Rabbi Douglas Kohn
I remember seeing a cartoon in a paper many years ago at around Passover time, which depicted a woman, likely a housewife, slaving over a tall sink of dishes, with a tired, forlorn look on her face. The caption read, “And they call this the festival of freedom?”
Yes, we are about to celebrate Pesah again, and retell our story of liberation from Egyptian bondage, and envelop the story in days of preparation and cooking, and then hours of cleaning and putting away. It seems incongruous. It appears like anything but a festival of freedom!
Yet, this experience oﬀers a deeper glimpse into the real meaning of Passover, and the real meanings of freedom.
We mistakenly render the meaning of freedom as liberation, or license. It is understood as freedom from oppression or being devalued. It is a time to celebrate leaving the slavery of Egypt behind…
Yet, in that narrative, we miss the richer, more vital interpretation of freedom. This is the freedom which we gained when we left Egypt, and we marched to Mt. Sinai to bind ourselves to God’s eternal law. Obviously, we could not live as Jews when we served as slaves. Only a free and able person can bind oneself to the higher teachings of Torah and mitzvot.
Thus, we ﬁnd the two profound renderings of Freedom; there is freedom FROM, and freedom TO. In departing Egypt, we experienced freedom FROM. We left the horrendous behind. But that was not enough. We need the richer connotation to complete the freedom. We need freedom TO. Be God’s people. Moreover, only one who is totally free can surrender some of that license and commit to the controlling demands of Torah and mitzvot. This is freedom TO.
At Passover this year when we gather about our tables and retell our story, and labor for days in preparation and for hours in cleaning up, lets experience the fullest possibilities of Passover’s freedom tale. Let’s not just hold the matzah and declare that we were once slaves in Egypt. Let’s also hold the matzah and announce that we are fully able, actualized, and empowered today to live as God’s eternal people!
Rabbi Douglas Kohn