The Purple Sheet
First Days Pesach- April 22nd/23rd – ט’ו ניסן תשע’ו
Pesach is upon us. The message of the holiday could not be more straightforward: Freedom. Nothing complex at all about the story of the Almighty working His magic to get the Jewish people out of their bondage and onward to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah for their mission of being a holy nation that will act as an Ohr LaGoyim– A Light Unto Nations. That is the whole thing in a nutshell – which is not to say you are now exempt from celebrating the holiday.
And yet for all its simplicity, here we are thousands of years later and the world still has much difficulty digesting this very basic lesson. As essential as Freedom seems to be, few societies are able to fully embrace it. It makes one wonder why this is so.
Perhaps we can get an insight when we look at how freedom came about for the Jewish people in the Exodus story. When God first approached Moshe about redeeming the Israelites, He had to twist Moshe’s arm and convince him to take the job. Moshe had many issues and objections and one of them was why the Jewish people would believe that he – a complete unknown to them – could even pull it off. Moshe was reassured and God provided him a couple miracles to show his street cred. With this in hand, Moshe headed to Egypt. But before he went to Pharaoh, he met and spoke to the Jewish leaders and people and performed the miraculous signs he had been given which were met with adulation, joy and anticipation.
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 now they would not be provided with straw but still had to fulfill the same quota of bricks. Initially 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.” In other words, Let’s Play Ball – now and only now.
At issue is why Moshe had to first fail so miserably before God started the Redemption? The problem was Moshe’s actually and not God’s. Moshe introduced a factor and element to the Redemption that God never mentioned nor planned – and that was the involvement of the Israelites. Moshe asked what he should tell the Israelites – 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.
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 – not God’s plan. And indeed when the Redemption happens in earnest, the Israelites virtually have no role whatsoever. They are passive bystanders as God knocks the bejeebers out of Pharaoh and the Egyptians with the 10 Plagues. They 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. When Freedom is man-made, it often has an agenda 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 has morphed into the Arab Hell with ISIS as its gatekeeper because freedom has to have a plan. It has to have a goal. It has to have a higher calling and a spiritual directive, otherwise it gets hijacked by other oppressors.
God did not take the Jewish people from Egypt so they could get 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 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 for 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 with the recognition that all are created in the image of God and deserving of respect. This is why true Freedom does not fly in China, or in Cuba, or in Venezuela, or in Saudi Arabia, or in Iran, or in Mexico, or in Russia, or in Gaza, or … need I go on?
It is a sad situation the world over that the simple lesson of Passover has not gained much traction elsewhere. And that is why we relive the story of Exodus every year at Pesach – because it is an event that many still have not experienced. And it is what we pray for when we end our Seder by declaring, “Next Year in Jerusalem”. With the hope and wish that all the world will recognize the basic truths that we Jewish people wish to teach them: A Freedom that will end corruption and evil and create a time that the prophet Isaiah foresaw when he declared, “I (God) will bring them to my holy mountain and I will gladden them in My House of Prayer… because My House will be called a House of Prayer for all peoples.” A House of Prayer for all peoples… that is what we call Freedom.
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
Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale
Aish South Florida www.aishfl.com