This evening, something incredibly awesome will take place. It will occur casually, almost invisibly. In every time zone, in every corner of the world, at about the same time of day, Jews of every stripe, color, nationality, and commitment will sit down at a table at which a seder of some kind will be observed.
In every time zone, in every corner of the world, at about the same time of day, nearly every Jew in the world will share a connection with nearly every other Jew in the world.
And, as we make that connection, we also connect ourselves to the Jews of every generation going back for well over two millennia, if not all the way back to the days of Moses.
Nothing else in Jewish life – nothing else – comes close to this humbling yet inspiring moment. Nothing else comes close to reaffirming that we are one people and that through us was freedom born into the world.
Passover – Pesach – is known as “the festival of our freedom,” but because “in every generation we are obligated to see ourselves” as having been freed from the slavery of Egypt, the seder offers us the opportunity to examine the ways we enslave ourselves today and even how we enslave others.
“Enslave” is a transitive verb that first appeared in the 17th century. From its introduction, it meant making someone a slave to something, not just to someone.
For example, too many people in our world are enslaved by drugs, legal as well as illegal, including those drugs called nicotine and alcohol. Too many people are enslaved by the pursuit of money, or the acquisition of things, and for whom enough is never enough.
Enslavement is all-consuming. It can destroy character and destroy families.
Too many people today are enslaved by technology. Once upon a time, a person could leave the office, get into a car or onto public transportation, travel home, sit down to dinner and catch-up conversation with the family, then relax in the living room reading a little while listening to some music, or watching a television show the entire family could enjoy.
Today, the office goes where you go. You can read documents and answer e-mails on your tablet while slipping at will between it and a downloaded video, even as you are launching Angry Birds on your smartphone, and munching on a fast-food dinner in your den. Your children give you monosyllabic answers to questions while texting two or three friends at the same time (P911 BRB TSNF RBTL [Parent alert. Be right back. That’s so not fair. Read between the lines.]). You struggle to remember the color of their eyes, which you have not seen in months, and wonder why they cannot spell and lack social skills.
We may even be enslaved by ritual. “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” we say because the haggadah says to say it. Before we sat down to the seder, however, did we do anything to feed the hungry? “Next year in Jerusalem,” we sing, often with great gusto, even as we wish our guests well and tell them we hope to see them back at the same table next Pesach. Is this not a form of enslavement, this mindless mouthing of words that we would feel guilty not mouthing?
Tonight, and tomorrow night for those who celebrate two s’darim, here are two questions to ask: What is it that enslaves us today? What must we do to be truly free?
From all of us at The Jewish Standard, may this Pesach truly be the festival of freedom for all.