“The Season of Our Freedom” in Isolation

At its most basic level, Passover celebrates the ability to leave. This is why the stirring history of the Israelites’ liberation from slavery under the ancient Egyptians is called in Hebrew, yetziat mitzrayim, the leaving from Egypt.

Thus, we are all met with a deep irony this year as we celebrate Passover in a context of required isolation. Some may celebrate the holiday completely alone this year, others with a smaller group than ordinary, but in all cases we will re-enact the liberation of leaving while ourselves being unable to leave.

The truth is though, the physical exodus of the Passover story has always been the external expression of something much more profound. This something is an aspect of the holiday that no condition in the world can take away from us and it is in that fact that we meet the essence of freedom.

Rabbi Elisha Habilho (Livorno, Italy 18th C.) wrote that “each day a person chooses good and rejects evil, strives to study the Torah and perform the commandments…they become free…for the essence of freedom is the freedom of the soul” (Hamon Hogeg, Commentary to the Haggadah). These words remind us that freedom is less about controlling what is going on outside of us and more about fully actualizing what is within us. Thus, the Israelites’ leaving Egypt was an expression of freedom because it was the manifestation of the liberation they’d already experienced within themselves.

While we cannot leave our homes this Passover, we can “choose good”, “study Torah” and “perform the commandments”. We can donate food to those in need, either for the Passover holiday or just more generally. We can study and teach about new insights into our people’s story, and find creative ways to share them. We can invite people to our ZOOM seder who might be completely alone otherwise (for the particulars of this, please see the responsa from a group of prominent Sephardic rabbis in Israel at https://rotter.net/forum/scoops1/614959.shtml). We CAN do all of these things and so much more.

Passover is called zman herutenu, the season of our freedom. This year, perhaps more than any other, we might just catch sight of what that freedom is really all about.

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