This Shabbat, we have our third out of our four special Shabbatot leading up to Pesach. Pesach is just two weeks away! There is a fascinating discourse written by the 20th century commentator Netivot Shalom (Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky) in which he argues that Passover is the "new year of faith."
One insight of his that is particularly convincing is the impact of narrative on identity. He explains Psalm 116:10, "he'emanti ki adabeir"-I believed when I spoke-in light of the Haggadah. From his perspective the ritual telling of the story, even by the wise, is intended to effect "hashrashat ha-emunah" or the deep rooting of faith in God's providence. As a Hasidic rebbe, the Netivot Shalom is less interested in cleverness and more focused on faith. He has many sharp insights-drawing from across rabbinic literature-to make this point.
He cites numerous scholars who divide the ten plagues into the three groups made famous by Rabbi Yehudah's acronyms, and he argues that each group alludes to a different level of existence. Sixteenth Century commentator Kli Yakar views the levels as physical, from the subterranean to the surface and the atmospheric. Netivot Shalom sees the levels as relating to three ascending levels of faith-the mind, the heart, and the limbs. This is counterintuitive-we usually think of the intellect as the highest level of existence (as Rambam surely taught). But according to Netivot Shalom, intellectual faith is the easiest to come by (and lose). Emotional faith is more profound, but the deepest level of faith is that which penetrates into your very limbs. This is the same idea as Abraham Joshua Heschel's "praying with my feet" during the civil rights marches.
When faith is not just an intellectual discourse but is inside our emotional lives and our very physical beings, then we are truly redeemed from theMitzrayim of doubt and drawn into a life lived with God. This way of simple faith is not how most of us experience Pesach, but this month, perhaps it is worth trying.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham