As we prepare to welcome in the holiday of Pesach, I wanted to reflect on the concept of freedom and its application to family life. Historically, Pesach celebrates our national freedom from under the rule of the Egyptian people. At the Pesach Seder, we involve ourselves in many actions that demonstrate freedom. We drink four cups of wine, recline in the way of free men and engage in a festive and elaborate meal with discussions and commentary on the many events that led to the Exodus from Egypt. Our rabbis teach us that all of these actions are supposed to help us to feel a sense of freedom.
The concept of freedom from a Torah perspective is different than the ideas of freedom espoused by Western Society. In Parshat Shemot, Hashem tells Moshe that the exodus from Egypt is one important step on the continuation of a long journey. The pinnacle of that journey is being able to serve Hashem. Serving Hashem and fulfilling the commandments is what made Bnei Yisrael truly free. Therefore, it is not surprising that throughout Jewish History, we have countless numbers of rabbis who under persecution and duress, sought to keep Mitzvot and teach Torah. Even though they were not physically free, the practice of Mitzvot and connection to Hashem made them spiritually free.
After a long day of work, many of us may view freedom as having time to do what we want; watch a ball game, check our stocks, or maybe catch up on some of the TV shows that we have missed. While these activities may provide a sense of calmness and relaxation, they are not activities that are devoted to helping us feel a sense of true freedom. In Parshat Bo, before the commencement of the narrative regarding the Exodus from Egypt, we are given the commandment to sanctify the Jewish months. What is the reason of the placement of this mitzvah directly before the story of the Exodus from Egypt?
Slavery relates to both physical labor and emotional duress. Backbreaking labor makes the body physically tired but also lets the mind begin to despair. Based on the account in the Torah, this is clearly what happened to Bnei Yisrael. In the beginning of Parshat Vayera, Moshe goes with his message to Bnei Yisrael, but they cannot hear him due to ‘hard work and shortness of spirit.’ What is this ‘shortness of spirit’? Some say that this relates to Bnei Yisrael lacking any sense of time. As a slave, you are controlled by your master, so you have no sense of time. If you have no sense of time, then you are not able to control your time, build your identity and grow spiritually.
By listing the mitzvah of the new months before the story of the Exodus, Hashem was giving back Bnei Yisrael their sense of time and identity. Their ‘time,’ which had not been in their control, was now going back into their control. As individuals and as a nation, Bnei Yisrael would now have to shift their mentality and understand what to do with their time. Therefore, directly after the narrative regarding the exodus from Egypt, we are taught about the laws of Passover, both for the present (Mitzrayim) and for future generations. This initial message was that the purpose of freedom was to use their time to serve Hashem and fulfill the Mitzvot. This would make them truly free men.
Therefore, in order to demonstrate freedom on Pesach night, we are constantly involved in speaking to our children. We engage them in a meaningful dialogue because after all, isn’t this the most productive use of our time! What could be more worthwhile, both for the present and the future, to engage with our children about our past, to the individuals who will eventually be the future teachers of our traditions?
So we all know the story! And for those who don’t, we can spend time teaching them the story! But here comes the necessity for preparation; at the seder, what message do we want to convey to our children? What do we want to tell them? What do we want to demonstrate to them? All of these questions require thought and preparation, using our time to give some serious introspection for the transmission of the Mesorah.
It is this message that I hope that will push people (albeit gently) to rub their eyes, splash water on their faces and find some additional energy ‘in the tank’ for the Sedarim. Hashem has given us our time back, He has given us our time to use as we please. Let’s use it wisely by spending time thinking about how we would like to transmit our traditions to our children on this very special holiday. May everyone merit a Chag Kasher Visameach, a sweet, uplifting and meaningful Pesach
Rabbi Mark Staum, LCSW is a therapist, educator and frequent writer for The Jewish Link.
By Mark Staum