The festival of Pesach is known by three names: a) In the Torah it is referred to as the Festival of Matzos;1 b) in the text of the holiday prayers it is also known as the Season of Our Freedom; c) during later times, our Sages referred to it, as do most people nowadays, as the Festival of Pesach.

The Prophet Yechezkel speaks of the exodus from Egypt as the time of the Jewish people’s birth.2 He does so not only because the Jewish people then attained nationhood, (for were this the sole reason, the term would also apply to other nations who won their freedom) but because at that time the Jews became an entirely new entity.

The ultimate purpose of the Exodus was consummated when the Jews received the Torah, as the verse states: “When you shall take out the nation from Egypt, they shall serve G‑d on this mountain (Sinai).”3 Thus, the birth of the Jewish people is bound up with their becoming a Torah-nation. The essential quality of a Jew, both as an individual and as part of the collective whole, is Torah.

The three names mentioned above, and their respective order, emphasize the three distinct stages necessary for the Jewish people to become a wholly new entity.

This is analogous to a teacher imparting knowledge to a pupil — knowledge so profound that the pupil could never attain it on his own. The first thing the pupil must do is to arrive at a state of self-nullification, abandoning all preconceptions and thereby becoming a fit receptacle for his master’s teachings.

After attaining this state, the pupil must, however, also make an effort to comprehend the knowledge imparted to him — self-nullification is but a preparatory state to comprehension. The pupil does so by utilizing his own intellect.

During the initial stages of learning, the student’s knowledge of the subject can in no way compare to his master’s, as it is constricted by his intellectual capacity.

Ultimately, however, it is hoped that the pupil’s comprehension of the subject matter will equal his teacher’s.4 But in order for him to attain this state, he must transcend the limitations of his intellect and elevate himself to the intellectual state of his teacher.

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The birth of the Jewish people as a nation was dependent on three similar stages. In order to receive the Torah they first had to attain a state in which they could fulfill the injunction, “You shall serve.

Like a servant who nullifies himself before his master, the Jews had to first expend effort to nullify their previous state, a state that was contrary to Torah. This level of service — like the first stage in the attainment of knowledge — is reflected in the name the Festival of Matzos, for the flat matzah bespeaks the nullification of one’s bloated ego.

This manner of service, far from being restrictive, leads to a second state that truly frees a Jew, for it is in keeping with his true essence, inasmuch as “a Jew and Torah are one.”

This level of freedom — like the second stage of attaining knowledge — is celebrated in the Season of Our Freedom, for “only a Jew who studies Torah is truly free,”5 and such a desire is part of a Jew’s essential being. (Conversely, when a Jew leads a life “free” of the constraints of Torah and mitzvos,he is in reality in a state of “slavery,” for he is straining against the grain of his very essence.)

For our forefathers, the second level of freedom led to the final stage — receiving the Torah. This changed them radically, just as in the final stage of intellectual growth the student’s level of comprehension is radically transformed into the level of his master.

So great is this metamorphosis that even the former level of nullification, “you shall serve” — a finite level — is thereby transformed into a level of service that transcends limitation. This level is termed the Festival of Passover, for — as implied by its name — Passover means to transcend, to leap6 from and break the bonds of the finite, and attain the realm of the infinite.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 71-76.