"Why should this Passover be different from all the other Passovers?"
Because no holiday should leave us the same as we were when it began. Holidays are opportunities for growth; not parties or mere celebrations. And that takes preparation. Passover is no different.
Let us prepare.
Not long ago I was idling at a stop sign and a billboard on an overpass caught my eye. It was from Citibank. I read it.
"He who dies with the most toys….is still dead! Live richly!"
I read it again. The words didn't change.
Continuing my trip, I contemplated the message I had just received.
"He who dies with the most toys…is still dead! Seems to make a lot of sense; perhaps bordering on the poignant. Death, being inevitable and all, should help us realize that our accumulation of "toys" is moot, at best, and pointless, at worst. As they say back home, "You can't take it with you."
But then the billboard does a 360. "Live richly!" it proclaims.
Silly me. For a minute, I thought that Citibank was expanding its investment concerns to include investing into meaningful life ventures. Might as well use our limited time here productively. But, no such luck. Instead we are implored to make loads of cash and spend it. "Live richly!" Indeed.
Now the way I see it, there's really nothing at all wrong with making money. I even do it myself now and then. The problem arises when making money becomes your life's goal; when living richly becomes your singular focus…your raison de'tre…your daily mantra. We just seem to forget why we are earning money. It becomes the end instead of the means.
"But what does this have to do with Passover?" you ask.
Instead of recalling our very first liberation some 3356 years ago, let us look, for a moment, at a modern day Exodus.
On May 24 and 25, 1991 Operation Solomon (no relation) airlifted 14, 324 Jews to Israel from Ethiopia aboard 34 EL AL jets in just over 36 hours. Following its predecessors Operations Moses and Joshua, the daring rescue mission transported this multitude of starving and unacquainted people into the strident and incredibly vibrant confines of a 20th century metropolis. Walt Disney himself could not have imagined even a morsel of what it must have been like to escape a barbaric and malaria-dominated habitat, grab one bag of meager belongings, board a Jumbo 747 and step down on the soil of the Land of Milk, Honey, and Cell Phones.
The flock of officials, well-wishers, paparazzi, and floodlight wattage was unprecedented. But one particular encounter stands out. Reporters, desperate for headline-worthy sound bites, swarmed the new arrivals and smothered them with queries about their astonishing turn of fortune. Over and over again, with the help of translators, the guests were asked about the implausible contrasts they had just experienced. One journalist wondered what it was like to actually fly in an airplane for the first time. The response of the wide-eyed interviewee was unforgettable.
"Fly in an airplane?" he asked. "Why don't you ask me what it was like to walk down a staircase for the very first time? That was really something."
Now, no sensible person would suggest that depriving ourselves of basic conveniences and comforts of life in order to appreciate things, is necessary or even laudatory. But imagine, just for a moment, living a life where walking down a staircase could be a noteworthy event. It boggles the mind. So jaded are we today that practically nothing impresses us or causes us to even take notice of the miracles of every day life. New developments in communication, medical technology, and travel (just to name a few) are spun out faster than you can say, "DSL."
What it basically boils down to is one very simple question:
What mechanisms do you need to ensure that you truly appreciate life?
Perhaps that is what Passover 2004 is all about.
A great man or the Reader's Digest once said: "Everyone seems to be searching for the city of happiness. What they don't realize is that it can only be found in the state of mind."
In millennia passed we were slaves to the Pharaohs; today we are slaves to the holy dollar. Is there really much of a difference?
When we stop to think about it, we all know this is true. Problem is, we just don't stop to think about it. Now, more than ever, we seek fortune instead of satisfaction, fame instead of self-respect, success instead of contentment. We get so caught up in accumulating the most "toys," that we lose sight of our true goals. We forget that success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.
Our friends from Ethiopia were so deprived, that a simple walk down a staircase became a fantasy come true. And our ancestors in Egypt lived under such brutal and heartless conditions, for 210 years, that some sun-baked matzah and a march into the desert became cause for a fevered celebration. I guess it all depends on where you are coming from.
This Passover, as we sit at the Seder, we must each take a deep hard look at ourselves and ask: "Where am I coming from?"
If your true answer is, "I come from the land of Citibank. I live richly," and that remains your essential life goal, you may have trouble feeling the joy of liberation and the thrill of what freedom really means. In millennia passed we were slaves to the Pharaohs; today we are slaves to the holy dollar. Is there really much of a difference?
If, on the other hand, you prepare yourself to appreciate every tinge of life's incredible beauty and every wonder that surrounds us, that remarkable sensation we call "freedom" will wash over you like a great wave of exhilaration and will help steer your ship into that sea of happiness that is your state of mind.
This Passover, with the right preparation, we can transform our internal bondage into an introspective process that brings us to new heights of awareness and gratitude. Unlike the international scorn and enmity that reluctantly and relentlessly chain us together as a People, these are constructive themes that can truly unite us and give us strength to fulfill our promise for eternity.
It is with this realization that we can then write our own billboard:
"He who lives with the most appreciation will never be a slave again! Live freely!"
Now that's what I call emancipation.