The Kli Yakar describes three stages of growth in his explanation of the dialogue with the Wise Son. There is avdut, the removal of the “dirt,” symbolized by the bitterness of maror. There is hachna’ah, the humility represented by matzah. And then there is cheirut, freedom, as represented by the Pesach, personified through serving G-d.
What is the dirt of which we must rid ourselves?
An important principle in Judaism is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In order to do that, one must be at peace with oneself — otherwise how would we know how to treat the other?
There is no excuse for self-loathing, unless one has a detestable character. But the simple antidote to that is to do good deeds. One who wants to be a good person needs to simply do nice things for others. It’s just a matter of training.
There is an arrogance we unknowingly exhibit. We so easily see flaws in others, but not our own. R Elimelekh of Lizhensk famously prayed “that each of us see the positive qualities of others and not their flaws.” Not respecting someone else’s tzelem Elokim is pretty nasty. Judging a person for making different life choices is unbecoming. Calling human beings names they don’t call themselves is obnoxious childhood behavior.
What is the humility we must achieve?
The Torah’s depiction of the simple son’s and wise son’s questions has their conversations taking place “tomorrow.” Humility, in one sense, means we must be ready to wait with our confrontations until the heat of the moment has passed. We must train ourselves to have patience. But there is no comparison between the response one has in the moment, when passions are high, and when they have cooled.
I recently saw a great piece of advice. When you want to tell someone off, go to your computer, compose an email that says everything you want to say, read it twice to make sure you made every point articulately, and then delete it without sending it.
The Talmud (Megillah 28a) has many examples of rabbis who were asked how they merited a long life. Among them, Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah speaks of never viewing himself as better than anyone else. He forgave everyone every night before he went to sleep.
Rabbi Eliezer taught “Let your friend’s honor be more beloved to you than your own” (Avot 2:10). This is not just a slogan. It is the theme of life.
One should think, “I’m not a big deal. Whatever honor I think I deserve should be given by me to the other person. And that other person should ideally be thinking and living the same way. But it’s not about me. It’s never about me.”
And the connection to freedom raised by the Kli Yakar was channeled through an appreciation of the role G-d plays in our lives.
“I set G-d before me always.” “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.” “For me, closeness to G-d is good.” What do these verses mean? We can love Him all we want. We can become absorbed in davening and always behave in shul and be the most humble and the most efficacious and the greatest Torah learners.
But the real way we get closest to Him is through imitating Him. “Just as He is merciful, you are to be merciful.”
The Talmud passage in Megillah mentioned above gives many examples of those who merited long life because of their tremendous qualities, character traits, and care for their fellow man. G-d blessed them with long life because they were humble, subservient, respectful, never took benefit from someone else’s downfall or delighted in someone else’s failure.
Pesach, matzah and marror are meant to teach us what kinds of behaviors we don’t want in our lives (marror), what kinds of behaviors we do want (matzah), and what kinds of behaviors we can train ourselves to have (Pesach) that allow us to be the most gratified Jews in the service of G-d, who earn honor and respect because we give honor and respect, and who modestly fulfill the verse from Micah “to walk humbly with your G-d.”