Torah Insights for Shabbat
Rishon Shel Pesach 5758
April 11, 1998
Absolute freedom exists only within the boundaries absolute servitude--this is the message of Pesach.
Hashem commands us to be grateful to Him for delivering us from slavery in Egypt and orders us to express that gratitude by enlisting as His servants. "For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt. I am Hashem, your G-d."
This is not mere flowery language. We truly must be obedient servants to a powerful and demanding Master. At the same time, Pesach is zeman cheiruseinu, the time of our freedom. We are no longer subject to the murderous whims of a flesh-and-blood despot. We are free.
But how can we be free if we remain servants? Servitude implies dependence. Freedom implies independence.
The lesson of Pesach is that our servitude is a necessary prerequisite for our freedom.
A slave serves a master because he depends on the master--for food and drink, for physical well being, for a wife and family, for his education. All aspects of a servants identity depend on the allowance and validation of his master.
Rabbeinu Yerucham Halevi teaches that this is how we become slaves. Our happiness becomes dependent upon elements that exist outside ourselves, important as they may be. We hinge our self-identity on what we do and what we have, rather than on what we are.
We ought not to depend on anything outside ourselves for happiness and self-esteem. This is true even if one loses a loved one, a job, a sense of acomplishment. Fundamental as these are, the independent soul relies on none of them., but remains the creation of Hashem, totally free from all else.
This sense of self-possession can only be had when one thoroughly understands that the only reality is Hashem. "He is our G-d; nothing else exists." The persecution of Egypt is temporary and external; only Hashem and His Torah are permanent.
Victor Frankl describes seeing Jews in the camps who did not let the German oppressors define their charecter. These Jews chose to be ethical, thoughtful, even happy, despite their inhumane environment. When all else was stripped away, they were left with themselves and Hashem. This is real freedom.
Just as external sources of misery are not real, so too external sources of happiness are illusory. Those many important things which make up life--family, income, study, community, recreation--can and should bring about a great sense of pleasure, accomplishment and satisfaction. However, one is only free when he realizes that his relationship with Hashem transcends all else.
One is absolutely free when he places his entire self in the service of the One True Source. The Torah and the principles of mussar, with the proper halachic application in each of our lives is how that service is defined for each of us.
And with that absolute servitude comes absolute freedom.
Rabbi Efraim Davidson
Rabbi Davidson is the rabbi of The Halachic Minyan of Eugene, Oregon
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