Lessons From Chabad in Humility This Passover
My wife always reminds me of when she was a little girl and she was so fondly a part of the Chabad children’s Tzivos Hashem (“Servant Army of G-d”) where they taught her about loving and serving Hashem by doing mitzvot. And even a little child who knows nothing can understand that the beginning of service is being humble. I can’t think of a more perfect message for Passover for us all.
Be Humble Like Matzah
Rabbi Schneur Kaplan of Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Jewish Center Chabad (DJCC) asked: What’s the real difference between the chometz (חמץ) that we eat all year and the matzah (מצה) that we eat on Passover?
Both chometz and matzvah are made of the same ingredients: bread and water. Even the letters of the words are similar: both have a mem and tzadik (מצ), and even the letters of heh (ה) and chet (ח) are similar. The only difference is that the heh (ה) in matzah has an opening at the top left. That opening is a window to Hashem in Shamayim (heaven) to remind us to always be humble before Hashem, similar to the way that the matzah is unleavened and humble, “the bread of our affliction” from Egyptian servitude. In short, bread is risen and leavened; it represents arrogance, but matzah is flat and unleavened; it represents humility.
Focus Intently on Helping Others
This was the message of the Rebbe, even when he met 10,000 Jewish people on a Sunday morning outside 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights: he would stop and focus on each one individually. Each person is a world unto themselves, and the Rebbe would be laser focused on each person for who they are and, even more importantly, who they could be, and that was often his opportunity to set the individuals he met on the derech Hashem (way of G-d). This incredible righteous Rabbi would take the time and, in a state of complete humility, help thousands and even millions of people over time.
Similarly, Rabbi Kaplan asked at the Seder when we read about the Four Sons (the wise, the wicked, the simpleton, and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask about our redemption from slavery), what about the 5th son—the one who isn’t even at the Seder table, the alienated Jew—why isn’t he mentioned? The answer he gave was because the Rebbe refused to accept that we have Jews missing from our seder. The Rebbe and his disciples at Chabad are all about bringing every Jew back. We’re all children of Hashem, and we’re all important! No one is better or worse; we’re just different and can all contribute in our own ways to bringing holiness and spirituality into the world.
Value Each Person’s Individuality
I mentioned to Rabbi Kaplan how special it always is to visit their synagogue, and he told me again from the teachings of the Rebbe that the key is to make every individual feel important and welcome. And indeed, that has been my experience. Almost like in his own humility, he makes me and everyone else there feel important for who we are, regardless of whether or not a person is a scholar, a prodigy, or a “macher” of the community. Even at the seder, each person took a turn to read in whatever language they wanted to share in the experience equally and lovingly, as Moshe Rabbeinu had for the people leading them at G-d’s behest out of Egypt.
Caring for each other and serving G-d isn’t being lowly; on the contrary, it’s being humble as individuals and knowing that we serve a much greater purpose in the world. Be like an unleavened matzvah with a window always looking out to Shamayim (heaven) and Hashem and what we can do to make a difference for others and the world, not just for ourselves.
How Far We Must Go to Get Rid of the Ego
I’ll leave you a quick Passover riddle. When is food kosher for Passover but not kosher?
The answer is when it’s dog (pet) food, because you want to make sure it doesn’t have chometz (i.e., is kosher for Passover), but it doesn’t need to be kosher (because animals aren’t required to eat kosher). As Jews, we are a holy nation where the commandment to remove the leaven on Passover even applies to the pet food in our homes. If we can remove the arrogance from our homes and hearts, then we can be better people: humble, selfless, giving, and standing side by side rather than sitting high and mighty, which only G-d Almighty deserves.