The Festival of Pessach: National Freedom
When we speak of Pessach we generally refer to its message of freedom. In these days before the Festivities of Matzot and Spring in Israel, we receive and send greetings to our esteemed people describing the Chag – in all justice – as “Chag HaCherut“, “The Celebration of Freedom”, evoking the liberation saga of the Jewish People from the Pharaonic yoke more than 3,300 years ago. That is the central theme of the Haggadah, the story we read with our family and friends in the traditional Passover Seder, stored in our memories with love and warmth since our own childhood. Passover became synonymous with freedom, with multiple connotations in all spheres of our lives.
This immediate association – Pessach = freedom – can lead, especially in our days, to interpretations which divest our Festival of its most elementary character, leaving the merest shadow of its powerful message of Freedom.
Freedom of Passover is Freedom as a platform for collective action and national realization. It is that kind of “freedom” which affects all people equally, and which is the setting for development, growth, realizing their potential, their creation and creativity.
We live in an era where the concept of “freedom” faces a constant threat of “spiritualization”, assuming a postmodern and distorted version of the message of freedom of Passover, devoid and stripped of its national character – its collective being. “Freedom” in our era of ferocious individualism, is associated with “being free”, “going my way,” “satisfying my desire”, and even “success” (often confusing “success” with financial comfort and social prestige). “Freedom” becomes “yuppie”-synonymous with personal advancement, professional development, and “don’t bother me.”
It is then (and now!) that the message of Pessach becomes relevant, challenging and transformative for our existences, recovering its essence in a world so often devoid of substance, of sense. Passover’s Freedom – that transcendent, revolutionary, truly liberating freedom – is what allows a people’s self-determination, the search for a common direction and purpose, development of their physical and spiritual potential, their constitution based on ideological pillars and the establishment of a shared and appreciated ethos (a code given at Mt. Sinai only 7 weeks after our departure from Egypt: the Torah and its way of ethical life). It’s that kind of freedom that supports the action and the ideals of a nation – the same freedom regained by the Jewish people with the establishment of their Third Commonwealth, the modern-day State of Israel.
And a reminder: it is essential to remember that the aspirations to freedom of the Jewish People from Pharaoh’s hands, from the yoke he imposed, was twofold (as stipulated in the Torah): to serve God – i.e., accept a common code of life, patterns law for the future – and living in the Land of Israel. For that reason they were freed – and for that reason we left Egypt and we return to this Land, in our (almost) 69 years of the Third Jewish Commonwealth.
Every Passover Seder with its dinner party is a joyous family and national celebration. If our ancestors during 18 centuries of dispossession, of alienation and of exile were able to celebrate a national freedom they did not enjoy in their day-to-day lives… then all the more so should we, who live in the era of Jewish national redemption! We can say “Leshanah Haba’ah Biyirushalayim!” (“Next year in Jerusalem”) and grasp this dream, this ancient desire, immediately…
May God grant that this Seder inspires us to recover the outstanding significance of the National Freedom of Pessach.
May God grant that we learn to enjoy this present, glorious period in the history of our people, when our national freedom is an everyday reality in our Jewish State.
And May God bless this gathering of our cherished ones around the
Passover Table in loving embrace and meaningful dialogue.
Chag Pessach Sameach!
Rabbi Carlos A. Tapiero
Deputy Director-General & Director of Education
Maccabi World Union