The number four is associated with Passover. The connection to the number four for many people is prompted by the Four Questions of the seder night. Those questions, and other examples of “four” at the seder (four cups, four sons) actually go back to the Torah itself. When God tells Moses that he will save the Jewish People he uses four different words to represent the four separate stages of their redemption [Exodus 6:6-7]: They were “removed” from slavery, then “saved” from having the prisoner’s state of mind, then they were physically “extracted” from Egypt, and finally they were “taken” as God’s nation. And there is a fifth phrasing which is above and beyond all the others, referring to us being brought into future times of perfection.
Tradition teaches that we are to see ourselves as if we, too, are leaving our own personal Egypt. This means that we need to see how God helps us go from feeling stuck and enslaved to being spiritually free. One way to see this is to look at how we go through this process each week, going from being stuck in the physicality of our week until Shabbat comes and redeems us.
Another way to see these stages of redemption is to see how we, and the world, are reborn as this season of Passover and springtime arrives. This brings to mind a poetic presentation by Rav Abraham Isaac Kook about the four stages of being a Jew. Rav Kook wrote in Orot HaKodesh (“The Holy Lights”) of four songs that emanate from inside of us.
The first level is to sing the song of one’s own soul, which means to seek and find satisfaction within oneself. We all need to heed this voice, working on ourselves. Passover and springtime provide an auspicious time to deal with our own personal Mitzrayim (Egypt) — from the word Meitzarim (our dire straits) — and to orchestrate our personal exodus from our own individual Egypt. This is symbolized, on the one hand, by the unleavened, deflated matzah representing a return to humility and a tempering of our ego, and on the other hand, returning to spiritual basics and adherence to God’s Torah and mitzvot.
Then there is a person who sings a broader song, the Song of Nation Israel. At Passover time, this individual thinks of the greater Jewish community. At the seder, and beyond, this singer’s thoughts turn to the story of the small family that became the Jewish People thousands of years ago and lives on today to joyfully tell of our survival and hope. He or she focuses on the essence of our people and shares in its highs and lows. Such a person is reminded at Passover of the birth and rebirth of our nation and commits lovingly to the Jewish past, present, and future through a commitment to God and his Torah as it applies to his people.
The third song is sung for all of humanity. The soul of one who sings this song expands sensitivities beyond the borders of our Jewish family and yearns for the enlightenment and redemption of all mankind. A Jew who hears this song sees all of his or her Torah observance through a broad lens. All of his or her visions and ideals are directed to and inspired by the totality of humanity. At Passover, such a person remembers, as God has implored us to do, how we suffered in Egypt, and now channel that experience toward kindness and empathy to all who are weak and vulnerable.
Then there is someone who connects with all creatures and all of existence and sings their holy song along with them. A person who knows and lives this song is tuned in not only to God’s word but God’s world. At Pesach time, the world blossoms and we recite a special blessing when we witness the miracle of the first appearance of a fruit tree’s buds. As winter fades away, and spring comes in and redeems, this person’s every word of prayer and study, fulfillment of each mitzvah, is synced in to a broad ecology which includes all of this world and even the World-to-Come.
Just as there is a fifth redemption that goes beyond the other four there is also a fifth song. There is the person who combines all of these songs into one song with the sound of sweet, symbiotic symphony. Now the songs of the individual soul, of the nation, of humanity, and of the world merge into one song.
In this spirit, on Passover we read Shir HaShirim (“The Song of Songs”) and remember that we have the chance to start fresh, becoming the holiest of holy singers, singing the holiest of God’s holy song. May we be so blessed.
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann is a teacher and guidance counselor at The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J.
Candles: 7 p.m. (Fri.); 8:01 p.m. (Sat.)
Torah: Exodus 12:21-51 (Sat.); Leviticus 12:26-23:44 (Sun.); Numbers 19-25
(Sat. & Sun.)
Haftarah: Joshua 3:5-7; 5:2-6:1; 6:27 (Sat.); II Kings 23:1-9, 21-25 (Sun.)
Havdalah: 8:02 p.m. (Sun.)