by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
The true meaning of freedom
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If there’s a top-ten list for the most abused words in the English language, "freedom" must be up there near the top. To us, freedom means driving a Porsche with the top down along a gently curving coast road on an endless summer day with no other cars for five miles in either direction. Freedom to us means flying around the world on an open air ticket first class; turning up at the airport and looking at the departure board and thinking where shall I go today, Machu Picchu or Nepal; Easter Island or the Outer Hebrides?

Our definition of freedom has become indivisible from escapism.

The archetype of freedom is the Exodus from Egypt which we commemorate in the festival of Pesach. The name for "Egypt" in Hebrew is "Mitzrayim" which is from the Hebrew word "metzar" meaning "narrow," or "constriction." Egypt was the ultimate place of constriction. No slave had ever escaped from there, let alone an entire nation.

When the Torah talks about freedom it always connects it to a clear idea of the purpose of that freedom. Freedom without a purpose is slavery. When Moshe asks Pharaoh to the let the Jews leave Mitzrayim, he says "Thus says Hashem: Let My people go — and they will serve Me." The second part of the statement is the reason for the first. The only reason we were redeemed from Egypt was so that we could serve Hashem.

But why does Hashem need to be served? What does He get out of it? The answer is — nothing. We can give nothing to Hashem that He doesn’t already have, because everything we have is His. However, when we serve Hashem it is we who benefit. When we serve Hashem we establish a relationship with Him. We connect ourselves to the only Reality that there is. True freedom is being yoked to the truth. To the extent that we connect ourselves to Hashem, we are connected to reality. This is the definition of freedom. To the extent that we allow ourselves to be drawn into the myriad of mental arcade games of escapism we disconnect ourselves from the Real World.

Every Pesach we have a golden opportunity — a launch window — to connect with this reality, the reality of freedom.

We tend to think of ourselves as being static in time and that time passes around and over us. We talk of someone as "time has passed him by." In reality, we are the time travelers.

Time is fixed and we pass through it. Time has fixed points. Stations, if you like. I remember as a child my father once bought me a train set. It was the most beautiful train set in the world. (I think he spent half the night putting it together in time for my birthday.) It came complete with drivers and guards, and people waiting at stations with suitcases reading little miniature newspapers. But the train always ran in a circle. Over the bridge, through the tunnel, through the first station, across the level crossing with the cattle grid to the second station. Round and round, round and round.

Time is like that toy train. We are passengers on a train which travels in an eternal circle. Every seven days, we go through a station called Shabbos. It’s the same station. It’s the same Shabbos. It’s the same temporal landscape as last week; the same Shabbos as the first Shabbos of Creation.

Similarly, every spring we revisit the train station called Pesach. It’s the same Pesach as last year. It’s the same as the first Pesach. Thus it contains all the power of freedom of that first Pesach. Its power is undiluted by the years. Because in reality, the years have not passed by. The same reality that existed then exists now. The Exodus from Egypt created a spiritual landscape which is the essence of this time of the year. It’s in the air. All we need to do is to hook into it. We do this by fulfilling the mitzvos of the Seder. These are our tools by which we can hook into the power of freedom which is all around us.

Look outside. The trees are blooming. The call of the dove is heard in our land. We must heed that call. That call of freedom. Each one of us has our own pressures, our own constrictions, our own little "portable Egypt" that we carry around inside ourselves. The message of Pesach is that we can escape from our narrow constriction. We can be free.

We can start again. All we need to do is to hear the voice of the dove. To start anew. The word for spring in Hebrew is Aviv. The first two letters of the word Aviv are Aleph and Beis. We can go back to Aleph Beis. We can renew ourselves as before.

As it says in the Haggadah: "Each person is obliged to see himself as if he actually came out of Egypt."


• Yesod VeShoresh Ha’emuna, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, as heard from Rabbi Mordechai Fishberg

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