Letting go restores freedom

The ‘Festival of our Freedom’ champions free will. Beyond liberation from slavery’s chains, Passover’s Seder prizes the freedom to choose as we tell, taste, and sing of the Exodus. Judaism defies modern determinisms like genetics (Darwin) upbringing (Freud) and socio-economic forces (Marx), which relentlessly challenge the scope of free choice.

But by far, freedom’s most arresting adversary is emotion.  When the grip of feelings like fear, anger, or hatred gain ascendancy, it can be very difficult to rebalance toward our better selves.

God’s Torah understands that the most effective ingredients to help sooth emotional intensity are time and acts. The passage of time and concrete deeds can begin to recompose our emotional condition in the wake of unsettling experiences. This helps explain why “the Children of Israel borrowed (va-yishalu) from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold and clothes” (Ex. 12:35). Compensatory acts mollify resentment (see Deut. 15:13). Such concrete deeds quiet the vengeful impulse.

Why does Moses instruct them to borrow these things?  Not because they will be returned but because the borrowing alludes to something temporary like unnerving emotions that will recede with the passage of time.  Like the borrowed gift, the condition of victimhood is not permanent.

Letting go is not forgiving.  Letting go is for us.  Forgiving is for them.  Those who harm us remain accountable to the judgement they deserve. We deserve liberation from a life that is darkened by the shadow of bad actors.  Letting go frees us from hatred’s grip.

May the Seder remind us of just how truly free we are.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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