Passover marks Jewish Liberation


David Barnett

Published in the Daily Texan 14 April 1995

On Friday evening Jews all over the world will gather in family groups for the Passover Seder. At this meal they will recount the exodus from Egypt when "with a mighty hand and outstretched arm" the Lord led Israel from slavery to freedom. So sudden was the final departure that there was no time to let dough rise to make normal bread for the journey. In memory of this, we eat only unleavened bread for eight days (seven in Israel). The last blow to the Egyptians, which stunned them into allowing the exodus, was the slaying of the firstborn. Firstborn Jewish men fast during the day until the Seder in memory of that slayingĞmourning deaths of their enemies!

What is the relevance of Passover today? Why should we remember events of thirty-three centuries ago? Passover marks the beginning of a process of liberation. Does mere release from bondage in the physical convert slaves to free men? Liberty requires work and demands self-responsibility. The Bible shows starkly that we started as a nation of whiners. At the first sign of trouble we wanted to go back and beg mercy of the Egyptians. Again and again the Lord had to make a wonder to reassure us.

The first test came as soon as Pharaoh had recovered from the stunning blow of the death of the firstborn. He pursued Israel to the Red Sea. Here is a lesson for today. It is not enough to knock down an oppressor. He will recover and try to enslave you again. Continuous vigilance and courage are needed. G-d parted the Red Sea. Israel passed while the Egyptians drowned.

No more excuse not to be free men? In the desert hunger and thirst are always close. Israel complained, G-d provided. But G-d planned to raise the people to adulthood. Seven weeks after the exodus the training began in earnest. At mount Sinai G-d gave us the Torah including the "Ten Commandments". We remember this event at the festival of Shavuot (Pentacost).

The calendar of Jewish festivals mirrors the stages of refinement of both the individual soul and the Jews as a people. The exodus is the beginning of liberty. The Torah gives us a language of living to enable us to express our freedom. "It is not in heaven ... but very close- in your mouth and in your heart to do it", so Moses reminded us before he died. Judaism is about the here and now. That is why it is so old but forever renewed and never stale.

The generation which left Egypt barely knew what to do with their freedom. They were certainly still too slavish and had not the courage to take the promised land. But the next generation, which grew up with freedom and Torah, did so. An unquenchable love of liberty was born in our breasts. So strong was it that we challenged the mighty rule of Rome again and again. (The Romans responded with devastation and the crucifixion of tens of thousands of Jews). The one G-d, creator of the universe and upholder of cause and effect, he liberates us psychologically with his Torah. We bow to no tyrant, and we measure a ruler by his justice.

Once in the promised land it was a constant struggle to maintain our integrity against foreign invaders and idolatry. We have survived so long because our strong inner core allows us to absorb good ideas from outside and make them our own. Every autumn we refine that core. We cleanse our souls from Rosh HaShanah to Yom Kippur in the light of what the exodus and Torah gave us. Then in a burst of joy we celebrate Sukoth which looks forward to the fruits of the messianic age when "each man shall sit under his vine and his figtree, and none shall make him afraid".

So this Passover Seder I shall relive the beginning of my liberation. It is the start of another cycle of personal growth.

© David M. Barnett


This page revised 6 July 1999