Drash for Pesach 2012

Torah Reading for Week of April 1-7, 2012


“With Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for All”
By Elisabeth Kesten, First Year AJRCA Rabbinical Student


Pesach: Yetziat Mitzraim means liberation.

And how are we supposed to celebrate?  “Ve’samachta B’Chagecha” – by being happy.

How are these two related? Very easy, only truly free people can be happy.  As long as a person is in the clutches of …….. (fill in his/her limitations/bad habits/addictions/moods/etc……..) he/she can’t be truly happy. Only people who are ‘grown’ up spiritually can be happy.

Strangely, as the Constitution has it, we actually need to pursue happiness, just as the Torah commanding us to celebrate in happiness. Pursuing happiness means actively strengthening the middot we need for a happier life.

To grow up, we need to be grateful. “You took us out of the Land of Milk and Honey,” complained the Israelites to Moses.  Ingratitude doesn’t contribute to happiness, taking things for granted without appreciating them is a recipe for misery.

To grow up we need to accept responsibility for ourselves. “We miss the free fish and the garlic in Egypt.” This mentality is the reason that the Israelites had to stay in the desert for 40 years. They had to outgrow the immature slave mentality, the wish that you don’t have to take care of yourself, but that someone else should do it.

To grow up we need to stop complaining.  Complaining and whining doesn’t contribute to happiness because there is not much reached by complaining, besides making our lives more miserable, and happiness will be far from us.

To grow up we need to learn perseverance and forget about instant gratification.  “We want meat.” They want it now, and Moses is desperate. Expecting instant gratification is a big factor in attaining unhappiness, especially when it comes to more complex desires. One example is praying. If someone goes to shul once and expects to “feel a spiritual high”, or even expects an answer to his/her prayers, this person is like a child who believes in a fairy godmother.  There is no instant gratification in spirituality.  Perseverance is the secret, don’t give up. You will not know the outcome, but just the fact of not giving up will contribute to our happiness.

To grow up we need to accept the responsibility and the consequences of our mistakes and sins. Blaming others when we make mistakes will make us unhappy.  (“The woman that YOU gave me, gave me the fruit and I ate,” was Adam’s answer to G-d.)  Not accepting responsibility is a very juvenile trait that can be seen in many children.  Kids never say: “I dropped the glass.” It’s, “It fell!” As if it happened by itself! As Aaron said to Moses, “I threw gold into the fire, and out came this calf.”

To grow up we need to control our emotions. Throwing tantrums is another sign of an unhappy person.  After such tantrums there is much unhappiness to deal with, like having to apologize, being known as an uncontrolled person, and inspiring fear in others, instead of love and good thoughts, etc.

To grow up we need to use our value-system to make judgments. Basing our actions and on our feelings, will not make us happy. We will re-act instead of acting. Nobody should judge others based on feelings, but we should judge people/issues/opinions based on values.  After all, feelings can be bad!  Pharaoh felt, that it was a good idea to enslave the Israelites and kill Jewish baby boys.

Alas, this is a long (probably not even complete) list of obstacles to happiness!  All of these above mentioned traits are impeding happiness and the ability to grow up spiritually.  It is childish behavior that makes us unhappy.

So Pesach is celebrating growing up to gain the freedom to make responsible choices.

The Torah wants us to grow up, to become truly free human beings, free from human domination, free from childish urges, free from serving some “thing,” in order to be free to serve G-d.

The Torah teaches us that happiness is related to holiness and goodness. It also teaches that actions are more important than thoughts. As all behavioral psychologists know – if we act happy, we will feel happy (in most cases) and we’ll be able to increase not just joy and happiness in the world, but also peace – because happy people don’t go around committing crimes and murdering innocents.

Chag Pesach sameach!