Perspective: Passover — Freedom to, not from, responsibility

Perspective: Passover — Freedom to, not from, responsibility

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By Rabbi Aaron D. Benson

In my opinion any holiday that includes matzoh ball soup is bound to be popular. Passover, which begins Monday night, April 22, features this dish, made with matzoh unleavened bread. The holiday is not just popular but is revered by Jews and non-Jews alike for its overarching theme of freedom. The ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt yet God, through the prophet Moses, freed them. As a reminder of this miracle, Jews refrain from eating anything baked with leaven and instead eat matzoh, the simple bread of slaves.  

For Americans, Passover resonates because freedom is a virtue at the core of our country’s identity. Being a citizen is defined as having freedom of religion, of speech, of press and of assembly. Quite literally “revolutionary” when first adopted, the principles in our Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, have spread these standards of freedom and human dignity around the world.

The Bible’s message about freedom in the Passover story has a slightly different emphasis. It is not at odds with the American view, but it reminds us of a key aspect of freedom. Moses’ famous message from God demanding that Pharaoh, “Let My [God’s] people go,” is usually quoted without its conclusion, “that they may serve Me [God.]” 

When the Jews were finally freed from Egypt, it wasn’t so they could “let loose” after generations of enslavement. Such a life of abandon isn’t any true kind of freedom. Upon leaving Egypt, the Jews set out into the wilderness, eventually to come to Mount Sinai and there receive the Ten Commandments. To take on the responsibility of freedom. To accept laws that will build a society not of oppression, nor of indulgence, but one of respect and concern and common purpose. The Jews would march on, eventually coming to Israel, where they would settle and start to build a society based around the freedom to be responsible. Helping others isn’t a burden. Respecting them isn’t an imposition. Acknowledging that my own humanity is lessened if I do not also care for yours.

Whether you are celebrating Passover this year or not, make yourself a nice bowl of matzoh ball soup. And then, whether you’re celebrating or not, find someone to share that soup with, maybe even a lot of people, maybe even people who seem different from us. Freedom teaches us that we aren’t so different. At some point, we will all need help in our lives, and at some point we all can offer help. Let’s share that responsibility together, along with the matzoh ball soup.

Aaron Benson is the rabbi at North Shore Jewish Center, based in Port Jefferson Station. 


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