The Hebrew word we translate as Passover is Pesach. It means not just “passing over” but also implies leaping, jumping. The Passover story is a story of quantum leaps. The Israelites were enslaved for many long years. Then, a small catalyst triggered a major shift. There was a regime change. The old Pharaoh died and a new one was installed. Amidst all the pomp and ceremony, the slaves were given a day off work. They had never had one before. It was just a day, but all of a sudden they saw their situation from a new perspective and they couldn’t just go back to work. After generations when they simply assumed that their lives would never change, they had a moment to reflect and look at themselves. They glimpsed a new possibility and they cried out to God.
That was a big jump, but it wasn’t smooth going from there. Then came the time of plagues; the time of struggles. Negotiations seemed to be going nowhere. Pharaoh wasn’t budging an inch. Stalling for time; toying with them, perhaps. But then, the final plague, the angel of death passing over, and the Israelites were suddenly free. Their dough didn’t have time to rise as they left Egypt “b’chipazon” in a hurry. The mystics understood that b’chipazon meant not just in a hurry, but that it was somehow instantaneous. It was a quantum leap. One minute they were slaves, the next they were free.
That strikes a chord with my own experience. I’ll be working on an article and getting nowhere. Then, I’m half asleep at 4:00 a.m., and the answer comes to me as a gift from heaven. The world works this way: For example, nowadays, no one wants to hear about global warming any more. The economy is everything and climate change is out of style (no matter that the scientific consensus is more solid than ever). Is the battle over? No, something will come along, a catalyst (I hope it is a good one, like another Al Gore film, not a major disaster, that wakes us up), and the concern over climate change will “go viral” and all of a sudden it’s a new ball game. The world does not run by linear, predictable logic. It leaps and jumps.
Those moments of quantum leaps are Pesach moments. We were enslaved and then suddenly we’re free. There are times when we are just slogging through, getting nowhere. Those slogging times are necessary, but we need to remember that those times are punctuated by the Pesach times. The great breakthroughs, whether in science, art or personal quest, always come as a gift, a miraculous insight when you least expect it. So, recline in your chair, have a conversation with friends and family, have some wine, maybe even four cups, tell a story . . .
When we sit down to the Pesach Seder we are stepping out of the linear flow of time. We are shifting our consciousness to become suddenly aware that “God took me out of Egypt.” Not just my ancestors, but, for a fleeting moment, me. Freedom can come in the twinkling of an eye, and sometimes it does. But we need to make space and time for it; like the slaves in Egypt, a day off to get a new perspective.
On the next night we start work again: step by step, one day at a time we count the 49 steps up the mountain, toward the day of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai on Shavout. But on Pesach we have already taken the leap and glimpsed the heights. That night of leaping and jumping –even as we recline on pillows — makes all the days of walking so much easier.