Today is July 12, 2024 -

Congregation Sha'arey Israel

A Conservative Jewish Congregation serving the spiritual needs of the Middle Georgia Jewish community since 1904

611 First Street, Macon, GA 31201
Phone: (478) 745-4571

Thinking About Freedom

Once again Passover is right around the corner — clean-up, cooking, shopping, guest-lists, fretting over various logistics, you know the drill — it’s a lot. It’s also easy to get lost in all these details and to lose sight of the holiday’s powerful ideas that continue to challenge us.

Last Shabbat evening in shul, I spoke a bit about the teaching within the Haggadah that challenges each of us to see ourselves as personally leaving Egypt — quite a challenge these days. And I mentioned Jews in Ukraine gathering to celebrate Pesach amidst the horrors of a brutal war.

There’s another striking line that we recite fairly early in the seder — “now we are still slaves, may we be free next year.” This declaration ends the recitation of “Ha Lachma Anya — this is bread of affliction…” There’s the powerful invitation to all who are hungry — come and eat with us. And this is obviously an important reminder of Passover speaking to all of humanity, far beyond our tribe. But let’s not lose sight of the haunting acknowledgment that — in the present moment — we aren’t free. What shall we make of that? For starters — if the seder is more than a fine feast, the Haggadah is serving up some serious food for thought. If we’re up for more than (4 cups) drinking; if we’re up for thinking — the ancient writers are guiding us to ponder the world in which we live. This world
has a lot of broken pieces. Beyond the above-mentioned ravages of war, there is the sobering spectacle of (more than one) democracy under real threat. Pesach celebrates freedom. In 2023, painful as it is to acknowledge, this is not a great season for democratic governments. Put another way — these times bear witness to the rise of autocrats and tyrants. And we also know that democratic systems cannot magically fend off assaults from would-be dictators.

The Haggadah also calls this night a “Leyl Shimurim,” a Night of Watchfulness. True enough — every Passover seder is a night of watchfulness. Not only is it about God watching over the Israelites. The words of the ancient sages are a wake-up call. We must be vigilant. During this Feast of Freedom let’s pause and remember that freedom is precious; it’s not to be taken for granted.