In Pursuit of Truth: The Passover Process

I was reading a book recently that quoted Gotthold Ephraim Lessing the 18th Century German philosopher in saying:

The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud.

Accordingly one could postulate that hunt for anything truly important is more valuable than the attainment of that thing.

I was thinking about this in preparation for Passover. The primary objective of the Seder is to verbally recount the Jews’ bitter, oppressive experience as slaves in Egypt, as well as their miraculous deliverance from that country. As we say:

And you shall tell your child in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.’

Exodus 13:8

In contrast to the daily mitzvah of remembering the Exodus (see Deuteronomy 15:15), this mitzvah of retelling requires active, detailed participation and discussion. Just as we learned from Lessing, the core Mitzvah it is not enough to be free or remember becoming free, rather, we need to retell and relive the pursuit of freedom. As we say in the Haggadah:

In each and every generation, every Jew must consider that he, himself was personally redeemed from Egypt.

This is rooted in our obligation to relive the experience of the exodus. “A person is obligated to see himself as if he were leaving Egypt.” (Pesachim 116b) In the not enough that we left or that the belief that if we had not left we would still be slaves in Egypt, rather, the commandment is in the leaving. Or as Lessing would say, the core act is the pursuit of freedom.

The Rambam states that a person’s obligation in this area is of such significance that it is not sufficient for a person to simply view himself as one who has personally left Egypt. Rather, he must act as a slave who is currently experiencing the exodus, by engaging in the type of behaviors that symbolize both slavery and freedom (Laws of Chametz and Matzah 7:6). These include the various mitzvot of the seder, such as eating marror and reclining while eating matzah and drinking wine. In addition, we possess numerous customs which are designed to reinforce this concept, including carrying sacks over one’s shoulders, so as to reenact the exodus.

In this way the freedom of Passover is an ongoing, never ending process. Our obligation is to try to achieve our own personal freedom by identifying the servitude of today, and finding ways to overcome it.

This is true on a personal level, but it might also be true on a National and Universal level as well. In many ways this Passover experience stirs the Messianic drive of the Jewish people. This is a profound and powerful element of Jewish life. Far too many of us have ignored the Messianic Project. We have ceded the whole discussion to those who think they have the answer. When it comes to the Messiah I believe that we all have much to learn from Lessing and Seder. The search for the Messiah is much more precious than the possession of that truth. Or to put it in other terms, the Messiah is a much better question than any of its so-called answers.

This Passover- may we all be blessed to experience the pursuit of truth and freedom.


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