With Our Freedom From Slavery, What Are Jews Free To Do?
We're all in this together. Courtesy of Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon
(Rabbis Without Borders via JTA) -- At Passover, Jews over the world gather to celebrate "zman cheirutenu," the season of our freedom. We will read all about freedom from slavery. We drink four cups of wine to rejoice in the four freedoms given to our ancestors by God. We eat charoset, a mixture of fruits, nuts, juice or wine that 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.
Author and psychologist David Arnow writes in "Creating Lively Passover Seders": "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."
He adds later: "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."
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 when 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.
(Rabbi Rachael Bregman is at Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick, Georgia, as the first female and the first resident rabbi in over 50 years. She lives two miles from the beach with her daughter, Lilith, and dog Zooey.)