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Achieving Freedom Through Being Slaves to Hashem

I can’t forget Chol Hamoed Pesach years ago when I was dating my wife. I had planned a nice day outdoors, but it was raining non-stop! I called my good friend, Moshe Ahron Newhouse, for an out-of– the box idea. “Go to Atlantic City. There’s a nice boardwalk and maybe you can win something in the casino,” he said laughing. Sure enough, the weather report was sunny in Atlantic City! We spent several lovely hours there. At one point, we briefly stopped in a hotel and saw hundreds of people on a weekday afternoon…gambling. What a sight! Blackjack tables, roulette and slot machines were surrounded by people convinced they were going to win.

I thought this was a great lesson for Pesach regarding the concepts of what it means to be enslaved and to be freed from enslavement. It seemed that many of these people in the casino were addicted to gambling. Addictions come in many forms, including drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. A person who is an addict is enslaved to his addiction.

The Jewish nation was enslaved to Pharaoh and Hashem freed us on Pesach. I often start my Pesach seder with the following question: “Yes, Hashem freed us from the Egyptians, but are we truly free? By taking us out of Mitzrayim we became avadim (servants) to Hashem. So, didn’t we just trade one enslavement for another?”

Listen to Pharaoh’s words when he freed us, as recorded in the Yerushalmi, “Yesterday, you were slaves to Pharaoh. From now on, you are slaves to Hashem.” The Yerushalmi says that when the Bnei Yisrael heard the words of Pharaoh, they sang the first line of Hallel, “Hallelukah hallelu avdei Hashem….”—the servants of Hashem praise You. They expressed praise to Hashem for now being slaves to Him and no longer being slaves to Pharaoh.

The Maharal elucidates that while Hashem placed all the nations of the world under the dominion of a ministering angel, He personally oversees Bnei Yisrael. As is expressed in the Aleinu prayer, “Shelo sam chelkeinu kahem”—our portion is not the same as the nations of the world.

The other nations are each allocated their portion and one nation cannot essentially enslave another, as each is entitled to a different portion. The portion of Bnei Yisrael is under Hashem’s protection. The Chovos Halevovos says that if Bnei Yisrael do not recognize their direct connection with Hashem and instead place their trust and reliance on other forces, Hashem then leaves them in the hands and protection of those forces.

The Maharal states that only Klal Yisrael has experienced so much exile and redemption. This experience doesn’t exist with other nations. The reason is simple: Our fate is directly in the hands of Hashem. Exile occurs when a nation is sent out from its country. Whenever the Jewish nation was physically exiled from the Land of Israel, it was as a result of estranging itself from Hashem. Hashem then sent them into exile. When we return our hearts to Hashem, we merit a physical redemption back to Israel.

This answers my question and Pharaoh’s statement: “… you are now a slave to Hashem.” Why? Because that is Bnei Yisreal’s natural state; that is where they need to be.

Pesach is called Zman Cheiruseinu—the Time of our Freedom. Rabbi Meilech Biderman quotes the Beis Hashem who notes that the word “cheirus” (freedom) has the same Hebrew letters as “charus”—to engrave or inscribe. Words written on a surface are different from words engraved. Words engraved become part of the item into which they are etched. Through the Yom Tov of Pesach, we engrave ourselves into our Father in Heaven. Bonding with Hashem is true freedom.

Dovid Hamelech says in Hallel, “Ana Hashem ki ani avdecha, ani avdecha ben amaesacha”—”I am your slave, the son of your maidservant.” Rabbi Eliyahu Boruch Finkel explains in the Siddur Yavetz that there are two types of slaves. One is a person who was a free man but was sold into slavery. Another type of slave is a person who was born a slave. The difference between the two is that the latter never knew what it felt like to be free. He is a true slave because that’s his natural state. Dovid Hamelech says, “I am a true slave. I am totally subjugated to You, Hashem.”

By submitting ourselves to Hashem entirely, studying and obeying His Torah and putting ourselves under His protection, we free ourselves! We do this on Seder Night, re-living our escape from Mitzrayim under Hashem’s direction and protection, and re-committing ourselves to serving our Creator. This is freedom. This is the road to our redemption.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com

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