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Pesach: Transcending Egoism

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Sometimes we feel conflict within ourselves. It can be casual like an internal dialogue taking place throughout the day or more intense like observing our actions in heated moments. This phenomenon suggests that there is a duality within us, that there is someone — or something — living alongside us. It is strange and uncomfortable to consider, but we can each relate it to our own experiences. One example is, as mentioned above, when we get angry. In moments of rage, when we lose control of ourselves, there is a part of us that is almost omniscient to the episode, as if it is watching from afar. How do we explain that?

That is what we can call the “ego.” In Kabbalah, the ego is what separates us from actualizing true self-expression. It is like a barrier that stands between the light we are and the window before us, and it takes many forms. For some, it is the inability to control their emotions and behaviors, and for others, it is the resistance to dreaming and passion-seeking. In other words, the ego is the yezter harah, translated as the evil impulse. We are, at our core, good will, a manifestation of divine light that we call a soul. Our lives become layered with complexity, hardship, and sadness because of the yetzer harah, because we cannot live as our whole selves. The battle is constant — always an exchange between living in alignment with ourselves and living in conflict with ourselves. This is the curse of the ego. On Pesach, we are invited to move beyond this mode of operation. Namely, we are invited to transcend the ego.

Pesach is a time for matzah, not chametz. The classic understanding is because matzah was integral to our story, a symbol of Bnei Yisrael’s zeal in following Hashem out of Egypt. But that misses something fundamental to the holiday.

The Zohar teaches that matzah is the food of faith (2:183b) and chametz is the evil impulse (240b). Clearly, there is more to the Torah’s intense restriction than mere historical circumstances.

Matzah is emunah, faith, because it represents humility and authenticity. Matzah does not “rise” and inflate itself to present as something greater than what it is; the dough cannot do so. Instead, the food finds assurance in the reality of what is, of what it is. When we approach God, if we have true faith, we need not wear a mask of something other than ourselves. The goal is alignment, true self-expression, and that needs no grain of deceit. Matzah embodies the soul because of its definitional identity.

In contrast, chametz steps aside on Pesach. It captures the human desire to be not just great, but greater than one truly is — the smartest, the most attractive, the nicest, the most successful. With chametz, the base is good and loved, but that is still not enough. It denies God’s design and uses counterfeit methods to achieve counterfeit results. Chametz is the evil impulse because it is the ego, that which sustains the denial of our true selves.

Pesach is an opportunity for transcending egoism. Instead of succumbing to the animalistic instincts that move us further away from our good will, we move to find clarity on who we are, where we are, and what we ought to be. The ego seeks to pull us away from self-expression. It prevents us from living our best lives in their totality; we are held back like prisoners by our chains. Matzah is the food of faith because it restores the balance we need to live as souls.

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter is a senior at Yeshiva University studying International and Global Affairs. He is passionate about Torah, self-growth, and bringing Hashem into every aspect of our lives. Sruli has vast experience in international relations, is the Editor in Chief of The Commentator, and the Host of the Soul Life Podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
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