Tikkun of Speech – Pesach 2011

Pesach 2011 / 5771

A Pesach Teaching,

Based on Zohar 2:25b-26a and R. Tsadok HaKohen, Likutei Maamarim, ot 11

The sedar is a ritual meditation—a symbolic reenactment of our historic (and continuous) journey from exile to redemption that began nearly three and a half thousand years ago when we were born as a nation on this very eve. The whole point of a ritual is to bring light, fixing and healing into the deepest layers of the soul. Its choreography of movements, prayers and affirmations cuts to the quick. The sedar’s fifteen steps work on both the collective and individual scales.

The fifth stage of the sedar is called maggid (storytelling) and it is one of two Torah-level mitzvot that are fulfilled by the evening’s ritual. (The second is eating matzah.)[i]1

And maggid is further distinguished as one of the two mitzvot (out of 613) that are fulfilled by reciting a story. (The second being the tithe of bikkurim). The maggid portion of the Haggada actually combines both of these “speaking” mitzvot. It begins with several short passages that are directed toward the children who might not stay awake for the whole sedar. And then it segues into a Biblical portion that was to be spoken aloud when we offered our first fruits to the kohanim (Temple priests).[ii]2  The speech is a brief narrative of our exile in Egypt, our redemption, and the source of our obligation to fulfill the mitzvah of bikkurim.[iii]3 In the Passover haggada, every word of this script is unpacked and elaborated.

The Zohar explains that the reason for this unusual mitzvah of maggid is because it is the quintessential expression of the inner tikun that occurred on Pesach. Yes, our bodies were released from slavery and we literally exited the country but a more fundamental deliverance unfolded beneath the surface.  The Zohar asserts that dibur (our capacity to communicate inner experience through words) was also liberated when we escaped from Egypt.

The Zohar distinguishes between kol (voice) and dibur (speech). Kol is the cry behind the speech, dibur is the expression of that impulse through words. R. Tsadok HaKohen adds that dibur always carries some imprint of its spokesperson. Generic truths and party lines—if they are simply parroted without also being rediscovered by the one who speaks them—are actually in the category of kol despite their use of words. There is always a trace of chidush (originality) in true dibur. The Zohar informs us that it was dibbur (not kol) that was exiled along with the Israelites in Egypt. [iv]4

To understand the Zohar’s mysterious teaching we have to step back and view these events through a wide angle lens. Kabbala asserts and reiterates that (contrary to what meets the eye) all of creation is a single universe-encompassing Adam “who spans from heaven to earth and from one end of the world to the other.”[v]5 Every creature, past present and future, is a cell in this cosmic Adam.  The Jewish people comprise its inner soul core, its conscience (so to speak). The Biblical tale of exile, plagues and redemption marks the bar/bat mitzvah of this mythical Adam—the point when it finally acquires enough impulse control to uphold a code of ethics. As below so above. Before the age of bar/bat mitzvah a child’s frontal lobe is not sufficiently developed to resist the powerful drives emanating from the brainstem urging him toward immediate-gratification.

Bar/bat mitzvah marks a quantum shift in the psyche’s balance of power. Until then the ego rules and decisions always prioritize its hankering for creature comforts. The neshama integrates more slowly. Only at bar/bat mitzvah does it muster the strength to challenge the ego and incorporate more God-centered values into our choices.

And this precisely is what happened on a cosmic scale at the Exodus, with Pharaoh representing the ego and Moshe representing the neshama coming of age and contesting the ego’s repressive regime. Again, as below so above.  The neshama’s goal is not to liquidate the ego but to subdue it, enlighten it, and eventually incorporate its valued perspective into the steering committee.[vi]6

The whole point of the plagues was to burn into the ego’s nerve net the experiential knowing that crime doesn’t pay—that resisting spiritual law always hurts more than it gains. If Pharaoh had simply been bullied, his will would not have altered. But the repetition of defiance and plague, defiance and plague, eventually sunk in. Pharaoh’s pleasure compass reoriented—behavior previously associated with gusto (such as self-aggrandizement) now prompted aversion once its inevitably painful consequences were etched into his nerve net.6

All this happened inside the psyche of our cosmic Adam. When Moshe overpowered Pharaoh Adam’s conscience (or Divine soul) surpassed his ego (or animal soul) instigating the shift called bar/bat mitzvah.  The world could now receive the Torah (which it did fifty days later), for it possessed the strength of character (embodied as the Israelites) to fulfill the Bible’s commands despite the ego’s resistance to being told what to do. The Jewish people, as the inner soul core of this cosmic Adam, accepted the Torah along with its global mission to infuse the principles of ethical monotheism into the whole world. Just as a person from the age of bar/bat mitzvah gradually integrates his higher ideals into his animal soul until, over time, his instinctive response to the world coincides with spiritual law, so is this true for the cosmic Adam whose animal soul includes all the peoples and creatures of the world and whose life span includes the 6,000 years of Biblical history.

And the Zohar tells us that one of the first reforms inaugurated by the newly emergent conscience was to institute freedom of speech. Actually, it was more organic than that. As soon as the balance of power inverted, the gates of inspiration opened and speech emerged from exile. The ego forbids any words (including thoughts) that belie its claim of infallibility (and divinity). And it enforces this ban by keeping its subjects frantic with activity leaving them no time to collect their breath (literally and metaphorically).

The ultimate liberation of dibur, called Oral Torah, is when a person speaks personal truth with such authenticity that it also conveys precisely what Hashem sought to reveal through them.  The Talmud declares: “HaShem’s seal is truth”[vii]7 meaning that “Where you find truth, [you find HaShem, and] there you find Torah.”[viii]8  Yet, says the Zohar, we cannot access this depth of truth if we cannot collect our breath (ruach), with its two components (corresponding to the two ה’s of HaShem’s name). We access the lower ruach by deepening our literal breath and we access the higher ruach by listening in. When the neshama supplants the ego it opens the gates to free inquiry and invites people to discover the authentic truths of their soul. And those become their contribution to the evolving body of teachings called the Oral Torah—the sum total of truths pressed from the hearts of Jews striving to live their lives with integrity to the message they absorbed at Sinai.

Since speech came out of exile when Moshe prevailed over Pharaoh on that first Pesach eve, we celebrate our newfound freedom of speech with the mitzvah of maggid. And though we fulfill our obligation by reciting a script, the Haggada itself states: “To elaborate on these ideas is praiseworthy.” R. Tsadok interprets this is a call for chidush, that each person should have an aha moment at the seder,[ix]9 for that is what turns our recitation into dibur (in the mystical sense of the term). And that requires that we make a point of breathing deep and listening in.

I want to bless us as individuals, as a community, and as part of the larger world community, that our fulfillment of maggid on seder night should empower our dibur to express the Torah locked inside our souls.  “Words that come from the heart penetrate the heart.”[x]10  As we step out of Pesach and into the year, the holy dibur of the Jewish people should enter the heart, bones, cells and spaces of the world, dissolving the power of lie, and preempting the need for war.

____________

[1] All of the other observances (kiddush, carpas, maror, wine, etc. are all presently of rabbinic status).

[1] Deut. 26:5-8.

[1] It is interesting to note that there are several mitzvoth regarding firstborns (or first-growth) but only the mitzvah of “first fruits” includes the recitation of a narrative to explain the reason for the mitzvah.  There is 1) sanctifying the firstlings of kosher livestock. 2) redeeming a firstborn male children 3) sanctifying a firstling donkey by offering a substitute, or breaking its neck.

[1] In fact it was kol that initiated the redemption: 23. “… the king of Egypt died; and the people of Israel sighed because of the slavery, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the slavery.. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob…..”

[1] TB Chagiga 12a.

[1] Pirkei d’rebbe Eliezer, chapt. 43 teaches that Pharaoh escaped death at the Red Sea and made his way to Nineveh where he became king and taught the people about the one G-d. When Yona the prophet conveyed  HaShem’s intention to punish his people for their corruption, Pharaoh (as king of Nineveh)  commanded his subjects to don sackcloth and repent.

[1] TB Shabbat 55a; TB Yoma 69b, TB San. 64a.

[1] TB RH 18a.

[1] R. Tsadok HaKohen, Amla shel Torah, 1.

[1] Baal Shem Tov, Tsavat HaRibash: Hanhagat Hayashrut.

[i] All of the other observances (kiddush, carpas, maror, wine, etc. are all presently of rabbinic status).

[ii] Deut. 26:5-8.

[iii] It is interesting to note that there are several mitzvoth regarding firstborns (or first-growth) but only the mitzvah of “first fruits” includes the recitation of a narrative to explain the reason for the mitzvah.  There is 1) sanctifying the firstlings of kosher livestock. 2) redeeming a firstborn male children 3) sanctifying a firstling donkey by offering a substitute, or breaking its neck.

[iv] In fact it was kol that initiated the redemption: 23. “… the king of Egypt died; and the people of Israel sighed because of the slavery, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the slavery.. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob…..”

[v] TB Chagiga 12a.

[vi] Pirkei d’rebbe Eliezer, chapt. 43 teaches that Pharaoh escaped death at the Red Sea and made his way to Nineveh where he became king and taught the people about the one G-d. When Yona the prophet conveyed  HaShem’s intention to punish his people for their corruption, Pharaoh (as king of Nineveh)  commanded his subjects to don sackcloth and repent.

[vii] TB Shabbat 55a; TB Yoma 69b, TB San. 64a.

[viii] TB RH 18a.

[ix] R. Tsadok HaKohen, Amla shel Torah, 1.

[x] Baal Shem Tov, Tsavat HaRibash: Hanhagat Hayashrut.

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