PONDERING FREEDOM ON THE EQUINOX
The main theme of the upcoming holiday of Pesach is the issue of Freedom, in all its complexity. The Jewish people are brought out of slavery in Egypt (literally Mitzrayim, or narrow place) and we are commanded to remember this act of deliverance by G-d, and to teach it to our children. We are supposed to keep this memory of redemption always in our thoughts and words; the daily prayers and the Sabbath blessing over the wine contain passages remembering our deliverance from Egypt by G-d. It is during Passover, however, that this theme takes on the central significance.
The Exodus is not just a historical remembrance, it is a personal and immediate story as well; "And you shall explain to your son on that day, "it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt'" (Exodus 13:8). Thus, the story of the redemption from Mitzrayim serves as a national and historical template that should be applied on an individual and present level. This is the idea of biblical self-help — that the story of our past holds the key to our future. As Jews, it is our duty to contemplate the concepts of freedom and redemption as laid out in the story of the Exodus and apply these lessons to our lives on a daily basis. We must ask ourselves difficult questions, such as "In what ways am I enslaved?" "In what ways am I free?" "Where am I stuck (constricted in a narrow place) in my life?" and "How can I merit redemption?". These are not easy questions, and there are no easy answers. We must be brutally honest with ourselves and with each other in order to transform our state of exile into a state of deliverance. Indeed, most of us are enslaved in ways that we are not even consciously aware of. This is the deepest level of enslavement — when you don't even realize that you are enslaved. For once you are able to grasp and articulate what it is that holds you down, you have taken the first step toward freedom from its spell.
So it is that I find myself reflecting on the state of freedom in America, and have found, unfortunately, that it is in a sad state of affairs indeed. Since last Pesach, we saw the U.S. government commit murder of American citizens without charges or trial. Then we saw the passage of the NDAA into "law", which effectively ended the 700 year legal precedent of Habeus Corpus as laid out in the Magna Carta (as well as the much older Torah law, which also requires a trial in a system of Justice). Most recently, Mr. Obama signed an executive order entitled "National Defense Resources Preparedness", which gives the 'right' of the government to take any resources or personal labor it deems necessary for the national defense. The writing is on the wall for anyone who cares to read it. We are all prisoners in a system gone horribly wrong. That the curtailment of these liberties is done in the name of our own 'protection' adds irony and insult to the situation. Whether we acknowledge these uncomfortable facts or not is a question only of how much we are paying attention. We are not free, in any political sense of the word, and we seem to be losing what little freedoms that still remain at an ever accelerating rate.
Thus I find the message of Pesach speaks ever more poignantly, as the world sinks deeper into galut. We must remember that the Lord delivered us from Egyptian bondage in order to tie us to His Will, as laid out in the Torah values of tzedek, emet, v shalom (justice, truth and peace). We Jews are no strangers to coping in times where injustice prevails. During the Pesach seder, we tell the story of the Bnei Brak seder during the times of the Roman occupation of Israel. There Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining and discussing the Exodus from Egypt, illustrating that we must keep the memory of redeption alive even in the darkest hours. While we can no longer count on miracles like the parting of the Reed Sea, we fortunately have the holiday of Purim to prepare us for the redemption of Pesach. Purim reminds us that the Lord works through human actions as exemplified by Esther's bravery and courage in confronting the King regarding the injustice of Haman's plans. Thus we must work to bring the light of truth where darkness lies, and Justice to where tyranny reigns, on both physical and spiritual levels. Today is the Spring Equinox, the perfect balancing point between light and darkness. By remembering the lessons of the Exodus story, we push ever onward toward the light, where Justice and Righteousness shall prevail.