“Most Jews throughout history have not been free, whether from murderous regimes or famines or pandemics. What we have been is devoted to the idea that we deserve to be.” – Alana Newhouse
This article from which I quoted above is one of my favourites I’ve read recently. In it, Alana Newhouse reflects: “The Passover Seder centers on the experience of being thrust out of our homes, but these days we feel trapped inside of them. The story involves miraculous plagues that saved us; today we pray for the end of one. There’s the commandment to clean our homes of all non-Passover food, which we just spent innumerable hours and dollars hoarding.”
According to Rabbi Mendel Herson, the telling of the Passover story is not merely to present the Exodus narrative, but also serves as a “how-to guide to finding our own personal liberation.”
I think holidays are like love; it’s possible to celebrate a holiday as long as you’re alive just like it’s possible to love until your last breath. Nothing stifles the ultimate human freedom of triumphing over our circumstances except, perhaps, our own will.
Consider, for example, this story “How We Baked Matzah in a Nazi Labor Camp.” Look at how the story is introduced: “Three men, all prisoners, could think of nothing but the imminent festival of Passover. As thousands of Jews—including their own relatives—were being sent to their deaths on a daily basis, Yaakov Friedman, Moshe Goldstein, and Rabbi Yekusiel Halberstam had the bravery and presence of mind to secure matzah for Passover 1945.”
The crucial section of the memoir recounts:
On Pesach eve, after returning from work, our small group sat down for the Seder. On wooden slats around us lay sleeping bodies, exhausted from the relentless work. For those celebrating, the hardships of the Holocaust and daily camp life melted away as we experienced the Biblical redemption from Egypt. Unable to sit for long, we each ate an olive-sized piece of matzah, the taste of tears mingling with the matzah crumbs in our mouths.
Our freedom needs to be exercised and lived and celebrated. It is not mere license, but rather our freedom is a task for us. Taking up the task of celebrating our freedom rightly is what ennobles us as human beings. No matter what, we keep celebrating. And may our grateful celebrations ever renew our sense of responsibility to try to help liberate others from their present bondage.