Passover is called the festival of liberation. Freedom is such a loaded concept. We throw the idea around and it represents so many different things. I think that we would seemingly agree, that having restrictions imposed upon someone would represent the absence of freedom. Yet, let’s think about what happened to the Jewish people when they left Egypt – the moment we call the liberation of our nation. We merely exchanged one set of restrictions for another, one master for another. We went from being obligated to Pharaoh, to being obligated to Hashem. The Torah actually declares “they are My “avadim” (slaves) for I took them out of Egypt.” So where is the big freedom?
So we need to analyze the question “is Torah an enslavement of the Jewish people?” Interestingly, our sages comment on the term used to describe the manner in which the words were inscribed on the tablets – charut (engraved) – saying that charut is related to cherut (Hebrew for freedom). Based on this, they declare that true freedom can only come from the study and observance of Torah.
At the risk of over-simplifying a complex idea, I would like to propose a two-tiered solution to this problem. The first is, that not only does absence of structure in life not guarantee freedom, it almost always assures chaos, which inevitably leads to misery. So taking them out of Egypt without providing a structure within which to live would not have given them freedom, but rather anarchy. So implementing a structure for their new lives was an absolute necessity for their continued liberated status. The same is true for all people in subsequent times.
Which leads us to the more important tier two. For a human being to welcome Hashem’s will into his life is highly empowering and therefore highly liberating. Through Torah and Mitzvot, a person enters into a relationship with Hashem. The person can sense the love that Hashem has for him, and the value that Hashem ascribes to his life choices. This leads a person to embrace these “rules” not as restrictions that infringe on his life, but rather as Divine direction for meaningful, G-dly living. There cannot be anything more liberating and free than a person who has such a relationship with G-d.
So this Pesach, when we think about freedom and liberty, let us remember what it is really all about and embrace the opportunity to implement more and more of this freedom giving structure called Torah and Mitzvot.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin