April 22, 2016
The annual Jewish celebration of Passover (Pesach) is most commonly referred to as Z’man Herutainu/the celebration of Freedom. Is it freedom we really desire or, for that matter, understand?
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin writes, “Freedom comes at a price. It is, as our ancestors discovered, a harsh taskmaster. For freedom demands choices, responsibility and adherence to values in a shifting, seductive world. It constantly tugs at us asking whether we will decide yes or no, do this or do that. . .We must endlessly decide. And each choice is momentous.”
Many, either consciously or sub-consciously, wish for a freedom that did not require choice. The ancient Israelites were barely out of Egypt when they began pleading to return to their perceived good ole’ days when they knew someone else (their taskmasters) would take care of feeding and clothing them. It is not uncommon to hear of the retired career soldier who finds difficulty coping with his newfound freedoms. There is no longer someone to tell him what uniform to wear each day, where to be at every given moment, what to eat, when to sleep, where to live and when to move.
In a world devoid of freedom there exists only chaos. Freedom means taking control of the chaos through choices made by us and for us. Choices come with responsibility and commitment. The choice to celebrate freedom by becoming a citizen of the free world comes with the requirement to pay taxes, obey laws, and pledge allegiance to a national identity. The choice to embrace Judaism as a lifestyle brings with it a commitment to religious tenets and mitzvot (obligations).
It is much easier to be a slave, giving up the responsibilities of freedom for the comfort of having others make decisions for you. Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book The Insecurity Of Freedom, writes “Freedom means more than mere emancipation. It is primarily freedom of conscience, bound up with inner allegiance. The danger begins when freedom is thought to consist of the fact that “I can do as I desire.”. . .The glory of a free society lies not only in the consciousness of my right to be free, and my capacity to be free, but also in the realization of my fellow man’s right to be free, and capacity to be free.”
This, then, is the essence of Passover and the discussion that need take place at each Passover Seder table.
Chag Sameach-May you enjoy a happy and fulfilling Passover.
Rabbi Howard Siegel