day the omer is brought, as [Leviticus 23:15] states: “And from the day after the Sabbath, you shall count… seven weeks.” It is a mitzvah to count the days together with the weeks, as [ibid.:15] states: “You shall count 50 days.”One should count at the inception of the [new] day. Therefore one counts at night, [beginning] from the night of the sixteenth of Nisan (the second night of Pesah).

(Rambam, Hilkhot Temidin Umusafin, 7:22)


Time and sequence are so central to freedom and Pesah because with knowing sequence we know consequence. And in knowing consequence we know the nature of reality and in that wisdom we become creators of that reality in covenant with God.


Who is wise? One who sees what the future will bear. (Tamid, 23a)

Pesah is a festival which begins with a night of memory and anticipation, of past and future, of parent and child, of bequeathal and reception. It is a time in which we pay attention to the differences and changes that occur with the passage of time.

What changed on this night from all other nights?!

 …He took us from slavery to freedom,

from sorrow to joy,

from mourning to festivity,

from deep darkness to great light

and from bondage to redemption.

(Passover Haggada)

It is indeed, a night to remember for those who wish to live and be free.

And Moses said to the people, “Remember this day, on which you went free from Egypt, the house of bondage, how God freed you from it with a mighty hand: no leavened bread shall be eaten. (Ex. 13:3)

It is a night that the ultimate consciousness, that of our Creator, the One eternal God, past present and future, set in motion and anticipated from the days of Creation.

It is a night of watching for the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt; this is the Lords night of watching, for all the children of Israel throughout their generations(Exodus 12:42).

 This teaches that the night of Passover is a night that has been continuously watched,i.e., set aside for the purpose of redemption, from the six days of Creation, and it will continue to be so until the final redemption. (Rosh Hashana, 11b)

In our awareness of time and potential we can choose to create ourselves and our lives in our best image. We can reach our full potentials and we can, in our freedom, be the best we can be.

Hag Kasher VeSameah,

Rabbi Jospeh Dweck


[1] For a popular and simplified description of Einstein’s theory of relativity see Physics for the Rest of Us by Roger S. Jones.