Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bo
קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson
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translated by Hillel Fendel

This week's Torah portion, Parashat Bo, tells us of Israel's final preparations for the Exodus from Egypt, and also discusses outlines in some detail the laws of Pesach and chametz. Rav Kook, in his commentary on the Haggadah for Passover, highlights the fact that the topic of freedom takes up a very central place in both the principles and laws of the holiday.

It is important to note the historical background of Rav Kook's writings. During his period, the idea of "freedom" was fairly controversial. On the one hand, there were the national and individual freedoms to which the Zionist, socialist and democratic movements aspired. But also very prevalent were, unfortunately, those Jews who called themselves "free thinkers" – the forerunners of today's secular Jews, but even more proactive in throwing off the yoke of the Torah and its commandments.

As opposed to many hareidi Jews at the time who instinctively opposed these ideas of freedom, Rav Kook wrote that the Torah very much identifies with the aspirations for independence and for national and individual freedom. Freedom is even a Divine characteristic, for G-d is totally free, and we strive to imitate Him. The Torah releases and frees us mortals from our debased instincts, and from our ego, laziness, and negative social pressure, and actually grants us our longed-for freedom to rise up and activate our Divinely-granted truly free will.

As we learn in Pirkei Avot (6,2): "There is no truly free person other than one who engages in Torah."

Many people today are looking for their true selves, their true "I," but they get confused by its dual nature. Sometimes their "I" is idealistic and values-based, while sometimes it is egotistical and lazy. But if we identify ourselves not with our transient, heavy, and selfish bodies, which change and erode with time, but rather with our idealistic and eternal souls – our "Divine portion" – we will easily identify within us that which Rav Kook calls our "inner desire," that which we truly want, as opposed to sufficing with what we simply feel like doing, our "external desire." (See Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 140)

Rav Kook mentions in this connection the following prayer, based on the Talmud (B'rachot 17a): "Master of the worlds! It is clear to You that we wish to do Your will, but what is impeding us? It is the se'or ba'isah, the 'yeast in the dough,' the evil inclination that is within every person – as well as the Subjugation of the Kingdoms that we face."

Rav Kook explains that yeast in the dough causes a flour-and-water mixture to ferment and rise, transforming it from its basic natural state to something more complex (see Maharal's commentary to the Haggadah, and Sefer HaChinukh, mitzvah 117). The yeast leaven (chametz) is parallel to our Evil Inclination, which causes "fermentation" in our soul; it takes us far from our natural, positive "I," and tricks us based on what we "feel like" rather than what we "truly want."

Aiding the chametz in causing us to sin is the Jewish People's subjugation to the gentiles [which continues today to some extent]. It makes it very hard for Am Yisrael to live in accordance with our traditional natural freedom, via the Torah and its mitzvot, which is how we lived for generations in the Land of Israel. The goyim influenced us, either by force or via assimilation, to live like them.

In short, our physical urges and our lack of freedom prevent our true "I" from actualizing its true potential in terms of behavior and values.

On Passover, the time of our freedom and our national birthday, we commemorate and celebrate our true freedom: the Israelite "I", the freedom to be our ideal selves.

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