Judaism: What Freedom Were We Given?
Passover is the holiday of freedom. In the prayers of the holiday we call Passover zman chairusainu (the time of our freedom). In the maariv (evening) service that we say every night, we mention that Hashem took us out of Egypt at this time lchairus olam – for eternal freedom.
This coming Monday night we will gather with family and friends, as we mark the most celebrated Jewish occasion of the year – the seder.
Yet, as thinking people, we have to ask ourselves, what does this message of freedom mean to me? Certainly there are people in this world who are slaves, who are denied physical freedom – but there were Jews who celebrated a seder in the most challenging of circumstances – when they certainly had no freedom.
What of those heroes and heroines who recited the Haggadah in the Nazi concentration camps? Were they celebrating freedom there?
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe ztl, described a whole different aspect of freedom. We all have areas in life that we know we should change – but we tell ourselves, “right now I can’t”. Whether it’s a challenge to put on tefillin daily, to quit smoking, to give up soft drinks, or to stop speaking lashon hara (derogatory speech) about others, we all have things that we want to change – but… Rabbi Wolbe explained, that the minute we use that word but our freedom has been compromised.
We are saying that we are not free to do what we are supposed to. We are still enslaved to Pharaoh – and to his values.
The freedom that we were given on Passover was not just a freedom from physical tyranny and subjugation. It is a freedom to rise to a challenge and choose, to grow and improve, and to serve our Creator with every fiber of our being.
When we left Egypt, we didn’t only escape a physical bondage of subjugation. We were given the ability to choose to break free from any constrictions that have limited us.
Indeed, Maimonides (Rambam) tells us that Pharaoh and Moses are the two foes that are in each of us. We all have that voice of Pharaoh trying to pull us down, to keep us tied down, and that voice of Moses, trying to lift us up.
The very word Mitzrayim (Egypt) is related to the Hebrew word maitzar which is a boundary, or an area that is confined. On Passover we celebrate that freedom to taste freedom, and to break out of being confined, to find our space and ability to serve Hashem with all our power.
May we all experience real freedom this Passover, and next year be together in Jerusalem!