Holy Days Archive

Welcome to CLAL Holy Days, the place where you will find the latest thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on upcoming Jewish holidays.

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By Steve Greenberg

Passover celebrates the national freedom of the Jewish people. That freedom led to our entering a covenant to serve God. If we left Pharaoh's service only to enter the service of God, in what sense are we truly free?

The early rabbis describe in legal terms the crippling effect of slavery on the human personality. According to rabbinic law, a Hebrew slave was limited in three basic areas. The slave could not serve as a witness, was not obligated to perform time-bound commandments and could not marry.

To serve as a witness requires that one trust one's judgement enough to state the facts with a degree of certainty and without fear. A slave is never permitted independent judgement. His judgement is neither exercised nor acknowledged. A slave is always trying to please others. To witness in court requires a degree of emotional independence that a slave does not possess.

To fulfill time-bound commandments, one must be able to plan, to manage time. But a slave does not have any sense of time at all. His time is not his, it is his master's. Without the capacity to dream of a future, to plan for tomorrow, the mitzvot of time are beyond his reach.

Lastly, to marry one must be able to give oneself over to another. The slave cannot maintain an intimate relationship because he does not have himself to give. In basic terms, he cannot come to another with full attention because his attention is always elsewhere. Love is only freely entered into by those in full possession of self. It is the sweetest fruit of our inner freedom.

The Seder certainly celebrates political freedom from the rule of tyrants and their oppressive regimes. But freedom is also an aspect of our character, an inner quality of divinity. To be truly free requires the capacity to develop an individual way of thinking that guides our judgments, to plan and shape our lives toward goals and to give ourselves over in love to others.

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