Many families gather together for the Passover Seder. They eat the matzah and the bitter herbs, drink the four cups, and recite the Haggadah. The house is free of all chametz. In our prayers we refer to Passover as "the festival of liberation." These are wonderful mitzvot. But, what do we take from Passover into our daily lives?
It should be obvious that Passover is more than a kind of Independence Day celebration. Who prepares for an Independence Day two weeks in advance, making the house chametz-free to a degree of operating-room sterility, replacing all dishes and cookware, and having a sharply restricted diet for eight days?
The deeper significance of Passover occurred to me when a recovering drug addict told me that when his father began reciting the Haggadah at the Seder, and said, "Avadim hayinu (we were slaves)," he interrupted him. "Abba," he said, "can you truthfully say that you were a slave? Your ancestors were slaves, but you don't know what it means to be a slave. I can tell you what it is like to be a slave. All the years that I was on drugs, I had no freedom. I had to do whatever my addiction demanded. I did things that I never thought I was capable of doing, but I had no choice, no free will. I was the worst kind of slave."
This is a precious insight. Slavery is not limited to a despotic Pharaoh or a slave owner. A person can lose his freedom and be a slave to himself, to his habits and negative character traits. A person who cannot break free from cigarettes is a slave, as is someone who cannot break free from gambling, from excess food, from the Internet, and even from the office.
A person whose self-concept is dependent on what others think of him, or whose behavior is totally determined by what he thinks others want him to be, he, too, has no freedom. He is not free to do what he thinks is right and proper, but what others think is right and proper. Anytime one loses control of any aspect of one's behavior, one is a slave.
The entire Haggadah is essentially a text on breaking free from all forms of enslavement, internal as well as external.
This understanding of Passover and the Exodus explains why we have an entire week of celebrating independence. For political independence, one day of parades, picnics, and fireworks suffices. For the realization of obtaining true personal freedom, an entire week of contemplation is necessary...
The centerpiece of Passover is, of course, the matzah. The Zohar refers to matzah as "the bread of faith." Presumably, this is because the Israelites left Egypt in such great haste that they could not take along any provisions, and took only the unleavened dough with them. With trust in God they headed into the barren desert where no food was available. The matzah, therefore, represents the Israelites' faith and trust in God.