PASSOVER VS. JULY 4TH
Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman
Passover is our holiday of freedom, a holiday celebrating our independence; however, it is more than a Jewish fourth of July. If Passover was merely "Jewish Independence Day," we would have long ago ceased to celebrate it, as we have been in exile for thousands of years under persecutions, expulsions, autos-da-fe, the Holocaust, etc., hardly a continual state of freedom.
Passover is our holiday of freedom, a holiday celebrating our independence; however, it is more than a Jewish fourth of July. If Passover was merely "Jewish Independence Day," we would have long ago ceased to celebrate it, as we have been in exile for thousands of years under persecutions, expulsions, autos-da-fe, the Holocaust, etc., hardly a continual state of freedom. So why do we celebrate Passover? What is the significance of freedom from slavery to modern 20th century man?
If we look at the account of the exodus in the Torah, we see a phrase which is continually repeated: "Let my people go so they may serve Me." This teaches us that Passover was not simply physical relief from back-breaking oppression. Rather, that physical freedom was merely a means to an end, the giving of the Torah at the foot of Mount Sinai forty-nine days later. The reason we count the sefirat ha'omer (the counting of the forty-nine days between the holidays of Passover and Shavout) is to link our physical freedom to its ultimate purpose, an eternal spiritual freedom of receiving the Torah, Hashem's instruction book on how to serve Him. In fact, the word "Torah" means instruction.
Therefore, no matter what occurs from the giving of the Torah until the end of time, no matter who tries to subjugate us or persecute us physically, we remain spiritually free. From the time we established a relationship with Hashem at Mount Sinai -- which the sages say is analogous to our marriage to Hashem, with the Torah being our ketubah (wedding document) -- we have always remained, intrinsically, servants only to the King of the World, the Holy One, Blessed be He. This is the greatest sign of freedom.
The Talmud makes a statement: There is no such thing as a free man other than the one who is occupied with Torah. Without Torah, you can be walking, breathing, and eating -- but you are dead. A person with no commitment to his maker, with no spirituality in his life, is truly a slave. The person who remains bound to the chains of desires, lusts, and honors of this world will never find tranquillity of soul or peace of mind; he will forever have a gnawing hunger and emptiness within himself.
There is only one everlasting freedom and happiness in the world -- spirituality, the relationship between man and G-d. Only that person who exercises such a freedom truly lives, is truly free. It is on Passover that the genetic code of the Jewish soul was forged. We forever rejected the servitude of man and accepted upon ourselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven -- to be servants to the Eternal One. No matter where the Jew goes, regardless of how much he is physically beaten, the intrinsic essence of his soul remains free, bound only to his maker.
The Jewish religion doesn't celebrate anniversaries, per se, and that is why we say in our prayer services of each holiday, "in those days at this time". This means that the influence of that particular holiday, with its flow of blessings, are rejuvenated each and every year. This means that on Passover we are locking into the station called freedom. We are given extra help from above to break out of the bondage of habit, to redeem ourselves from the servitude of materialism for its own sake, to come back to ourselves, to return to our essence which is only to serve Hashem and do His will, to go back and be free again. Passover is a chance to be recharged for yet another year, to reconnect and reaffirm our devotion and gratitude to Hashem for having chosen us to be His servants. Don't let another Passover pass over without seizing the influence of its time.
Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman, who resides in Atlanta during the week, is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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