Life, liberty and Passover

An IDF soldier. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
An IDF soldier.
Passover is referred to as the holiday of Herut. Many translate the Hebrew word herut as freedom, but it is more accurately translated as liberty, and there is a stark difference between the two. Freedom means that one is free from something whereas liberty connotes that one can produce something.
One can encounter freedom with little or no investment, whereas liberty requires a person to be proactive. Being free from something does not mean that you have necessarily obligated yourself to something else, but being at liberty to do something implies that one may be allotted with an opportunity to impact something or someone in a constructive way. There are people who are free but they may never experience herut.
A year ago our son Yakov, a staff sergeant in the Nahal combat brigade of the IDF, spent Passover on base. Knowing that he could not participate in our Seder, he sent me a few thoughts to share with the family at some point during the course of the evening. This is what he wrote:
BEN ZOMA (a rabbi from the Talmud) was of the opinion that we are obligated to reflect upon our Exodus from Egypt every day and at night as well. The night can represent the dark periods of Jewish history, when we would think that it may not be relevant to express the story of our redemption from Egypt.
Why would a Jew being persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition, or tortured by Nazis, or restricted by communists, choose to express or reflect upon his herut? What value did it serve for Jewish people living under such desperate circumstances to discuss liberty when immediately following their Seder they would return to torment and subjugation?
This is why Ben Zoma insisted that we reflect upon our redemption at night as well, to demonstrate to us that there is value in discussing and reflecting upon the Jewish Exodus from Egypt regardless of the challenging predicaments one may find themselves in. Our consistent reflection upon our ultimate redemption is precisely what imbues us with an appreciation that Hashem will deliver us from our ordeals as He delivered us in the past from Egypt.
Thank God we are blessed to live at a time when we have a Jewish homeland and we are privileged to be able to participate in a Jewish army which protects and ensures the survival of our nation. We are blessed to live at a time when the majority of the Jewish people no longer lives in the Diaspora but resides in Israel. And yet, our redemption is obviously incomplete.
Last night, I sat in a meeting with all of the sergeants in preparation of Seder night, and our primary discussion concerned the threats made by terrorists to perpetrate attacks over the holiday. I found myself confronted with the stark reality that there are still many who are interested in destroying us; the “night” has not evolved into day and yet, I feel that daylight is approaching. Liberty requires investment and demands sacrifice. This is something that every soldier in the IDF is made to understand and it is also exactly why every soldier participates in a Passover Seder.
WHEN DAVID BEN-GURION appealed to the British Mandate regarding the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel he said: “Over three hundred years ago a ship called the Mayflower set sail to explore the new world. It was a momentous occasion in the history of England and that of what would become America. However, I am hard pressed to know if there are any Englishmen who remember the exact date upon which the Mayflower set sail, or if there are any Americans who know how many people were on the ship or what kind of bread they ate in preparation of their journey.
“Over 3,300 years before the Mayflower’s maiden voyage, the Jewish people left Egypt, and to this day, all Jews throughout the world, be they in America, or Soviet Russia, know the precise date and time that they left and which bread they ate prior to doing so. On the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, all Jews throughout the world celebrate Passover. All Jews will eat matza, the very same bread which was eaten by our ancestors who were slaves in Egypt before us. We sit around a table and tell our story, a story that has lasted thousands of years, and while we proclaim that we long for a Jerusalem rebuilt, we begin to comprehend what it means to experience liberty.”
A year has passed and today marks the day that Yakov has completed his IDF service. A few days ago upon reflection, I mentioned to him how impressed I was with him that he had given almost three long years of his life to the Israeli army and the Jewish people. He turned to me without pause and said, “It is not enough, I would gladly give more.”
Yakov may never know what it means to feel free but he certainly knows what it means to embrace liberty.
The author serves as a lecturer for the IDF. He started an initiative offering lectures throughout the country on Judaism to secular kibbutzim: He is a lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora.