Thursday, March 29, 2018

Pesah: Overcoming Impulsivity

Overcoming Impulsivity
A Message for Pesah 2017
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It is interesting to note several fundamental similarities shared by the Torah’s separate descriptions of Pesah and Yom Kippur. Each holiday is characterized by a cessation of material pleasure, indicated by the Hebrew root “shabbat.” Yom Kippur’s several prohibitions are alluded to in its description as “Shabbat Shabbaton” (Vaykira 23:32), and the destruction of all leavened foods prior to Pesah is commanded as “tashbbitu” (Shemot 12:15). Each holiday furthermore possesses at its core a unique “service,” referred to as an “avodah” – the elaborate avodah of the Kohen Gadol in the Mikdash on Yom Kippur (Vayikra 16) and the communal avodah of the korban Pesah on Pesah (Shemot 12:25-6).

The cohesive nature of these themes on Yom Kippur is easy to understand. A purge of physical attachments in the “shabbat” dimension of the day goes hand-in-hand with the Kohen Gadol’s all-spiritual avodah in the Mikdash. The connection between the “shabbat” dimension of Pesah and its subsequent avodah, however, is more difficult to comprehend. Whereas the destruction of leavened food seemingly represents a similar obliteration of materialism, the nature of the korban Pesah “service,” wherein the owners feasted on the meat of the animal appears altogether different.

As Am Yisrael stared freedom in the eyes during the hours leading up to its exodus from Egypt, the thoughts of imminent pleasures were inevitable. Denied the freedom to act upon their impulses for more than two hundred years, the potential for the people to let down all guard in pursuit of indulgence upon liberation was a real threat. The material-denying avodah of Yom Kippur would be impossible to execute at that time. God instead introduced to them the unique avodah of the korban Pesah.

Though the korban Pesah admitted the material enjoyment of feasting on meat, it coupled it together with an elaborate set of rules and regulations. The meat was taken together with massot and merorim (Shemot 12:8), roasted (9), could not be left over until morning (10), and eaten in haste (11). Uncircumcised males could not partake in the eating (43), the meat could not be taken out of the home of its owner, and the bones of the animal could not be broken while eating (46).

The korban Pesah presented the people a carefully crafted program for overcoming impulsivity. Enjoying consumption of the korban Pesah while following its long list of laws provided them with a necessary framework. Instead of an absolute denial of the hedonistic drives of a newly freed nation, it formulated limits and boundaries.

Our contemporary society is plagued by the detriments of impulsivity. We are overcome by addictions to alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, sex and so much else. Experts in the fields of human thought and activity have failed to prevent the continued disasters wreaked by our impulsive drives. The model of the korban Pesah, deliberately designed for a nation facing similar threats to our own, must serve as our guide. Utter abnegation is futile. Methodical rules, guidelines and boundaries are our only hopes for success.