I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.—Psalm 119:45
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
Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw once penned, “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Think about that for a moment. Most of us would equate freedom with the absence of responsibility and the opportunity to do whatever we please. But for Jews, true freedom does include responsibility — a responsibility to serve God. And this concept of freedom is rooted in our celebration and observance of the Sabbath.
When God gave Moses and the people of Israel the Ten Commandments, He instructed them, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15). The Sabbath is a sacred day set aside for us by God to remind us of the Jews’ slavery in and exodus from Egypt.
However, the freedom we gained when we left Egypt was not intended to be total independence from all authority. This freedom — true freedom — included voluntary servitude to God. For this reason, the Bible states in Exodus 20:10 that on the Sabbath, “you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.”
You see, every man and beast must be free, at least for one day in seven, to embrace something more supreme — something more — than just serving men. Indeed, even when not in bondage to other men, we can enslave ourselves to things that are not truly critical. Moses understood that true freedom from slavery did not mean that we may do whatever we please. Rather freedom from slavery is only true freedom if it leads to the acceptance of serving God.
By recalling the exodus motif on Shabbat, we are reminded of the true nature of slavery and freedom, and of our duty to bring spiritual purpose and meaning into our lives. Clearly, God had a higher purpose in freeing Israel from Egyptian bondage. He wanted them to work for, and with, Him.
A wise man once said, “We should always be running toward something, not away from something.” Celebrate your freedom today, as the psalmist says, by running toward God’s precepts and His Word.