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Passover—Exodus From Slavery or Holiday of Bondage?

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Rabbi Leibel Fajnland

We will soon celebrate Passover—a holiday the Torah calls “the Festival of Freedom.”

There are those who look on with amusement at the copious amount of work that goes into ridding ones house of Chametz (leaven), shopping for food, preparing the Matzos, cooking for two Seders, etc., and ask “This is freedom? It is the ultimate servitude!”

Their question invites us to take another look at the meaning of freedom. What does freedom mean?

Freedom is generally defined as the lack of restraints. Here one must emphasize, however, that the lack of any restraints has a different name: chaos. A jungle has few restrictions, yet no one would dare compare or wish to visualize the civilized world as a jungle.

Our world can be separated, for the sake of this discussion, into four general categories: inanimate, plant, animal and human. The inanimate generally do not have too many needs. Let us therefore narrow it down and focus on the final three. They each have defining characteristics that make them what they are, and consequently, they each have unique needs.

What defines the plant? What is the unique property differentiating it from the inanimate? The property of growth. What are the needs of a plant? Good soil, water and sunlight.

How about an animal? Give it the same conditions, give him food and drink but chain him to one place with nowhere to move. You will have the most miserable animal on the planet. Mobility, actively expressing the life within it, characterizes the animal. For an animal to be happy, it has to be able to roam free. Anything less is restrictive. For the plant, this "restriction" is fine, because it does not restrict what the plant is.

Let’s keep going. Give a human being food, drink and the ability to roam the globe, but deny him speech and intellectual stimulus. Deny him conversation, deny him knowledge. Again, the formula that worked for one, fails miserably for the other.

The underlying point here is that there are two types of limitations, limitations that confine us and limitations that define us. Slavery is a result of imposed restraint on what defines us. Our own inner personal restraints like fear, anger, depression and selfishness. Or the externally imposed problems and tribulations of life, marital strife, dysfunctional families, financial instability, etc.

Be true to ourselves and our G-d and these “limitations” do not appear as limitations, rather as the context within which we are defined, human beings created in the image of the divine.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim. The root of the word “Mitzrayim” is “meitzar,” which means boundary. When we talk about “Yetzias Mitzrayim,” “Exodus from Egypt,” we also mean leaving the “boundaries” and limitations, self imposed or otherwise, that confine and stifle who we really are.

This is the relevance of Passover to us today. Passover teaches, inspires, empowers and challenges us to leave “Egypt,” to leave the slavery of our own making, each and every day. It asks us to subdue the “Pharaoh” within, the impulse to live a life of an others choosing, one which does not conform with who we truly are.