“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.’” — Exodus 6:6
This month marks one of the most ancient and holiest of Jewish celebrations, Pesach, or Passover. It is a celebration of God’s redemption of His people, Israel, from bondage, and freedom is a theme underlying the celebration. Please enjoy this collection of timeless devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, on this sacred observance. – Yael Eckstein, President
Passover is also known as the holiday of freedom. We celebrate the fact that God set the children of Israel free. It’s a good time to also consider those who are not free. Indeed our freedom is something that we must never take for granted and that we should thank God for on Passover.
Which leads to an interesting question: What is freedom, really?
A story is told about Jews who approached a rabbi during the Holocaust, while millions of Jews were being held behind bars, and asked him, “Should we celebrate Passover this year? Are we free that we should thank God for freedom?” The answer the rabbi gave them was, “Yes, of course, you should celebrate Passover, since freedom is more than the ability to walk around and do whatever you want.”
There are people who have been held in jail and have been free. Natan Sharansky, who as chairman of the Jewish Agency in Israel helped many Jews return to Israel, spent nine years in a Soviet prison. All that time, Sharansky exercised his freedom in any way he could. He did not give up on being a Zionist.
He did not lose faith in making it to Israel. And to symbolize his inner freedom, he disobeyed the Soviets at any chance he could. The day Sharansky was released from prison, he was blindfolded and told to walk straight ahead. As a truly free man, Sharansky walked in a zig-zag, just to celebrate his freedom.
In recent years, Jewish journalist Steven Sotloff was held prisoner by ISIS and was one of the first Americans to be beheaded by this terrorist group. Stories surfaced how Sotloff exercised his freedom while being held prisoner and secretly prayed toward Jerusalem each day and fasted on Yom Kippur. His body may have been behind bars, but his spirit and soul were free.
On the other hand, millions of people walk around this planet with everything they need, including complete freedom – and yet, they live in a prison with invisible walls. They live for what others think of them. Or they say only what others want to hear them say. They have chosen a life path based on someone else’s dream, not their own.
On Passover, we are required to see ourselves as though God personally redeemed us all over again. A good question to ponder during this time is: How free am I really? How much of my life is lived by choice and not by chance? How much am I influenced by the eyes of humans rather than the eyes of God? How able am I to be myself, say what I believe, and take actions that I know to be right? The best way to celebrate our freedom is by exercising it.