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by Rabbi Yonason Goldson    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"In every generation, every person is obligated to consider himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt." -- Passover Haggadah.



"In every generation, every person is obligated to consider himself as if he personally had gone out of Egypt." -- Passover Haggadah.

The Haggadah demands of us a tall order. We all might easily come to feel a sense of Jewish identity or national history, but is any one of us capable of actually reliving the exodus from Egypt, of experiencing at his own comfortable seder the grandeur of generations of pain and oppression finally coming to a dramatic end?

The language of the sages is always precise, and here we are admonished to view ourselves as having gone out, not from "the land of Egypt", but from "Egypt". What is the difference? The land of Egypt is a place; Egypt, on the other hand, is a mindset. So consuming was the labor there that the Jews could not find even a moment to pray. So intense was their suffering that they had no strength to cry. So pervasive were the idolatrous practices surrounding them that Hashem had to redeem the Jewish people personally, not through the hand of any angel or agent, lest they perceive it as merely another form of black magic.

This was Egypt, where the Jews were not free to think their own thoughts or feel their own feelings, where they absorbed through osmosis the attitudes and ideas of the culture in which they were immersed.

This, too, is the "Egypt" from which the Haggadah commands us to shake ourselves free. We live in a society where the tentacles of the so-called media insinuate themselves into the deepest recesses of our minds, shaping our thoughts and molding our attitudes without our ever realizing that we have been virtually brainwashed into investing in a values system that we have never examined critically or objectively.

We may find ourselves liking that song (that we had first despised) after hearing it twenty or thirty times on the radio, or relating how "awesome" that movie was, even though it should have sickened us with its gratuitous sex and violence. We have slipped back into slavery.

We may spend two hundred dollars on sneakers or eighty on a skirt that would have been considerably less without the designer label. We are still in bondage.

We may find ourselves hanging out with people we know we would be better off avoiding, acting in ways that we would find contemptible in others. We often deride our friends in order to gain favor with strangers or sacrifice strangers to impress our "friends". We have returned to Egypt.

As our investment in the ideologies that surround us grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to divest ourselves of our commitment. But before we return to espousing and defending points of view that may never truly have been our own, let's take advantage of this Passover to stop and remember that we are in fact free -- free to think our own thoughts and choose our own values, to evaluate the attitudes of our peers and not blindly embrace them for the sake of social acceptance, which costs us more in self respect than we ever stood to gain. It should go without saying (although it often does not) that intelligent decision making depends upon knowledge. Free choice requires an adequate understanding of the options at hand. Indeed, to pass up the BMW for what's behind Door Number 3 is not choosing at all; it is gambling, and uneducated gambling at that. To choose without information is to be a slave to ignorance.

Each and every one of us, the Haggadah proclaims, is required to free himself of the psychological and ideological slavery of his personal, contemporary "Egypt" and reassess his system of values and beliefs. Each of us must seek to root out cultural and personal bias and to uncover the universal truth that is the foundation of Jewish identity.


Rabbi Yonason Goldson is a teacher at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta.

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