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What does Freedom mean in 2021

Wednesday, 24 March, 2021 - 8:53 pm

Each year as the Passover season comes around it brings with it many gifts. Kneidels. Matzah. Spring cleaning. Kvetching about the prices. Mock Seders. Memories. The off-tune uncle ‘singing’ Ma Nishtana. And so much more…

One of the most important gifts it offers us is the spirit and theme of FREEDOM. It is the flavor of the season and rightfully so. Pesach is all about the privilege and responsibility that comes with liberty.

Let’s face it though. Freedom is not exactly the buzz word of 2021. There are many feelings pulsing through the hearts of us all; freedom is not high on that list. With the many restrictions and unknowns of the pandemic, we can argue that we are not living through the freest of times.

Add to that the anxiety many are feeling in this political climate and you are faced with the question: what is the message of Pesach for our time? What does freedom mean in lockdown? What does freedom mean if we cannot sit at the same table as our loved ones? What does freedom mean when we cannot even shake the hands, let alone hug, our friends and family?

Before I continue and offer a somewhat philosophical response, I must pause and allow the heart to talk first: my heart aches for the pain and loneliness that so many are facing for this long time. You are in my heart, and I ask you kindly to carry me in your heart as well. Our hearts beat as one.

Freedom can mean vastly different things based on which word follows it in the sentence.

Exhibit A: Freedom from…

Exhibit B: Freedom to…

Often when we speak of freedom, we mean ‘freedom from’. From tyranny. From rules. From anything I don’t want to be enslaved to.

Freedom to is not about where I am leaving, but where I am going. Rather than looking back at where I am leaving, I am looking forward to where I wish to be.

It is the second freedom which is never taken away from the human being. No matter our circumstances we are given the total freedom to choose our attitude, our perspective, and our behavior.

This Passover season reminds us that we alone can decide whether to choose freedom or not. We can choose to embrace optimism. Hope. Faith. Love. Empathy. Reflection. Joy. Peace. Forgiveness.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Jewish people “choose life!” You might ask, “but isn’t that the obvious choice?” Not really. Choosing ‘life’ is more than just choosing to live. It is about choosing to ‘have a life’ – a life of freedom. That is a big choice to make.

Life and freedom are synonyms. Choosing freedom is choosing life. 

At the same time, we continue to pray for ‘freedom from’ Covid, incivility, pain, hardship, financial struggle, sickness, death, loneliness, war… the list is infinite. But perhaps it is also simply, the freedom we ask G-d for: Next year in Jerusalem. 

As we sit at our Seder table this year, let us remember that freedom is handed to us in gift wrap. Will we open it? 

We wish you and your loved ones a Kosher, Happy, Inspiring (and Healthy!) Passover!

Rabbi Fishel & Ettie Zaklos

 

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