There’s an old tale about two brothers who lived in a particular village. One brother, renowned for his noble character and deeds, was counted amongst the town’s most righteous citizens. But the other brother was another story altogether, considered by most to be a lowlife and a scoundrel without equal. The contrast between these two individuals so closely related by blood and yet of such opposite character did not go unnoticed, and was the subject of much speculation until somebody summoned the nerve to ask the town lowlife why he thought he had turned out the way he had.
“Why am I the way I am?” He asked rhetorically. “Did you ever meet my father? If you had ever met my father, you wouldn’t ask me that question!”
Satisfied with the answer, the questioner then sought out his brother, more perplexed than ever as to how he could have turned out so well.
“You want to know why I turned out the way I did?” exclaimed the righteous brother with a look of genuine surprise. “Did you ever meet my father? If you had ever met my father, you would have already had your answer!”
Albert Goering was the younger brother of Hermann Goering, the notorious commander of Germany’s Luftwaffe and the second-highest-ranking Nazi official during WWII. Researchers are currently investigating to determine if he, like his brother, merits inclusion in Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, but amazingly, in his case not as a criminal but as a potential recipient of the Righteous Among the Nations award. Apparently there is substantial evidence indicating that the younger Goering risked his life to save Jews by obtaining exit permits and transferring their assets out of Germany. There are even indications that he used his family connections to get Jewish prisoners out of concentration camps!
The specter of two brothers residing at opposite ends of the street at Yad Vashem is astounding. It’s also a powerful illustration of what the upcoming holiday of Pesach is all about: Freedom. Not freedom from oppression and tyranny as so many assume, but personal freedom: The ability to be our true authentic selves and to live the kind of life we want to live, regardless of nature or nurture. On Pesach, we like our forefathers, have an opportunity to embark on a transformational journey beyond all of the apparent limitations in our lives so we can reconnect with the part of us that is already free. And just as it began for our forefathers thousands of years ago, our journey today also begins with matzoh.
According to Jewish tradition, matzoh reminds us of the fact that we left Egypt suddenly and in great haste. But why is it so important for us to remember the speed of our departure?
The Torah begins with the words “In the beginning” to teach us that the very first thing that God created was time. Time is the first fact of our physical universe, and as such it is also the primary limitation of nature in our lives. Time binds us in so many ways. Without it there could be no concept of sequence, and without sequence there could be no concept of the rules and structure that govern our lives. Our leaving in haste from Egypt was therefore about much more than speed! It was about transcending the limits of time and ultimately the very logic and order that govern our natural existence. (Hence the miraculous nature of the exodus) This is what matzoh literally is: Bread minus the 18 minutes of time that are required for it to become leavened.
At our core, there is a part of us that transcends order and logic, the part that we refer to as our will, which is in essence pure desire. Our will is so central to who we are that it literally defines us. If you want to know who a person really is, discover what it is that he really wants. This part of us is above and beyond reason, which is why it can be so difficult for us to identify. It’s the part of us that we meet when we can no longer ask why; the part that simply is because it is.
This part isn’t shaped or limited by the circumstances of our lives. In fact, if anything, our circumstances are shaped by this part in as much as it determines how we perceive and ultimately respond to them. This is why two people can have two completely different experiences of the exact same situation. Our experience is unique because it’s shaped by the way we view the world. It is the product of something deep within us
Herman and Albert Goering shared DNA, parents, family, nationality and a lot of common culture and history. So many of their primary influences were the same, yet one walked away believing that Jews should be wiped off the face of the earth while the other risked his life to save them. So many of the facts of their lives were the same, yet they were still free to see those facts from completely different vantage points, and as a result, create remarkably different lives. This is the true meaning of freedom.
On this Pesach, may we all merit to deepen our connection to the part of us that is already free.