Ask anyone what the theme of tonight’s Passover seder is. You can bet that the answer will be one word: freedom. The Jews were oppressed by the Egyptians for two hundred years, G-D came along, destroyed Egypt with ten plagues, split the sea for us, washed out the entire Egyptian army. Then we were free from Egypt’s tyrannous stranglehold and could now do whatever we wanted.
Well all that was certainly true. Apart from the last part. We couldn’t just ‘do whatever we wanted’. “For you are slaves to Me” said Hashem. You are under my jurisdiction now. You still have to answer to Someone. And that Someone is infinitely more powerful than your previous master!
So is ‘freedom’ really the right word to describe the Jews’ status upon leaving Egypt? Sounds more like they just found a kinder more patient Boss!
I believe the answer is that Judaism defines freedom differently.
In general western thinking, we’ve come to believe that retirement is an ideal. No more stress, no heavy workloads or deadlines to reach. More time to just relax, play golf and take it easy.
Another example of our ‘progressive’ mindset is the way we all work to earn our first million, or ten million, thinking that the ability to earn enough to give our families the best that the world has to offer.
If you’re one of the (shrinking group of) people who still believe in those worldviews, you’d be shocked by these studies:
The Institute of Economic Affairs found that the chances of depression shoot up by 40% after retirement.
A survey in the BMC Medicine Journal showed depression rates in 18 countries. The lowest rating came from… China, one of the poorest countries on the list. First place was taken by France. And the goold ol’ US of A? They came second (If the UK were included, us Brits would have beaten ’em hands down!)
Physical pleasure is great. But it doesn’t last. Certainly not beyond the grave!
In Judaism, freedom is the ability to strive for the type of things that we take with us to the Next World. Those are the things that really stay with us forever.
Physical entities are important. Retirement and wealth can be wonderful tools. But that’s just it: they’re tools, means to achieving Spiritual accomplishments that remain with us for eternity. It’s when our physical means become ends in themselves that we begin to limit ourselves.
It’s a paradox. Laws like observing Shabbat and Kashrut, restricting ourselves physically, are in actual fact liberating. Because they are what takes us to a lifetime which is limitless in The Next World.
True freedom is a choice we make every day. We get to decide whether to expand our Horizons or limit ourselves.
Wishing all a happy and meaningful Passover!