Blog Post


Parshat Metzora: Pesach


Pesach begins this coming Monday evening. The message of the holiday could not be more straightforward: Freedom, Liberty. Nothing complicated about the story of God working His magic to take the Jewish people out of their bondage of Egypt and onward to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah for their mission to be a nation that shall be an Ohr LaGoyim – A Light Unto Nations. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell.

And yet, for all its simplicity, here we are thousands of years later and much of the world still has difficulty adopting the basic lesson of Pesach. As essential as Freedom seems to be, few societies are able to fully embrace it. It makes one wonder why this is so. 

Perhaps the answer can be found when we take a closer look at how Freedom came about for the Israelites in the Exodus story. When God first approached Moshe about redeeming them, He had to twist Moshe’s arm and convince him to take the job as their leader and spokesman. Moshe had many issues and objections, one of them being why the Jewish people would believe that he – a complete unknown – could play this role and succeed. 

Moshe was reassured and God provided him with a couple miracles to show his credibility. With this in hand, Moshe headed to Egypt. But before he went to Pharaoh, he met and spoke to the Jewish leaders as well as the people, and performed the miraculous signs he had been given. Understandably they were met with adulation, joy and anticipation of a better life. 

However things took a turn for the worse once Moshe went to Pharaoh demanding he let the people go. Pharaoh told him to take a hike, that Moshe is just a trouble-maker, that the people are really lazy and in reaction to Moshe’s request, now they would not be provided with straw but still had to fulfill the same quota of bricks. Oy! 

Moshe made things much worse for his people who, upon hearing their new harsher situation, were ready to stone him. Moshe was quite perplexed and upset and asked God why he was sent as it only made things worse. God responded, “Now you are going to see what I plan to do to Pharaoh.” It was only at this point that God declared, Let’s Play Ball – now and only now. 

The obvious question is why Moshe had to first fail so miserably before God started the Redemption? Why have Moshe fall flat on his face on his first try? The problem was Moshe’s actually and not God’s. Moshe introduced an element to the process that God never mentioned nor planned at first blush. And that was the involvement of the Israelites. Moshe asked what he should tell the Israelites when he arrived on his mission, how is he supposed to convince them. But who ever told him to even go to the Jewish people to begin with? Not God. God told him to go straight to Pharaoh. Moshe was the one who brought up “when I go to the Israelites…” even though he was never instructed to do this. 

As Rabbi Matis Weinberg once pointed out, Moshe assumed Redemption ought to be some sort of grass-roots, freedom movement “of the people and by the people” in addition to “for the people.” But that was his assumption and his assumption alone. It wasn’t God’s. And indeed when the Redemption happens in earnest through the 10 plagues, the Israelites virtually have no role whatsoever. They are passive bystanders as God strikes Pharaoh and Egypt with every manner of difficulty. The Jews are merely along for the ride. 

You see, Freedom from Egypt was ultimately meaningful because it was directed solely by God and not by man and not even by angels. The Haggada even points this out by noting that when the Torah says, “And the Lord brought us out of Egypt” it means “Not through an Angel, not through a Seraph, nor through any emissary, but that He alone – God in His glory – did it.” 

When Freedom is man-made, it is often subjugated to an agenda of its proponents and ends up falling prey to those who pervert it for their own ends. The Arab Spring began earnestly enough in Tunisia with a fruit-cart street vendor who had had enough of the corruption, harassment and humiliation at his attempt to make a simple living to support his family, and ended up immolating himself in despair. It galvanized an entire region to protest their governments and seek change for the better. But the Arab Spring was quickey hijacked and nothing meaningful ever really came of it. The same can be said of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which still has a stranglehold on its citizens and sows its evil goals all over the world.  

Real Freedom needs to have a pure and righteous goal, led by truly humble people like Moshe who only care about the true good and welfare of their people; the opposite of the leaders of Hamas who live in opulence in Qatar while encouraging the masses to give up their livelihoods, homes and even lives as martyrs.

True Freedom has to have a Higher Calling and a spiritual directive, otherwise it gets hijacked by other oppressors. God didn’t take the Israelites from Egypt so they could have a break and play golf. No, God’s Freedom Train is one that is headed towards Truth, Good, Morality and Tikkun Olam – making the world a better place. But that ride has a price, a price that too few world leaders are willing to pay because Freedom is the strongest spot-light that can shine on and expose cruelty, injustice, cronyism and corruption. 

Freedom in all its shades: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to a fair and open trial – demands transparency. Those who rule with corruption and evil are threatened immensely by Freedom and its cousins, Openness, Accountability, Responsibility and the fair treatment of any and all human beings through the recognition that all are created in the image of God and deserving of respect. This is why Freedom doesn’t happen in China, or in Cuba, or in Venezuela, or in Saudi Arabia, or in Iran, or in North Korea, or in Russia, or in Gaza, or … need I go on? 

It is a sad situation in too many parts of the world that the simple lesson of Pesach has not gained much traction elsewhere. And that’s why we Jewish people relive and tell the story of Exodus every year, hoping that others will learn its lesson so they too can taste the sweet waters of Freedom. And it’s what we pray for when we end our Seder by declaring, “Next Year in Jerusalem”. With the hope at the Final Redemption and with it, a time when the whole world and all nations will recognize the basic truths that we Jewish people having been trying to teach them all along: Freedom. Freedom from corruption, Freedom from cruelty, Freedom from injustice and Freedom from evil. When we shall live in a time and a place that the prophet Isaiah foresaw when he declared: 

And the many nations shall go and say, “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of God – to the House of the God of Jacob – so that we may be instructed in God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” For Torah instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of God from Jerusalem… And they shall beat their swords into plowshares  and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation, nor shall they learn ever again about war.

This is the Freedom that Pesach comes to celebrate. Let’s hope that one day soon the many myriads of people who still don’t know if it shall raise a glass to it as we do on Pesach night.   

The Freedom train is comin’
Can’t you hear that whistle blowin’
It’s time to get your ticket y’all and get on board

It’s time for all the people to take this Freedom ride
Got to get together and work for Freedom side by side
-James Carr

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