Leaving the Four Prisons

March 15, 2013 by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
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In the weeks leading up to Pesach there are four special Torah portions that are read in the synagogue in addition to the regular weekly Parsha:

Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

1)      “Shekalim” – about the yearly ‘half Shekel’ tax that was given in temple times.
2)       “Zachor” – remembering the evil nation of Amalek, who attacked and weakened the Jewish nation as they left Egypt.
3)       “Parah” – the mitzvah of the ‘Red Heifer’ whose ashes were used to purify those who came into contact with a dead body.
4)       “Hachodesh” – the first Mitzvah given to the Jews as a nation to establish a lunar calendar and to sanctify Rosh Chodesh (the first day of every month).
Pesach is the festival of freedom, celebrating the exodus not only from physical slavery but primarily from spiritual bondage. Every year we relive the Pesach experience and are given the opportunity to achieve our own internal freedom, freeing ourselves from those things that imprison us and prevent us from growing spiritually.
In preparation to this experience, the reading of the four special portions allows us to identify four powerful forces that, when mishandled, consume the human being and inhibit growth and personal exodus. These four potential prisons and their antidote are reflected in the four special Torah readings that we read in the lead up to Pesach. If we don’t get these under control we remain in our own prison, unable to take the next step.
The first is money and material pursuits. The Talmud says that he who has a hundred dollars wants two hundred, and he who has two hundred wants four. The person is always hungry for more, consumed by the desire to amass more wealth.  So we read “Shekalim” – the mitzvah to give a half Shekel. The ‘Half Shekel’ reminds us that what we have is incomplete and meaningless if not used for a higher purpose. It teaches us to appreciate that which we have and to focus on making it meaningful.
The second is power. After the exodus the nation of Amalek could not tolerate Jewish independence. They attacked the Jews to control them and weaken their strength. Our sages teach that arrogance and jealousy destroy the human being (Ethics of our Fathers). So we remember Amalek in the portion of Zachor to free ourselves from the trap of control, arrogance and jealousy.
The third is the prison of the mind. As great as intellect is, it can also paralyse us. Often we are uncomfortable doing things that we cannot rationalize. We refuse to acknowledge a higher reality that understands the broader picture beyond our finite existence. The third portion, the Mitzvah of the red Heifer, is the one Mitzvah that even King Solomon could not understand. We are taught to free ourselves from our limited intellect and to be ready to do even that which we do not understand.
The fourth is time. Some people are controlled by the constraints of time. They are managed and controlled by time always feeling pressured  and overwhelmed by lack of good time management. Time is like the rest of creation, which is there to support the growth of the human being, not to rule him. In the fourth portion the Torah teaches us that we must create the calendar. We must manage time, making it work for us and support our spiritual journey.
With these four important reminders we are ready to sit at the Seder and to taste our own freedom.

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