June 13, 2024
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What Does Freedom Really Mean?

We will soon celebrate the holiday of Passover. Pesach is referred to as the holiday of freedom. What does freedom mean? Is it just a reference to the historical event of exodus that occurred 3,000 years ago? Does it have relevance to our lives today?

When we celebrate Passover, we read the Haggadah and make note of the oppressive slavery that our forefathers went through. They were forced to make mortar without straw. They had everything taken away from them. The men were so despondent that at one point they had to be convinced that it was still worthwhile to bring children into the world. Perhaps it could be conceived as analogous to the slave conditions that European Jewry had to endure in the Nazi concentration camps in the last century. Freedom was liberation from this oppression. But it has to be more than that.

When we think of freedom in our lives, many of us think of taking a vacation or going into retirement. This sort of freedom involves being free of the “daily grind” or removing ourselves from “the rat race.” However, freedom does not simply mean that we now gratify ourselves by watching television all day long or having a beer whenever we feel like it.

So what does Passover come to teach us about freedom that is relevant in our own lives?

Today, we may well enjoy our physical liberty but may fall prey to other forms of emotional enslavement. Unfortunately, all too often many of us become enslaved to depression, anxiety, the indulgence of harmful habits, or the pursuit of money to the exclusion of all other values. Alcohol and illicit substance abuse are at an all-time high, for example.

Psalm 115 laments that, for some, gold and silver have become the idols that they worship. Those of us who become enslaved to the pursuit of money may give up on our relationships, our families and our well-being. We may obsess on making ends meet, growing our portfolios and having more money than our neighbors. Such individuals are not free either.

The first mitzvah given to the Jewish people was that of “Hachodesh Hazeh.” This Torah selection is typically read in anticipation of Passover. The Sforno writes that the message was conveyed as follows. “From now on the months will be yours to do with them as you wish.” R’ Avraham Pam quotes the Sforno, and comments: “This is incredibly wondrous news—the opportunity to use time as one pleases. This is the essence of freedom…and fortunate is the person who knows how to use time properly.”

Rav Pam noted that, when it comes to money, people spend considerable time thinking how to save it and where to invest it. He pointed out that time is more valuable than money. After all, on a person’s last day of life wouldn’t he pay anything for just a little more time? Since time is so valuable, shouldn’t people spend just as much time thinking how to invest it and use it wisely?

As the Children of Israel found themselves on the threshold of “freedom,” God gave them His message. “This month is for you the beginning of months.” “Now your time is yours. Decide how to spend it wisely.”

Perhaps this is the lesson of freedom that can be applied in our day. We no longer have to work the fields all day long as the Jewish slaves had to do long ago in Egypt. Today we are free people. We are free specifically in that we now have much more time for ourselves. Do we use it wisely? Are we truly free?

That may be why we still continue to read in the “Ha Lachma Anya” passage of the Passover Seder, “Presently we are still slaves. Next year we yearn to be free men.” While we may be physically free we still have worries, fears and harmful habits that prevent us from experiencing true freedom. Our use of our time might not yet be under our control.

The question then becomes, are we going to squander our time on unimportant leisurely pursuits or are we going to invest our time wisely and pursue higher, spiritual matters? Will we use it to better connect with Hashem? Let’s not wait until retirement age and beyond to answer that question wisely.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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