By Rabbi Anthony Knopf
According to many psychologists, human beings are motivated by the desire for pleasure. We want to gratify our needs, wants and urges and we behave accordingly.
This is often described as the quest for ‘instant gratification’, an orientation that has been compounded in these times of social media, with an instant ability to upload videos, photos and status updates and we can receive instant feedback from our social followers.
The hard work of Pesach cleaning is at odds with the obsessive desire for gratification. Why, then, do so many of us work so hard in preparation for this festival?
In fact, if one lists all the Jewish holidays and ask what proportion of Jews observe each one, the likely conclusion would be that the holidays most adhered to are the two most difficult: Pesach and Yom Kippur.
The very fact that people work so hard in preparation for Pesach (and fast on Yom Kippur and do other things which require self-sacrifice) is itself testimony to the potential for human beings to strive for something greater than instant gratification.
As beings created in the image of Hashem, we have the capacity to recognise the superiority of moral principles and spiritual values above the comfort of material pleasures.
And it is this greater vision which lies at the heart of the teachings and practices of Pesach. When Moses gave his great speech to the Children of Israel before the exodus, he returned three times to the theme of transmitting the story of the people to the next generation.
Our children and theirs must identify with something greater than their own short-term pleasures and concerns and must establish a connection with greater principles and develop a deep existential bond with both their ancestors and descendants. And is it not this very process that we enact on Pesach?
As we sit at the seder table, our children ask the four questions as they seek to understand what it is to be part of the Jewish people. And we answer them by telling them the story of that people and allow them to experience a connection to the chain of Jewish history and to learn the values that we represent.
So we learn from the hundreds of generations of Jews who have worked hard to prepare their homes for Pesach that humans know intuitively that there is more to life than taking an easy ride and experiencing cheap pleasures. And there is no more fitting introduction to the festival itself in which we nurture our appreciation of a majestic tradition.
• Anthony Knopf is rabbi of Camps Bay Synagogue, Cape Town