Gustavo Surazski
Gustavo Surazski

Kicking the Habit

I was traveling to the center of the country a few weeks ago when I heard the courteous voice of the Waze navigator say “heavy traffic ahead”.

I was near Yavneh at the time, and traffic was flowing as usual. I looked at the screen and saw it: a threatening red line for about seven kilometers. I also noticed rather heavy traffic approaching in the oncoming lanes.

I realized that I was heading into the traffic jam, that it was long, and that it was unavoidable. (And, according to Waze’s calculations, it would lengthen my trip by one and a quarter hour.)

But there was no turning back…

I thought about that accursed jam and its similarity to the story of the holiday that is approaching. In a sense, it is the story of our forefathers in Egypt.

In the beginning, the traffic is flowing, but then you enter a kind of “loop” from which you cannot exit.

The Zohar (“The New Zohar”, “Yitro”) refers to this as the forty-nine levels of impurity; a kind of addiction.

The children of Israel had descended forty-nine levels of impurity, with only one level (the fiftieth) remaining before reaching a point of no return. The Israelites were mired in the mud of Egypt and were almost lost, like a person who is unable to control his addiction….

The Israelites addiction was “Egypt” – the gods of Egypt and its lowly and corrupt culture.

Dr. Tova Dickstein, a researcher of Ancient Israelite food, explains in a most original manner the burning of chametz on the evening of the holiday and the eating of matzah on the night of the holiday.

She claims that Egypt was known as the land of grain and bread.

During the period that it is estimated that the Israelites were in Egypt, the entire ancient world fed on porridge and matzah. 

However, during this same period, the Egyptians began to understand the secret of leavening and baked leavened bread. In order to do this, they used ovens, apparently another Egyptian invention. 

In contrast, the nomadic shepherds ate matzot baked over coals. 

Nomads cannot drag along with them a heavy oven, necessary for baking leavened bread, or wait for the souring of dough…The eating of the matza is intended to symbolize the transition from the culture of slaves, who lived on the Egyptian leavened bread, to being a free people of shepherds, eating the bread of their ancestors. 

The people of Israel burn their chametz on the eve of the festival because it is a symbol of the Egyptian culture from which they wish to wean themselves.

The burning of chametz is a symbol of this weaning.

Weaning off of an addiction is a long process and requires drastic steps.

No one, for example, can quit smoking by gradually reducing the number of cigarettes that he smokes each day. He must burn his “chametz”! To throw the package of cigarettes into the garbage, to internalize in the most extreme way that via smoking he has reached his own personal forty-ninth level of impurity, almost to the point of “no return”, and that smoking is a thing of the past.

This is true of all forms of addictions.

It is possible that there is no better example than this in order to understand the behavior of the desert generation. They were addicted to Egypt.

The various crises that the desert generation experienced are called “withdrawal symptoms” in professional literature. There are ups and downs until the addicted person is fully weaned and cross over to the other side.

Dr. Dickstein’s article sheds a great deal of light on the days of Pesach and on those ahead of us. 

Pesach is a kind of weaning party.

Where is the point in which we cross over to the other side?

It is not the point where we left Egypt in the light of day. And not the point where we crossed the sea and saw Pharoah’s minions drowning.

“The passport checkpoint” is on the Seder eve, in the Jewish kitchen over the generations, when each year the border is crossed again as we overcome the addiction called “Egypt”.

Within the family circle, with a support group. With one generation telling the next generation, how the Holy One, Blessed is He, took us from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

About the Author
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski is the Rabbi at Kehillat Netzach Israel, the Masorti (Conservative) congregation in Ashkelon.
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