Passover is approaching. We call it “ the festival of our freedom,” a kind of Independence Day, I guess.
But it’s a rather strange kind of celebration for an Independence Day. I’m accustomed to an Independence Day where you have a parade, picnic, patriotic speeches and fireworks. But a seven (or eight) day independence celebration, isn’t that a bit much? One must practically sterilize the kitchen, and the food restrictions for a whole week are extreme. Isn’t that overdoing the Independence Day a bit?
But we’re not finished yet. Every Shabbat at kiddush we say, “In commemoration of the exodus from Egypt,” and every festival is “In commemoration of the exodus from Egypt,” and the daily mitzva of tefillin is “In commemoration of the exodus from Egypt.” It gets to look like an overkill for an Independence Day.
I did not understand Passover until a recovered addict told me that he attended his father’s Seder, and when his father began reciting the Haggadah, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt,” he interrupted him, saying, “Abba, can you truly say about yourself that you, personally, were ever a slave? I can tell you what it means to be a slave. All those years that I was on drugs, I was a slave to them. I did things in my addiction that I never thought I could do, but I had no choice. I was not a free person. The drugs were my taskmaster. Today I am free.”
This gave me a valuable insight. Just as one can be a slave to Pharaoh, one can be enslaved in many other ways. One can be a slave to alcohol, to drugs, to cigarettes, to food, to gambling, to sex, to shopping, to making money, to the computer, to texting, and heaven knows what else. When one develops any behavior over which one loses control, one has lost one’s freedom and one is a slave. The person who goes on vacation and calls the office six times a day is as much a slave as our ancestors were to Pharaoh.
The celebration of Passover is not a political independence festival, but rather one of spiritual freedom.
As a result of this insight, I wrote a commentary on the Haggadah “From Bondage to Freedom,” indicating that the Haggadah is a guidebook for spiritual freedom, above and beyond being a narrative of the exodus.
Human beings are the only living creatures that are truly free, and can make moral and ethical choices. Although not in cages, animals in the wild are not free because they are under the dominance of their physical drives. An animal cannot defy a physical drive because “it is not the proper thing to do.” If we allow ourselves to be dominated by our physical drives, we descend from our lofty state as humans to that of lower forms of life.
I can now understand why the sages directed that we commemorate the exodus every day. We are constantly at risk of losing our spiritual freedom, the crowning feature of humanity, and becoming slaves to ourselves. We need to be frequently reminded to implement in our daily lives the liberty we value so highly.