The Meaning of Freedom: Passover Reflection
Ritual and Order
“Josh, do you remember leaving Egypt?”
“Dude, what are you talking about? I visited Egypt years ago, when I was in college.”
“No, seriously, do you remember leaving Egypt? … Don’t you know what it says in the Haggadah?
The Haggadah text tells us, “In every generation a person is obligated to see herself as if she left Egypt.” You might be saying to yourself at this point, as I did when I encountered this line, “What?! What does this mean?”
I have found, however, that the Haggadah text, which sets forth the order of the Passover Seder, contains deep insights about what it means to leave Egypt. I now see it as an instruction manual for how to become free.
First, we develop self-knowledge – spiritually, mentally and bodily. We say Ha Lachma Anya / “This (Matzah) is the Poor Man’s Bread.” When we say this line, we use our bodies, point at the matzah, bite into it – dry and tasteless, and appreciate by way of physical gestures that we are not unlike the destitute and hungry in our midst. The next time you pass a homeless person consider that our ancestors were slaves; whatever your means or your family’s means in 2022, we are reminded that we have humble roots. Rather than forgetting who we are, we remember our ancestors- and ourselves.
Kehillah Frosh Day – Students help out at Second Harvest Food Bank
Second, we take action. We say, “Kol Dichfin Yeitey / Let all who are hungry come and eat.” Imagine if we meant what we said: we’d be running Seder soup kitchens in no time. The point here is that social action, and most certainly intentionality (kavanah), are crucial components of freedom. One can’t be free if one fails to take action on behalf of the well being of others.
Third, we have faith. We say “Ha’shata Avdei, L’shana Haba B’nei Chorin / This year we are slaves, next year the liberated ones.” We acknowledge that we are still constrained (despite all that we have) and we recognize that things can, and will, get better for us and for those around us. When we say “Next Year in the Land of Israel” we defy the naysayers and sustain faith in the possibility of redemption for ourselves, our fellows, and the world. If you don’t believe things can and will change, you are not free: you’ve got to actually believe – without naiveté – that a better world is in the offing.
To recap: what have we learned? This time-honored but still newfangled instruction manual stresses bodily knowledge, self-knowledge, action, and sophisticated faith. And, so in sum, the Haggadah requires of us, and leads us to, a wholesale transformation in consciousness … and behavior.
May you and yours have the faith to join arms and walk the path to freedom this Passover (and far beyond).
Learn more about Passover @ Passover (Pesach) 101 | My Jewish Learning
By: Dr. Josh Krug, Director of Jewish Life & Learning