TORA, the umbrella organization of traditional Orthodox American rabbis, wishes all people a blessed holiday of Pesach, also known as Passover, the holiday of freedom. Of all the great festivals on the Jewish calendar, Pesach is the one that engages us most as a nation. The awesome but meticulous journey towards a home free from leaven coupled with the spiritual and ritual preparations for Seder celebrations are embraced by young children practicing the “Mah Nishtanah” in school as well as great grandparents preparing to travel great distances to be with their progeny for the holiday. There is nothing as enjoyable as the traditional family Seder at home, enjoying family recipes, customs, and songs at a pace and style that suits the family.
One of the great themes surrounding Pesach is the notion of freedom. As the Haggadah states: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Lord, our G-d, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.” The Talmud teaches that no other slaves in the history of Ancient Egypt ever escaped, and this time the Israelites emerged free from slavery as a nation of nearly three million! For this alone we sing Hodu LaShem Ki Tov – Thank you, G-d. Therefore, on Pesach we celebrate our freedom.
The vexing question we need to ponder is – What is freedom? Is freedom a relaxation of restraints or an exchange of duties? It is never a complete abandonment of limitations When we take our children to the Amusement Park and say, “You are free to do whatever you like for the next four hours,” do we really mean it? Can they really go anywhere and do anything they want? Of course not. Freedom without limitations is pure chaos. If drivers on the road are free to travel wherever they want, however they want, as fast or slow as they want…this freedom will lead to destruction.
When we refer to freedom in everyday language, we do so in context. For example: we enjoy freedom from tyranny, or freedom of religion and freedom of the press. These freedoms are wonderful but they are freedoms from being controlled by another, albeit with limitations to prevent chaos.
The freedom we celebrate on Pesach is different from the freedom we enjoy as Americans. On Pesach we commemorate not merely our release from Egyptian bondage but also the national covenant we began to forge with G-d, our true King, that was sealed at Sinai. We refer to G-d as Avinu Malkeinu–our Father, our King. We left the servitude of Egypt and simultaneously entered into servitude unto the true and eternal G-d. On Pesach, we celebrate freedom from earthly dominion so we can serve G-d. This is freedom to follow G-d’s commands, not freedom from all rules.
In Pirkei Avot 6:2, the Sages instruct us to see the Ten Commandments as not just engraved (Charus) but also as freedom (Cheirus). There is no one freer then one who immerses himself in Torah. With Cheirus comes Charus; with freedom comes a deep set of responsibilities to the One that freed us—G-d.
So as we eat the Matzah, the bread of freedom, while reclining freely and feel the intoxicating freedom that comes after imbibing the Four Cups of wine, let us understand and remember well that Freedom on Pesach is not just freedom from tyranny but freedom to follow our eternal mission to learn and live Torah and express true G-dliness on earth.
Chag Kasher Vesamayach, may we all have a kosher and joyous holiday.