I've noticed that every new hi-tech contrivance, ostensibly meant to make our lives easier, instead seems to place yet another new demand on our rapidly declining available time.
A case in point: my new smart phone. It's a calculator, camcorder, digital camera, game console, global positioning satellite navigation system, internet surfer, mobile telephone, mp3 player and personal information manager (PIM). But mostly, it drops e-mail right into my pocket, so that I am available 24/6 to be contacted, queried, corresponded to, criticized and spammed.
Tethered as we are to the multiple leashes of work, relationships and social obligations, when are we supposed to catch our breath? Whatever happened to the notion of setting aside time to pay attention to our spiritual selves, our families and our friends? Where is self-actualization and fulfillment supposed to fit in?
I got the answer when my adult son was rushed to the hospital suffering from acute appendicitis. He's a strapping 6 feet tall, and when he's not studying Torah, he can more than hold his own on the basketball court. To see him doubled over, holding his belly in agony and writhing in pain was more than my wife and I could handle. As the emergency unfolded, my cell phone rang, flashed and vibrated merrily on, oblivious that I had more important matters on my mind.
It took the better part of three days before my son would leave the hospital, during which time I all but completely ignored my trusty Treo. To my great surprise, the world survived completely intact.
When I was finally back to my normal, out-of-breath and out-of-my-mind self, it struck me like an epiphany: I needed to do this more often! I needed free myself from the shackles of 21st century servitude and tend to the really important matters of life.
Then it dawned on me that I had just discovered Passover.
The Torah paints a rather bleak picture of Jewish existence in ancient Egypt. They were forced into slavery, starved, beaten, had their children taken from them and they were compelled to do "avodat perach," -- ruthless work. Some rabbis explain ruthless work as being descriptive not just of the quality of the labor they performed, but also the quantity. They were not only worked hard, but also constantly, to such an extent that they weren't even provided the time to allow themselves the luxury of thought. They were too busy to think straight. Worse still, they became accustomed to their pitiful existence, accepted it and thought their miserable lives to be "normal."
Perhaps, had they been able to contemplate their own terrible conditions, they could have cried out in heartfelt prayer to the Almighty who may have hastened their redemption. Pharaoh violated the very humanity of the Jews by taking away their ability to introspect, the first required step of spiritual growth and self-actualization.
Like it or not, we're ruthlessly on call to someone for something all the time. And, we call it "normal."
The 21st century is certainly a marvelous time in which to live. Space exploration, computerization, the taming of vicious diseases are all truly amazing feats. But we also suffer more burnout, mental exhaustion, attention deficit disorders and high blood pressure than ever before. They are no doubt the effects of our own hi-tech servitude. Like it or not, we're ruthlessly on call to someone for something all the time. And, we call it "normal."
Well, on Passover everything comes to a halt. It begins with the destruction of the chametz, leavened foodstuffs, our daily bread. What could be more symbolic of the mundane, ordinary and routine than a piece of bread? We scour our homes and clear every morsel. The "normal" is simply unacceptable for eight days each year. Then we turn off our cell phones, close our places of business and sit down to a Seder with all the time in the world to discuss the Exodus experience. And, while many of us cringe at the seeming never-ending questions our kids can annoyingly ask the rest of the year, on this night they're encouraged to ask the four questions, along with any others they might have.
As for the rest of Passover, the simple commandment prohibiting us from eating leavened foods automatically creates a huge paradigm shift for a whole eight days whereby our regular routines go out the window. We are free of fast food restaurants. Free from the mundane obligations and vicissitudes of life. Passover is freedom indeed, from the spirit-stunting routines of modern life.
The fact is that each and every week we've simply got to take a day off just to catch our breath. That day is Shabbat. But in order to "clean house" and truly free our inner selves from the overwhelming clutter of life lived in the fast lane, we need the extra-strength, paradigm shifting power of Passover.
Visit aish.com's Passover site for everything you need to know about Passover.