Freedom is the number-one theme of the Pesach story, but there are other important aspects that are emphasized as well, such as recognizing the power and abundant love that God displayed by taking us out of Egypt. A key Jewish belief is that our infinite Creator needs nothing from us; certainly not our praise or thanks. Acknowledging God’s role in our lives is therefore for our benefit, and is a critical component of what it means to become free. Let’s take a moment to better understand the connection.
It’s common for me to think of my accomplishments as being my own – the very phrase itself implies this. But if I consider the truth I begin to realize the extent to which that is in fact false. First there are the givens of my life; things like intelligence, appearance, upbringing, social position, personality, temperament, aptitude, circumstances, even character traits; factors that are not at all to my credit, yet greatly impact the results of my efforts and the overall outcome of my life. Even my efforts themselves are hard to attribute to my own greatness: The other guy might indeed be lazier than I am, but if I had lived under the same conditions as he, am I sure I’d be any different?
Honest reflection makes it clear that the outcomes of my life are actually hard to attribute to me, yet I know that there is a “me” that is mine, and that I am more than merely the sum of what’s been contributed to me. It’s difficult to put a finger on this essential “me,” but Jewish wisdom teaches that I am at my essence my will; that I am, in fact, what I truly desire at my deepest core, and that hard as it may be for me to understand, the outcome of my life, at least when it comes to the kind of human being I become, is entirely up to me because I am the chooser.
This is the true meaning of the freedom we speak of on Pesach: I am completely free to be the very best “me” that I can be. In fact, the only thing that stands in my way is that I forget this, and instead focus on all the reasons why I can’t. Pesach comes once a year to strip me of these “reasons” and remind me that my only role in life is to identify what it is that I truly, deep-down desire.
This is why we focus so much on God’s role in the freedom story; it reminds me that I should not be worrying about my prospect for success, but should instead focus on identifying what I want most in my life. It reminds me that this is, in fact, my only role, and that when it comes to being the best possible me, I should dare to dream big because the Power behind all powers has already guaranteed me that I will get the results.
This is also why the prophet Jeramiah tells us that God remembers "the kindness of our youth" as a nation; that we "followed Him into a barren wilderness" with no logical prospects for survival, much less success. It was our readiness to first make the decision to leave, our willingness to make that leap (Pesach – to skip or leap) that was the key to our escape from bondage. Once we make that leap, we will have the rest of our lives to see just how badly we want it. If, however, we make the mistake of focusing on feasibility first, we can be guaranteed that we’ll find plenty of excuses for why we can’t, all the while never even noticing that those excuses are in fact, the very source of our bondage.
Wishing you a meaningful and enjoyable Pesach!