This year at our Passover Seder we decided to deviate from the traditional Seder procedures and discuss something what we have not done before: what are the lessons of Egypt’s Exodus from slavery to freedom which are very much relevant to preserving our freedoms today. We tried to find those lessons by finding answers to the following five questions.
(1) For a few hundred years we, soon to become the Jews, lived peacefully under Egypt’s Pharaoh, bred and raised our families, and preserved our own unique identity – we had not melted into general Egypt’s society. We didn’t melted although at the very beginning, at the times of Joseph and his brothers, it was possible – we were not slaves and most probably had an opportunity to become a “normal” part of Egypt’s society. However we preferred to become slaves to preserve our unique identity – long before Moses, Mount Sinai and the God’s gift of the Torah. What was so unique and precious in our unique identity that we have preserved to our own times?
(2) Yes, we worked hard in Pharaoh’s Egypt. Did we escape Pharaoh’s Egypt just to make our life easier, not to work that hard, to have more enjoyable life, or something more spiritually important were in play? What might it be?
(3) Did we try to replace the Egypt’s Pharaoh by our own one, or we wanted to get rid of any pharaohs completely?
(4) Did we want to become again individual Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs instead of collective “we the Jewish crowd”?
(5) And finally, how to apply all that to preserving freedom and not sliding back to a new slavery in our own times?
Of course, like at any Jewish discussion, we have not arrived to unanimous answers, but something very interesting was presented as possible answers.
- Abraham discovered for us that we had been created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore like God we have a reason for our existence, and the reason is to be helpers to God in creating something on this earth. We didn’t figure out yet what is the essence of this “something” but we knew this “something” exists. We have observed the life in Pharaoh’s Egypt, the life of building pyramids for Pharaoh’s after-life, and we concluded that is not the God’s reason for our existence. Therefore, we decided not to melt into Egypt’s society even if the result was for us to be treated as slaves, and continue to wait for further clarification of the reason for our existence.
- We escaped Pharaoh’s Egypt not for sole purpose of working less – we were not afraid of working more and harder. We escaped the Egypt to make our hard work meaningful along the lines of God’s guidance – to find the guidance and work along its lines. When Moses finally told us that he could lead us from Egypt’s meaningless hard work to God’s meaningful hard work most of us (not all of us) were ready to follow him.
- We escaped Pharaoh’s Egypt not for the purpose of replacing an Egyptian pharaoh by our own pharaoh – we escaped Egypt not for the purpose of unquestioningly obeying Moses as our own pharaoh but rather for the purpose of using Moses’ closeness to God for our individual discoveries of God’s guidance. That’s why we were arguing with Moses – not obeying him. And finally after many years in Sinai wilderness and many days at the Mount of Sinai most of us, Jewish individuals, found a common ground with Moses on the interpretation of newly received God’s guidance The Ten Commandments.
- Yes, most of us wanted to be great individuals as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were, and we agreed to create a Jewish union of Jewish individuals with the purpose of helping each other in enhancing our individual capacity to do creative work along the lines of God’s guidance – not with the purpose of unquestioningly obeying a leader of this union who in the Egyptian past was called a pharaoh.
- And here are two thoughts on the dangers of contemporary pharaohs and how to control a government from becoming a pharaoh.
Egypt’s pharaoh expropriated 100% of our labors that means he was taken for himself everything what we were producing living for us only bare necessity to enable us to continue working. In terms of contemporary taxation it means 100% taxation. Therefore we have to constrain our government to much-much lower taxation level to prevent the government from becoming a pharaoh. In the USA, payroll tax, federal and state income tax in most of the states is close to 50%. Sales tax and real estate tax may add 10-15%. Different types of taxation in the cost of products we are buying may be at the level of 15%. All together all levels of US government expropriate not less than three quarters of our earnings, and that is high enough to consider our own government a pharaoh. And here is a final undisputable proof that our government is a pharaoh: the government can punish us for not paying taxes but we cannot punish the government for wasting our tax money. Thus, our Passover-Seder lesson was: to preserve our freedoms we have to reduce the government taxation and the size of the government significantly, may be to one quarter of our earnings. In order to do this we have to transfer most of the government projects to private individual projects thus changing the role of government from a pharaoh’s role to the role of public servant.
Many our rabbis, mostly in the orthodox communities, are teaching the cannons of Judaism as only one acceptable interpretation of the Torah (an interpretation of their ordination institutions) without freedom for an ordinary Jewish individual to make his/her own interpretation which might be more suitable for his/her own circumstances. The lack of such freedom amounts to a sort of spiritual slavery. A much better approach may be for the rabbis to teach how to find a unique Torah-based interpretation of Jewish guidance in all spheres of Jewish individual creative endeavor outside the Jewish synagogues, family and community institutions among the non-Jewish majority – in workplace, in politics, in social institutions. That was one more our Passover-Seder lesson.
All in the above is the result of our discussions at this year Passover Seder without input of any rabbi.