Tonight Jews all over the world start celebrating the week long festival of Passover, or in Hebrew, Pesach. Although the holiday has many features, its primary focus is of course the story of how the ancient Israelite tribes become free from their slavery in Egypt.
The Talmud, Judaism’s ancient book of law and philosophy, states with regard to the Passover Seder:
"In every generation a person is obligated to see themselves as if they are right now leaving the slavery of Egypt; as the Bible says, “Remember that you were a slave in the Land of Egypt.”” The Talmud’s description of the Passover Seder meal is not one of remembering the past but of reliving the transitional moment from slavery into freedom (emphasis added)."
But what is ‘freedom’ and what are the implications in terms of responsibilities and obligations for people who enjoy freedom in a world where so many are still deprived of what we would consider the most basic human freedoms?
Franklin D Roosevelt introduced a concept of four human freedoms that should be considered universal rights of every human being:
- Freedom of speech and expression
- Freedom of worship
- Freedom from want
- Freedom from fear
Janis Joplin on the other hand sang, "Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose."
Events in Eastern Europe over the past couple of decades and events in north Africa and the Middle East over the past months have shown us that individuals will face terrible dangers and personal risk to achieve their own freedom. To paraphase Janice Joplin, these people seemed ready to die for their freedom when they felt they had reached a point where they had nothing left to lose.
Pesach is a wonderful moment to realize how incredibly blessed we are with the freedoms we enjoy. It is an excellent opportunity to consider all the people in the world who do not enjoy all, or any, of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.
It is the appropriate moment to rededicate ourselves to standing with people of good faith everywhere who are fighting for the most elementary freedom of self-determination or for any of the Four Freedoms.
The mistake that we who celebrate the holiday must resist is limiting our focus and attention to an inner-directed and perhaps self-absorbed celebration of our own freedom, regardless of how grandiose an event it was when the children of Israel were released from their bonds of slavery.
For history teaches us over and over again, that we can not truly be free until all are free.