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My beautiful friends,
I hope that each of you luxuriated over your four glasses of wine and enjoyed evenings of ritual, song and food during the Passover seders this week. It was a treat for me to visit the East Coast and celebrate with family where – as the youngest attendee at one seder – I was snookered into reciting the Four Questions for the first time in 21 years and – as the “most experienced” attendee at a second seder – I was asked to lead the evening and explicate each portion.
As I shared musings on Passover and the Jewish tradition, our table sparked a lively conversation about the value of freedom and the things in our lives that enslave us: cravings for junk food, unfulfilling work, a mortgage, overuse of Facebook, Jewrotica (just kidding!). But even though Passover serves as a beautiful prism through which to explore the literal and metaphorical slavery that still exists in this world, it would seem inaccurate to frame this holiday as a dichotomy between slavery and freedom.
By leaving Egypt, the Hebrews gained certain freedoms and rights, but with them came responsibilities. Rather than casting off their shackles for unlimited freedom, the Jews left Egypt as part of a process of building their relationship with God. This is the idea behind the counting of the omer, the days from Passover until the holiday of Shavuot when the Jews received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is considered the consummation of the relationship between God and the Jewish people, and lord knows that it came along with the implementation of boundaries and a heck of a lot of rules (613, in fact).
So the question is: Was it worth it? The Jews finally had their first taste of freedom and seemingly gave it up for another type of “slavery” – a demanding relationship! (Okay, maybe it’s not fair to call relationships slavery…) But, is any relationship worth the sacrifice of minor freedoms? I find this question particularly fascinating as all of my Jewish friends are strictly monogamous whereas many of my hippie friends in Austin are fairly polyamorous, and both seem to have their advantages and drawbacks.
The Jewish God is supposed to be a “jealous God” and – if we are to draw a parallel to our relationship lives – Judaism certainly sets an example of strict monogamy. Despite the Jewish people’s tendency to stray again… and again… and again in the Bible, fidelity to God in a monogamous relationship is always lauded as the ideal.
It seems that anything worthwhile in life will demand the letting go of certain freedoms, and that freedom as a stand-alone value can be devoid of meaning and even empty. If foregoing certain freedoms is offered as a choice, then perhaps freedom is not the absence of the responsibility, but the ability to want the responsibility, to independently choose it and to live it. Freedom becomes the responsibilities that we willingly, lovingly and dutifully take on and use to infuse our lives with meaning.
I wish each of you a happy and matzah-filled Passover and – as we count the omer toward the holiday of Shavuot and take steps closer toward our relationship with god – may we reflect on the true value of freedom and appreciate those who we hold dear in our own lives.
Light and Love,