25 ‘miniature’ thoughts on Pesach and Freedom

The following miniature thoughts were originally crafted as tweets. I have expanded some of them and tweaked some others for the sake of this post. May some of these thoughts become the seeds of meaningful conversations during the seder and for the reminder of Pesach. If some of them particularly resonate with you, please let me know. Here they are:

#1: Every year, we are summoned to leave Egypt because a piece of Egypt left with each and every one of us. We all carry a bit of Egypt in our backs. Egypt is sticky. Like sadness.

#2: Egypt, in Hebrew, is known as Mitzrayim. That Hebrew word is connected to narrowness, to those places, moments or relationships that won’t let us breathe. We are in Mitztayim every time we feel unable to expand and grow. Mitzrayim is the land of tzures, Yiddish for troubles. If we truly want to be free, we need to get out of there.

#3: Some people understand freedom as an aspiration to be detached from everyone and everything. No strings attached. On many occasions, that is not freedom but our deepest fear to suffer in disguise. We’d rather be detached than vulnerable. Freedom pushes us to embrace our own vulnerability and to make peace with our own fears.

#4: Freedom is the eternal call to respond to the pain that is felt by the other. There’s no freedom in isolation. Being free is a lifelong commitment to everyone’s dignity. Difficult freedom, as the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas called it.

#5: Erich Fromm used to say: we are “free from” and we are “free to.” From whom are we free? For what are we free? For whom are we free? We are never free in a vacuum. Freedom has to enable us to do something meaningful with our lives, for our sake and for the sake of those we love and care about.

#6: You can become a slave to the need for absolute freedom. As with classic slavery, that need for absolute freedom ends up becoming a recipe for utter loneliness.

#7: During the Passover seder, we drink four cups of wine. They symbolize different states in our road to redemption. Freedom takes time and patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. Freedom requires a lot of homework on our part.

#8: At the beginning of the seder, we break a matzah and hide it. Perhaps, we do that to be reminded of the fact that we won’t be able to get out of Egypt until we recognize our own scars, cracks and abysses. Not by chance we will make that hidden matzah – the Afikmoman – the last piece of food we will eat on that evening. We become truly free as we own our inner brokenness, not by hiding away from it.

#9: The matzah is both the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. We remember the grief of years past while we look with deep hope to a promising future, every time we understand that our commitment is to the people around us, and especially to those who are suffering the most.

#10: During Pesach we read the Song of Songs because freedom is also connected to love. There’s nothing more revolutionary than to cross paths with someone who will modify the axis on which our life turns. Even if that is scary.

#11: The Haggadah teaches us about a group of rabbis spending the whole night engaged in conversation. Freedom is connected to friendship. When we are surrounded by friends with whom we can talk for endless hours, then we are free. Those companions transform our journey through life into something both meaningful and priceless.

#12: Children are the heart of the Haggadah. Most of the seder is about their questions and curiosity. Freedom is also, for those willing and able to do so, about bringing children into the world. There’s no vulnerability as the one we feel as parents. Having children is a leap of hope and an act of partnership with G-d in creation. As we see our children grow, we strengthen our covenant with life.

#13: The Passover Haggadah is loaded with questions because freedom is more about dealing with doubts than about sleeping comfy with certainties. We are free as long as we don’t let our doubts paralyze us. On the contrary, they should inspire us to keep asking more and more questions.

#14: There is something precious that freedom and questions have in common: They are both openers. We open ourselves to meaningful dialogues, to the other, to the unknown. Freedom makes room for those things, moments and/or relationships that are beyond our control. We need to train our souls to live with those types of uncertainties. It is liberating.

#15: At the seder, we eat maror, or bitter herbs, because freedom summons us to make peace with the frustrations, disappointments and sad moments in our lives. It is because we are free that sometimes we make bad choices and we have to recognize that every now and then we might be wrong. But we don’t have to linger forever in those mistakes. We have to understand that, if we change our ways for the better, they will go away, as the taste of the horseradish in our tongues.

#16: As we come closer to the end of the seder, we pour a cup for Prophet Elijah and we open the doors of our homes. We can only be free when we go out into the world. This year, most of us will struggle with this particular insight more than ever before but it might be that by staying locked in our homes this Passover we will be able to get out sooner rather than later as we resume our commitment to amend this aching world.

#17: One of the seder’s most famous songs is the Dayenu. It is a beautiful invitation to each and every one of us to stop craving those things that may never come true while we thank and celebrate those things that actually happened. We need to work on the spiritual exercise that pushes us to be happy with what we have. Can we recognize the many blessings that surround us? Can we make sure that we don’t take them for granted?

#18: 99.9% of those who left Egypt never made it into the Promised Land. Not even Moses. Perhaps, that is to tell us that freedom can work at times as the horizon that we keep in front of our eyes, with no guarantee that we will ever get there. Yet, the fact that we may not arrive cannot be used as the excuse not to try our best.

#19: Moses is almost absent from the Haggadah. Instead, the focus is in G-d’s deliverance. It might also be related to the idea that freedom is something that we create, sustain and strengthen together and cannot depend on only one human being. There’s no room for people to stand on the side watching the show. All of us are needed if we want this to work.

#20: When we mention the 10 plagues, it is customary to take drops of wine from our cup to symbolize the pain felt by the Egyptians as G-d was smiting their land. When our freedom requires someone else’s suffering, there is something that is not working as it should. Freedom should be about designing a better society so that everyone can be free, and no one has to suffer nor be left behind.

#21: There’s a huge difference between the last plague that struck Egypt and the first nine. During the first nine, the Israelites sat down and did nothing. By the tenth plague, G-d required them to do something. They had to prepare food in advance, paint their doors and stay at home while the Angel of Death was going through Egypt. Now that the people of Israel were about to be free, G-d reminded them that freedom is deeply connected with personal responsibility.

#22: “In every generation there are those who try to destroy us,” we read in the Haggadah. Our freedom is always under threat. When dealing with stressful and uncertain situations, many are willing to sacrifice part of their freedom in exchange for some sense of security. The problem is that once we lose our rights it might be hard to get them back. Zygmunt Bauman already wrote about this. Yuval Harari has recently spoken about the same troubling trends regarding the potential outcomes of the current pandemic.

#23: The first chapters in the book of Exodus present us with female leading characters like no other passage in the rest of the Bible. The midwives, Moses’ mother, Miriam, Pharaoh’s daughter and Tzipora are some of those heroines that allowed us to leave Egypt. We would never achieve our freedom if it wasn’t because of them. Many years after, we still need to work harder if we want a fully egalitarian world. Everyone’s freedom still depends on that.

#24: For the vast majority of us, this will be the most uncomfortable Pesach Seder ever. Many will be alone; others will be away from family and friends. It’s not going to be easy and, yet, because of all of that, this year has the potential to become the most meaningful Passover ever. Let us give ourselves the chance to reflect on freedom and slavery, on the plagues and the bitterness of isolation, and hope that we will get through all this soon enough.

#25: The Passover seder has to go from the ugly to the redemptive. We tell the story of our slavery, we remember that, once upon a time, our forefathers were idolaters, but we end up singing and dancing, celebrating with joy. This year we may feel awkward but we have to see things with perspective. Our story doesn’t end in a lockdown. Soon enough, we will be able to say out loud the words: Free at last, free at last, free at last. And if we are truly blessed, we may be able to do so in Holy City of Jerusalem. Just hang in there, and may G-d bless us all with a meaningful Pesach!

Chag Sameach!

About the Author
Joshua Kullock is the rabbi at West End Synagogue, the only Conservative synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he moved to the US in September 2013.
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