After 210 years of harsh oppression physically and mentally, at last liberation is dawning for the children of Israel. Nine plagues have devastated the kingdom of Pharaoh and the tenth is about to claim the lives of every firstborn male, human and beast.
Hashem has imparted detailed instructions to Moshe regarding what the Hebrews are to do on this life-changing night. Knowing as we do that every word of Torah has purpose, it is more than a little curious that amidst the details are very precise culinary directions: G-d said to Moses and Aaron…They shall eat the flesh on that night, roasted on the fire, with matzos and bitter herbs. Do not eat of it roasted in a pot, or cooked, or boiled in water; only roasted on the fire.
Jewish women, particularly those who loved to cook — and I have yet to meet a Jewish mother who doesn’t — can find real delight, as well as spiritual insight from this verse. So can a Jewish man.
To begin with, this is one of several verses in Torah which make us know that Hashem, the Almighty Creator of all and King of the Universe is not some far off, untouchable Being immersed only in obtuse philosophical and/or theological mysteries. He is the G-d of people and He cares even about what wives and mothers do in their kitchens. Our G-d delights in being intimately engaged in every detail of our human experience — and what happens in kitchens is no small part of our human experience, is it?
In this parsha, we learn that His interest goes deeper than what we eat; He also cares about how it is prepared. Does Hashem really care if you boil, roast or saute? And if so, the big question is WHY?
On the night of the first Pesach, the Hebrews were required to roast the lamb over an open fire. It was forbidden to cook it as a pot roast in its own juices, let alone with even a drop of water. They were not allowed to boil it or slice it up and saute it with garlic and onions! It had to be barbecued!
Now why is this fact so important? Is there some hidden message that we are being challenged to uncover?
Let’s review some basics of cooking which your mother or grandmother may have taught you. Cooking generally involves the preparation of food using some form of liquid coupled with heat, as in boiling rice or sauteing vegetables. Roasting is something altogether different. There are two types of roasting: one can roast meat in a pot in its own juices, described as pot roast. As in boiling and sauteing, in this instance between the food and the source of heat, there is a shield — a pan or a pot. Only in roasting over open flames does the meat come in direct contact with the fire itself. This is how the Pesach lamb was prepared.
Let’s think about fire and water for a minute.
Fire thrusts itself upward, water naturally descends. Fire is always moving, always looking to go somewhere, to spread. Water can be contained within borders and may remain peacefully in its place; picture for a moment the serene atmosphere of a calm mountain lake.
In the thinking of Jewish mystics, fire is symbolic of our constant upward striving, of the human yearning for more and higher inspiration and accomplishment, of our thirsting for increase (and hopefully of our thirsting after Hashem as the Psalmist wrote) and of passion for spiritual realities.
Water, on the other hand, symbolizes contentment, quiet peace and tranquility. How many hundreds of artists have painted such a scene?
To know true inner freedom and peace each of us must have both fire and water within our own souls in strategic balance.
People who are ‘fiery’ tend to make themselves and most everyone around them miserable by their restlessness. They’re never satisfied, never content. They hold Platinum Memberships in the Exclusive Club of the Highly Stressed.
By contrast, people who are ‘watery’ tend towards instability, inactivity, and apathy. They are more easily trapped in the status quo and will opt for a mediocre existence in lieu of exerting the effort it takes to truly achieve greatness in any area of life.
How do we balance these in our lives? And what does this balance have to do with achieving true inner freedom? This week’s Parsha points us to the answer.
Slaves about to be set free were shown that the freedom offering could not be prepared with even one drop of water — only by direct contact with a roaring fire.
Breaking free of our own enslavements requires a fire in our souls that refuses to remain the same. Breaking free of our self-made prisons, mentally or emotionally, demands a certain fire of determination that refuses to remain incarcerated. Breaking free of our self-imposed limitations means refusing to allow anyone, even myself, to throw ‘cold water’ on my efforts to live free.
To live free from slavery disallows complacency and apathy. To live free from slavery means recognizing that each day brings its unique potential and wasting it is not an option. To live free from slavery is to break out of the ‘POT’ that tries to put a lid on our enthusiasm for life and our passion for spirituality.
AND...and this is a big AND…to live free means to embrace a certain amount of ‘water times’ into our lives.
Once in a while we need to sit our souls down by a peaceful lake or a lazy river, actually or virtually, and make peace with our restless minds and hearts, coming to terms with the reality that a certain restlessness will accompany us throughout life for it is innate in the human condition. Perhaps it is the most fiery among us who most need to find the solitude, the quiet and the inner stability that periods of solitude afford.
For fire can destroy but it can also bring warmth. Fire out of control is destructive; fire appropriately managed warms not only our own souls but many others around us.
IN TUNE WITH TORAH this week means: nurture the fire in your soul but don’t forget the water!