Like most kids, ours spend a lot of time on their gadgets. We brought them into the world with the hope they might savor the gift of life. Or at least ride their bikes once in a while. For young people, plugging in is a divine right. After all, they will live forever, have all of their needs met and perish the thought of enduring a vacant minute. God forbid the Internet is ever down!
At one point, a new enemy claimed our children’s brains: online gaming. My boys succumbed to World of Warcraft, a role-playing game which allowed them to wander a remarkable alien world populated by characters manned by players from around the world. They got credits and booty for kills and strived valiantly to build their custom-designed creature to the highest level of power. While it was nice to see my boys cooperating in order to negotiate the adventure, I didn’t appreciate that they were unwilling to leave the house. After all, we live in Southern California. They might as well have grown up in Anchorage.
The Jewish People are players in a grand scheme I refer to as “War of Worldcraft.” We are in the midst of a 3500-year peer-to-peer networking phenomenon unrivaled in history. In every generation, we are engaged in a battle to the death against the monsters of ignorance, immorality and violence. With courage and unrivaled conviction, we cleave to our ancient texts and traditions, hoping to thrive while influencing those around us. The Torah reveals the contradictory nature of our future as an eternal people: we will remain few in number and yet have vast impact on all of humankind as we wander the globe.
I would argue that God’s farfetched “light unto nations” experiment is working rather well. Historian Thomas Cahill agrees: “The Jews started it all—and by it I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us tick, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist. Without the Jews, we would see the world with different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings…the role of the Jews, the inventors of Western culture, is also singular: there is simply no one else remotely like them; theirs is a unique vocation. Indeed…the very idea of vocation, of a personal destiny, is a Jewish idea.”
Pesach is a time to acknowledge our contribution to humanity and break free of those entities enslaving us. Each spring, the season of renewal, we begin by getting back on track with our national goal of worldcraft. Pharaoh may be gone from the stage of history, but servitude is still with us. We are trapped in a quest for wealth, status, career advancement and material acquisition. We are stuck in ruts of our own making, battling inner demons, bad habits and addictions. We come into this holiday well aware that the issues we complained about last year will likely be with us next year. How can we escape our chains during this Z’man Cheruteinu, the Passover season of freedom? How can we reclaim the gumption to accomplish our global mission?
The Seder is our national homecoming party. We press reset, reconvene with our people, reprioritize. First we have to clear out the chametz. The rabbis tell us the chametz represents our ego. Big bread = big ego. EGO stands for Edge God Out. The week of Passover we eat humble pie, otherwise known as matzah. Humility gets us on the playing field. When we override our sense of entitlement, we create a grateful space to rediscover our purpose, clearing our launch pad for explosive transformation. The custom is to search for chametz with a candle, not a torch. One might think we need the most powerful light to cleanse every crumb—but the search for chametz is spiritual as well, and too blinding a light into our psyche may make us feel depressed and diminished rather than empowered.
Humility doesn’t require us to be pushovers. Humble people can be superstars! The secret is acknowledging the source of one’s strength. Once, Rav Chatzkel Abramsky, zt”l, head of the London Beit Din, was called to testify in a secular London court. His attorney asked him to state his name and position and queried, “Is it true you are the greatest living halachic authority in Europe?” The Rav replied, “Yes, it is true.” The judge interrupted, saying, “Rabbi, isn’t that rather haughty on your part? Don’t your laws teach you to be humble?” The Rav responded, “Yes, but I am under oath.”
Only with our chametz destroyed can we endeavor the celebratory Seder meal with our families and tell our remarkable story. Seder night is not a commemoration of something that happened to distant relatives. It’s our story in perpetuity, in every age, with every enemy seeking the destruction of our holy mission of Tikkun Olam. We are still travelers on a monumental journey, attending Seders, telling our origin story, eating sweet charoset mixed with bitter herbs, decrying anti-Semitism, taking our place in this historic march towards redemption.
We usually go into the holiday overwhelmed by the cleaning and cooking, burdened with the pace of our lives, never quite getting enough rest. Hopefully we finish this sacred week transformed and relaxed, with new focus and commitment. Surviving such an austere diet teaches we can handle deliberate deprivation. Spiritual freedom is the acquisition of moral strength to avoid the shackles of poor decision-making. This eight-day leaven-free period initiates our calendar year with an invaluable metaphysical victory.
Over the course of forty years wandering the desert, our encounter with God and Torah coaxes us into our maturity as a holy people. On Passover, we relate to God as a protective, loving parent, preparing us for the vicissitudes of “worldcraft.” We get in touch with the big picture by appreciating the details: the world spins thanks to “small” acts of kindness and “small” mitzvot like not over-baking matzah or dipping delicate greens in salt water. We emphasize how we were redeemed then and are continuously redeemed now. So crucial is the connection between the Exodus and our Jewish mission statement that we are commanded to recall leaving Egypt every morning and night. Pesach may be the headquarters, but our freedom to stand with God is an everyday gift. Pesach serves to awaken our inner child, reprioritize our busy lives and restore our glorious goal of serving as soldiers in the War of Worldcraft.
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer and author in Los Angeles. His book The Joy of Judaism is an Amazon bestseller.
Republished from San Diego Jewish World