When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” — Exodus 13:17
This month marks one of the most ancient and holiest of Jewish celebrations, Pesach, or Passover. It is a celebration of God’s redemption of His people, Israel, from bondage, and freedom is a theme underlying the celebration. Please enjoy this collection of timeless devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, on this sacred observance. – Yael Eckstein, President
The Jewish sages teach that if the Bible had not been given to man, we would have learned many virtues from God’s creations. For example, we would have learned faithfulness from a dog. Perseverance from an ant. Creativity from a spider. While God did give us the Bible, we can still benefit from observing His wondrous creatures. Here’s what we can learn from a simple crab.
Unlike most animals that grow as an entity during their lifespan, crabs, with their hard outer shells, cannot. As babies grow into older children, their organs, limbs, and facial features grow right along with them. But a crab’s shell stops growing when it gets to a certain size.
Crabs have to shed their outer shell in order to grow a new one. They have to leave the old behind in order to step into something new and better. Crabs teach us a powerful lesson about growing: Sometimes, in order to grow, we have to leave behind something – or many things – that no longer suit us.
Crabs instinctively know this truth about growing. They know that without letting go of their old shell, they’ll never grow a new and improved one. But as human beings, we tend to resist change – especially when it involves leaving behind a part of us. We need to learn from the crabs and let go of the old.
Exodus 13:17 reads: “When Pharaoh let the people go . . .” However, if we translate this verse literally from the original Hebrew, it reads: “When Pharaoh sent the people away . . . ” The sages explain that when it finally came time for the Israelites to leave Egypt, they were hesitant to go. Pharaoh had to literally push them out the door!
While we may have assumed that the children of Israel would jump at the chance to escape their lives of slavery and bitterness, they didn’t. In fact, Jewish tradition holds that four-fifths of them – about 2 million Israelites – stayed behind in Egypt. Were they crazy? No. Just afraid. Afraid of change and afraid to grow.
The reaction of the Israelites to the opportunity for freedom is actually quite natural. As human beings, most of us fear the unknown. So we stay in jobs that we don’t like, relationships that hurt us, or in places that no longer suit us. But there is something is even scarier than the unknown: It’s staying with something that we know is bad for us!
Passover is a time for stepping out in faith. It’s a time of letting go of the old in order to make way for the new. As we shed our old selves, we can become newer, improved versions of ourselves. Pharaoh let the people go. We need to let ourselves grow.
During this holy season, thousands of needy Jewish elderly and families in Israel and the former Soviet Union can’t afford the basics to celebrate Passover. Find out how you can help these precious Jewish souls today.