Pesach: A Time of Freedom For All

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, March 30, 2022

Passover is traditionally known as Zeman Herutenu, Season of our Freedom. Eating matza and getting rid of leaven are Toraitic commandments, reminders of our liberation. And the first of the 10 commandments identifies God as the agent of our liberation from slavery in Egypt: I am the Eternal Your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the House of Bondage.” (Exodus 20:2)

According to the Maharal of Prague, the freedom that we gained upon being redeemed from slavery in Egypt was permanent and irrevocable. That is, in the redemption from this slavery, there was no potential for any future return to slavery. We have celebrated Passover every year with the belief in the truth of this idea, no matter where we have lived or in what condition we have survived. The message of freedom is engraved deeply in our Jewish consciousness. One might even say that this message of freedom is one that we have given to the whole world. During the seder this year, as we break the middle matzah, the matzah of unity, let us be mindful of all Jews who feel disenfranchised, hidden, lost to Judaism. We cannot conclude our Seder until that piece of matzah is found and brought back to our table. That action reminds us of the indestructible unity of the Jewish people, binding all of us together as one family.

In Jewish tradition, matzah is the “bread of affliction”, bread eaten as sustenance on the road to redemption. As we celebrate Pesach, the season of our freedom, this theme of the Exodus is continually manifest in all that happens around us. Freedom is defined as the absence of coercion or constraint imposed by another person or by the state. A person is free to the extent that she can choose her own goals and course of life, can make choices between the alternatives available to her, and is not compelled to act in a manner that she would not choose; or is not prevented from acting as she would like. In our world there is a practical connection between freedom and power. People unequal in power are often unequal with respect to the freedom that they enjoy. For example, a person of considerable wealth not only has a wider range of options than a poor person but he also has the means to restrict the options available to the less powerful in order to satisfy his own interests more fully. As Jews we need to focus our own attention and the attention of our Jewish community on prejudice, and begin to work not only on the prejudice which is out there, but on the prejudice that exists within our selves and within our own attitudes and behaviors.

Especially at this season of the year we must take a closer look at the ways in which our prejudices undermine our ability to be a truly inclusive and thus a truly just community. We must take the time to focus on institutional manifestations of prejudice. How well have we done as a community, as a synagogue, to take a stand against oppression and prejudice? Are we personally taking the ethical demands of our religious tradition seriously? We must recognize that we also contribute to the oppression of those who differ from us in race, in gender, in economic status, sexual orientation, in national origin, and in physical capacity.

As Reform Jews the ethical imperative cries out to us: Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, justice, you shall pursue. We must each take a stand in the pursuit of Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world. Only then will we be able to call this Zeman Herutenu – a time of freedom for all.

L’shalom, Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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