Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Letter from the Rabbi – In Praise of Freedom, Part I

As we celebrate Passover, it is good to ponder on what the holiday is about. Many of us remember the story: the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for many generations until Moses, directed and inspired by G-d, led them out to freedom. That coming out, that Exodus, marks the birth of the Jewish people. But the meaning of it has resonated around the world throughout time. In our own era, Martin Luther King, Jr. found inspiration in the story of Moses and the Exodus, as he led his people in their struggle for civil rights.

Passover is known as the season of our freedom. But why is freedom so important? Why are people across the Middle East and North Africa even at this moment struggling, and sometimes dying, for freedom? Watching the news of those struggles has led me to think more about what it means to be a free person, and part of a free people.

People held down by a dictatorship or foreign power cannot fully thrive. It is not just that they cannot choose what to do; something in the soul of a people is beaten down. Their imagination and inventiveness are squashed — they are a people without true dignity.

Is freedom simply about being able to do as one wants? (Can any of us really do everything we want?) In our Jewish story, leaving Egypt meant we did not have taskmasters telling us how to live every minute of our day. We were free from those restrictions, but that didn't mean we were free to live a worthwhile and dignified life.

That is why Passover — the season of our freedom — and Shavuot — the season of the giving of our Torah — are so closely connected. Torah gives us laws and ethical principles, so that we know that real freedom lies in how we interact in our community and our larger society. First and foremost, the Jewish people are obliged by Torah to love our neighbor as ourselves; we must not oppress the widow and the orphan; we are repeatedly told to be respectful of the stranger who lives in our society, remember what it was like when we were strangers in Egypt.

Torah reminds me that in a free society, I have a duty of care and consideration for my fellow men and women. The free society that Torah gives us is one in which we are bound together in relationship.

Ideally we do not celebrate Passover in solitude. We celebrate it in groups, in families, in communities. At the Seder, we read from the Haggada "let all who are needy come and celebrate Passover." It is together that we are able to taste the sweetness of this "season of freedom".

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman serves as Rabbi of the Jewish Home's Grancell Village Campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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