I was asked to come with some points of reflection about Passover for the Seder I’m attending this evening in Ra’anana, Israel and present them over a few minutes with everyone attending… I thought it appropriate to share them with a larger audience as well…
Without a doubt, one of the central themes of Passover is about a people, Our People, the Jewish people, obtaining their freedom after centuries of being slaves. Even though we would become free from the tyranny of the Pharaoh and his appointed taskmasters in Egypt it didn’t mean we as a people and our leaders were free to do whatever we wished without consequences. Just as the the Pharaoh and the Egyptian people were ultimately held accountable for their individual and collective actions so would we and our leaders be held accountable on our way to becoming a free nation.
The chapter of the Golden Calf in Exodus teaches us among other things that freedom doesn’t mean anarchy and without guidance and a system of rules to live by that people even with the best intentions can be led astray. Also that there can be dire consequences for a people who exercise their freedom haphazardly not only for any transgressors but for the community as a whole. Would our ancestors in the desert have gotten to their Promised Land sooner had they been more circumspect about how they exercised their freedom?
Today, as citizens of the first Jewish democracy returning from exile not after hundreds of years but thousands, we have even more freedoms than the people did in the days of Exodus. In those days, there were only 613 commandments then to restrain one’s actions and to encourage good deeds. Today, it could be said that the Jewish people are freer now than any other time in history. Yet, with even with more freedom comes even more responsibility. One could estimate there are now thousands of laws that restrict our individual freedoms. We have freedom of speech but not to libel or slander others without consequence. We have freedom of the press but we can neither publish or broadcast information or photos that military censors believe will put our country or individual soldiers in peril. We have the freedom to travel but not without proper documentation and identification and we have the freedom of privacy but not from being searched to protect the community from terrorist attacks. We also have the freedom to choose our own leaders, a freedom that our people in the desert were not afforded.
The story of Passover and our Exodus out of Egypt is also a story about the accountability of not just us, the people, but our leaders. We are often told that few of us could ever expect to reach the spiritual level of Moses, our most exalted leader, although that shouldn’t stop us from trying, yet Moses too made mistakes when he didn’t think he was accountable to a higher power and he would ultimately be refused entry into the Promised Land. He would look down into Israel but never dwell there. Recently several of our national leaders including a Prime Minister, a Foreign Minister and a President have been tested by trials for abusing their authority and not acting as if they were accountable for their actions to a higher power whether that authority be divine or civil.
In 2013, we can be thankful to be enjoying our freedoms in Israel for 66 years for the first time in thousands of years under our own flag free to defend ourselves from persecution and eradication, free to live in any neighborhood, free to ply any trade or any occupation, free to pray, congregate and celebrate our holidays without penalty in our education or careers. Yet these freedoms do not come without accountability and few of us see Israel today as a finished product as what we hope to be ultimately our Promised Land.
We must search out then what’s preventing us from obtaining that fulfilled promise. Is there something we can do individually or as a nation to move forward? We can celebrate our individual and national liberties while still exercising accountability, prudent restraint to how we act towards each other, our minorities, our neighbors and as a member of the international community unless we too want to only look down into and not dwell in what we hope to be our Promised Land.