"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Friday, March 26, 2010

The freedom of being slaves to G-d

FNQ – holiday special
  1. It says in the hagadah “had G-d not taken us out then, we would still be slaves to Pharoah in Egypt”. Since the literal meaning of the statement is kind of hard to relate to (I cant imagine we wouldn't have revolted at some point) what is the idea behind this puzzling declaration?
  2. Why is it that our night of freedom is full of rules that seem to be more restrictive than freeing?
Imprisoned in the chains of the finite and temporary existence of a physical world we are all slaves to something. Some are slaves to their work, others to their desire for money, others to desire for sex and others to the whims of pop culture and western pseudo morality. There is only one form of slavery which has a component of freedom, being a slave to G-d. I will try to explain this obvious paradox.

It is a principle of the Jewish faith that man has free choice. This is the most basic expression of freedom and it is what separates man from the others living beings with whom we share planet Earth. But to invoke this power and maximize its potential is not as simple as one may think. Often we think that a choice is ours when in reality the choice is made by something other than us. It is made by our base physical desires, or by our boss or by our bank account. Such choices are anything but free. A choice is your own only when it is free from these shackles.

Make no mistake the freedom of Pesach does not mean that we are celebrating having no master. We have a master and we remain slaves. What took place on Pesach long ago and what we celebrate each year is the opportunity to becomes slaves to something higher than the impulses of human desire. On Pesach we became slaves G-d and thus we have the potential for true freedom.

With this in mind I think I can answer my two questions. The line in the haggada that states had G-d not taken us out we would still be slaves to Pharoah is not literal. In all likelihood the nation of Hebrews would have, one way or another, found a way to escape from their slavery in Egypt. But only in the physical sense. In the spiritual sense we would still be slaves to a culture that worships the body and deifies all that gives pleasure. If G-d had not taken us out we would still be slaves.

This is also the meaning of a line we say every night in maariv. We say that G-d took us out of Egypt for eternal freedom. Clearly this line isn't referring to physical freedom because the the Jewish nation has been slaves to many a master since we left Egypt. It is clear that in this prayer we are thanking G-d for the ability to be spiritually free. The ability to transcend the material and carnal and answer to something higher.

Perhaps this is why there are so many rules and details in the seder. Had we simply marked the moment of our Exodus from Egypt with a big gluttonous meal we might mistakenly think that in leaving Egypt we entered into a chaotic existence with no rules. We celebrate our freedom by affirming our commitment to G-d in conforming to every last detail of His Divine commands. The night of the seder (which means order) is the ultimate expression of our newfound control whereby we become the masters over physicality and the temporal fleeting state of being human.

We are all slaves to something, on Pesach we have the chance to free ourselves from all bondage but one. At the seder we become slaves to G-d.

Chag Sameach

What do you think?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question.

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