S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 16 April 2016 / 8 Nisan 5776

The Dichotomy of a Jew

by Rabbi Dani Zwick
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

As we celebrate the birthday of our nation on Passover, we are annually confronted with the opportunity to refresh, refocus and rethink our unique role as a member of the "Chosen people". G-d's plan from the beginning of time was to designate a nation of leaders and mentors that will serve as a role model for the entire world to learn how to fulfill G-d's purpose for life. Although the seeds for producing such a nation began way back in the Garden of Eden, it only began to truly take shape with our patriarch Avraham Avinu. It was only to Avraham that G-d promised that this special nation will be formed from his offspring, and only from those who continued in his ways and lived according to his teachings. The final production of this nation occurred only after hundreds of years in the making when G-d fulfilled His promise to Avraham. G-d took the “new and improved” nation of Israel out of the womb of Egypt and brought them in His arms to Mount Sinai to give them the Torah. It was then and there that the pact was made and our job as being mentors for the world began.

As with any high-powered position, to succeed in fulfilling the task one must face difficult challenges. As a wise man once said, "If it’s too easy, you're probably not doing a good job". As a nation, the Jewish People have had no shortage of challenges. But individually, there is also a specific challenge that we need to face daily. One that keeps us focused on who we are. And on Passover every year we are commanded to internalize the mindset needed to face this challenge.

We are challenged to understand our exalted position while at the same time realize its frailty. To be humble and proud at the same time. A seemingly paradoxical mindset to maintain, if at all even possible. On one hand we must realize that we were handpicked by the King of the universe for the most important job of teaching and leading mankind. On the other hand we are constantly reminded that we are nothing but flesh and blood like any other creature, and without G-d imbuing us with His wisdom we would not amount to much at all. On top of that we are constantly reminded of the sweat, tears and blood it takes to maintain our exalted position and the consequences we must face if we don't live up to the task.

This mindset was in fact portrayed to us right from the onset. The Midrash Rabba, at the beginning of Bamidbar, explains that the Torah was given to the Jewish People with "aish u’mayim" — fire and water. Mayim, water, represents humility, as Chazal explain: "Just as water leaves a higher level and goes to a lower level, so too the words of Torah are held only by one who is humble.” Aish which means fire, constantly ascends, representing the confidence and assuredness we are given to fulfill our mission and face any challenge along the way.

The Pesach Seder comes around yearly on our national birthday to help us with our task, and enables us to internalize this mindset. The Si’ach Yitzchak on the Haggadah notes that the various events of the Seder night are outright paradoxical. On one hand we are commanded to remind ourselves that we were slaves in Egypt, and on the other we must feel like free men who serve no one other than G-d. We sit and eat "poor man's bread", yet we are commanded to do so while reclining like kings. We are commanded to overindulge in wine like aristocrats, yet only as another reminder that it was G-d Who took us out of slavery. We eat maror to remind us of the ongoing bitterness we face in life, yet we dip it in excess amounts of sweet charoset in the manner of royalty.

The mitzvot of Seder night and even the contents of the Haggadah are filled with this “double message”. On one hand we are to feel like kings living with unlimited wealth, and on the other we must feel like embittered slaves with nothing of our own other than the barest of necessities. These two opposite mindsets are exactly what we need to internalize into our daily mindset needed to fulfill our year- round mission. We must never forget that we come from a very long line of leaders who have earned the honor of being part of G-d's chosen nation. We must know that we have within us the power to follow in their footsteps and become just as great in our own right. As Jews, we have so much to be proud of and so much to strive for. However, humility means that while we embrace our mission, possessing all the greatness and uniqueness it entails, we are not aggrandized by the role we were given. Rather, we humbly and solemnly accept our obligation, and constantly remember that it is G-d Who has entrusted us with so much talent and potential.

To live daily as a proud Jew who can fulfill the exalted mission of being a mentor to mankind, one must always remember our humble beginnings and the source of our power. May we all merit celebrating a “Chag Kasher v'Somayach”!

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