What’s the Connection between Passover and Etz Hayim?

Participants in Kavanna BaShanah have been discussing our Kayitz 2014 theme, Etz Hayim (Tree of Life). Please enjoy a Seder supplement inspired by our conversations! As always, if you would like to participate in Kavanna BaShanah, please be in touch with Rami (ramis@campramahne.org) or Ariella (ayrosen@gmail.com). Hag Kasher V’Sameach, Happy Passover!

Etz Hayim hee lamahazikim bah, vetomkheha me’ushar

There is a verse from the Tanakh (Proverbs 3:18) that we sing at camp each time that we put the Torah away in the ark:

עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא, לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ;    וְתֹמְכֶיהָ מְאֻשָּׁר.

It is a tree of life to those who grasp hold of it, and its supporters are happy.

Over the years, “The Tree of Life” has come to refer to the Torah. In other words, the Torah is like a tree of life for those who hold it tightly.

  • How is the Torah like a Tree? How is Torah like a Tree of Life?
  • How do you “hold” the Torah in your life (beyond just physically)?
  • What does it mean to be “happy” or “satisfied” by holding onto the Torah?
  • And what the heck does this have to do with Passover?
Let My People Go

Well, when God was instructing Moses to go to Pharaoh to demand that he free the Hebrew slaves, God said:

וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים שְׁלָחַנִי אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר, שַׁלַּח אֶת-עַמִּי, וְיַעַבְדֻנִי בַּמִּדְבָּר; וְהִנֵּה לֹא-שָׁמַעְתָּ, עַד-כֹּה.

And you shall say to him: Adonai, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying: Let my people go, that they may worship Me in the wilderness, and you have not yet listened. (Exodus 7:16)

We know the “Let my people go” line, that one is pretty famous, but we sometimes forget about the second half- “that they may worship me in the wilderness.” God didn’t just want the Hebrew people freed, God wanted them to have the freedom to worship God. Soon after being freed, the people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from God.

Some questions to think about at your Seder:

  • The word “to worship” comes from the same Hebrew root for the word “to be a slave” or “to serve.” (La’avod) How are they similar? How are they different?
  • The way that the people were able to worship God in the wilderness was by receiving the Torah, our Etz Hayim (Tree of Life), and following its laws. The Torah contains 613 mitzvot, commandments. That’s a lot of rules to follow! If the Jews left the rules and restrictions of slavery only to receive all of the laws in the Torah, are they free? As Jews who have certain rules to follow, what makes us a free people?
  • God wanted the people to have both the “freedom from” slavery and the “freedom to” worship or pray to God. What is the difference between these two types of freedom? (Freedom from vs. freedom to)
  • Today, as a Jew in America in 2014, what are some things that you feel “free from?” What are some things that you feel “free to?”

On this holiday of freedom, we hope you feel the joy of exercising these freedoms, and of taking hold of our Etz Hayim, our Tree of Life. Hag Kasher V’Sameah!

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