Personal Freedom – Pesach
We often focus at the Seder table on the first night of Pesach, on the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. We speak of our trials and tribulations, the cruelty of the Egyptians and the miracle of the redemption. We do so through an inspiring mix of homiletic passages, vignettes and song in a manner which is lively, spontaneous and full of emotion. It is an evening of song and thanksgiving.
Yet there is also a second, more personal theme here as well. We celebrate not only as a nation but as individuals. This is brought home very clearly at the beginning of the Maggid section of the Haggadah: "And if God had not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, then we and our offspring and our offspring's offspring would still have been slaves."1 This is a very personal statement – we are talking about a person's offspring! The Seder night, then, is no longer just a time for the retelling of an ancient story – it is a personal experience. Even note how the Rambam describes the mitzvah of Haggadah: "A person has an obligation to view himself as if he himself at this moment left the bondage in Egypt."2 The celebration then turns into one of a personal salvation and not simply a recalling of an historical event. We retell the difficulties of the captivity as if we were there – we recall the suffering of the Jews as if we were somehow suffering as well. Through the recollection of the suffering, we more deeply appreciate the eventual redemption. It becomes personal.
Rabbi Shalom Rosner, in his yearly teaching of the Haggadah this year even offers a fascinating exercise to perform at the Seder table where each person may be asked to share a story of personal thanks.3 This might include events in which we were passive recipients of kindness or bounty. It may also include accomplishments that we have achieved and giving thanks for that experience as well. This exercise, he suggests will help enhance the sense of gratitude we feel that night. The Seder night is not just an intellectual exercise. It is an experience.
If that's the case, we may even welcome the following sort of questions….What does redemption mean to me? Do I feel free? In what situations do I still feel tethered? Where is my freedom of choice? What am I still aspiring to? What dreams am I still working on?
While searching for a topic to write about, I received a video clip from a fellow logotherapist and it became clear to me that this was to be the focus of the blog. It is called "The Power of Defiance" featuring Janine Shepherd in which she discusses her own personal journey and struggle and generalizes it to the internal strength that we all have to battle life's challenges and build a life for ourselves. She ends with this beautiful poem of unknown source:
Build a better world said he and I asked how?
The world is such a vast place and so complicated now
I am small and useless, what can I do?
And he simply said, "just build a better you."4
We all have that strength. We all have that defiant power of the human spirit.5 We can learn to use it. We can learn to harness its power and no longer feel tethered. And then we can all truly experience on Seder night not just the national redemption but even a personal freedom and our own individual Pesach as well.
Have A Great Shabbat!