In the Pesach prayers, we refer to this period as the ‘Time of our Freedom.’ On a basic level, we are referring to our freedom from slavery in Egypt, which we commemorate each year with the long-awaited Seder. However, this ‘great escape’ took place more than three thousand years ago. How can we ensure that the national story of our Exodus stays relevant for us today? Furthermore, when the Jews left Egypt, though they were indeed fleeing from a crucible of darkness and evil; immediately following they were given the Torah, their biggest ‘burden’ yet. This seems to jar with the story of a ‘free’ people.
The gift of freedom is one that many pursue their entire lives. For some, it’s an arduous physical journey of escape from hostile regimes, while for others it’s the persistent battle to conquer their own inner demons. To embark on the path to freedom, you must know what you are leaving from and where you are leaving to.
When Moshe gave the Ten Commandments to the Jewish People, the Torah writes “The Tablets engraved on both of their surfaces; they were engraved on one side and on that.” (Exodus 32:16) Our commentators note that the Hebrew word for “engrave”,’חָרוּת’ is very similar to the word ‘חֵרוּת’ which means “freedom.” It is strange to note that an act as final and irreversible as that of setting in stone could be related to the seemingly opposite concept of freedom.
The answer lies in the definition of real freedom. We sometimes think that removing obligation and responsibility will liberate us. But in doing so, we are merely subjugating ourselves to our own human desires and shortcomings. The secret to attaining true freedom is to be committed and bound to a truth bigger than ourselves. Leaving Egypt was only the first stage of the process. The whole purpose of the Exodus along with the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea, was in order for us to receive the Torah, the Divine instructions for our lives, the system which allows us to live life to the fullest.
On Seder night, when we sit as a family in our gleaming homes, recounting the ancient story of our people, away from the madness of today and the magnetic pull of the consumer world we live in, our priorities suddenly become so clear. Let’s not let it go by. Let’s use it as a time and opportunity to reflect on what it is that is holding us back from becoming truly free.