Rabbis Without Borders
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Tonight marks the beginning of Passover. Jews ask over the world will gather to celebrate zman cheirutenu, the season of our freedom. We will read all about freedom from slavery. We will drink four cups of wine to rejoice in the four freedoms given to our ancestors by God. We will eat charoset, a mixture of fruits, nuts, juice or wine which represents the mortar used with the bricks we no longer have to place as slaves. Freedom from bondage, from Egypt, from Pharaoh.
The idea of being freed from slavery by God is a central tenet of Judaism. We say, remember God freed you from slavery and took you out of Egypt every Friday night in the blessing of the wine and throughout the Torah even when speaking about seemingly unrelated things.
But what, I wonder, upon finding freedom FROM slavery are we now free TO do?
Primarily, we are free to serve God and not Pharaoh. Spiritually speaking, the seder gives us the opportunity to check in with ourselves to see if we have become enslaved to Pharaohs of modernity like power, money and ego. God didn’t work so hard to bring us out of one Egypt just to replace it with another. The seder asks us, now that you have your freedom, what have you done with it?
If the Exodus is a story of a three-part journey; Egypt, the wilderness-desert and Israel, serving God is the wilderness-desert, a stop on the way, the means to an end, but not the final place on the journey. As author and psychologist David Arnow writes:
Paradoxically, as we celebrate our liberation during Passover, we sharpen our awareness of the enslavement that reigns within and around us. At the moment we taste freedom, we remember the hungry…From the heights of deliverance, we survey a shattered world crying out for healing…What is the source of the staggeringly audacious conviction that the present, the status quo, cannot be the end of the road? That’s where God comes in. God speaks in a small voice within each of us saying, “Never forget that yours is not a ‘normal’ but a broken world, one that we can surely help fix.” At the Seder, that voice calls a little bit more audibly because with Passover we confront the reality of our freedom and we have used it, for good or ill. (Creating Lively Passover Seders, David Arnow, p.114)
God did not bring us out of Egypt to serve God (Dayenu, it would have been enough). Rather, through our service to God we are meant to eternally bring freedom to others. Our service to God is our service to humanity. Our service to humanity is God’s work in action.
So tonight as you sit down to your seder, I hope you ponder not just your freedom from slavery but relish also your freedom to free others. Happy Passover.
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.