The Actions of Freedom And Rest By Ezra Ratner (‘21)  


On the first night of Pesach we are commanded to relate the miracles and wonders that were performed for our forefathers in Egypt as it is written, (Shemot 13:3) "Zechor Et Yom HaZeh Asher Yetzatem MiMitzrayim,” “Remember this day on which you went out of Egypt.” We discuss Hashem’s role in making us Bnei Chorin (free people) from the tyranny of Paroh and the Mitztrim.

However, when we discuss freedom, we only describe what freedom is not. Freedom is not slavery; it is not confinement. But is freedom only the absence of subjugation? Is there a positive aspect to the state of freedom?

The same question could be asked about another desired state: rest. Rest is not movement, work or creation. But is it merely the negation of activity? Is rest itself an active pursuit?

The Torah states (BeReishit 2:2) “VaYechal Elokim BaYom HaShevi’i Melachto Asher Asah, VaYishbot BaYom HaShevi’i MiKol Melachto Asher Asah,” "And Hashem concluded on the seventh day the work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done." If Hashem rested on the seventh day, why does the verse say that He concluded His work on the seventh day? Many explain that Hashem finished creating every aspect of the worl. One aspect of life was missing - rest. With the onset of Shabbat came rest. Rest is a creation, and not merely the absence of work. Work is the outward projection of one's creative powers to effect changes on one’s environment. Rest is the endeavor to focus inward. For six days Hashem projected outward and created a universe that is distinct from Himself. On the seventh day of creation He rested. Hashem shifted His focus inward, drawing creation back into His omnipresent being. Thus, Shabbat is a day that is “Kadosh” (holy). Shabbat is a day of heightened spiritual sensitivity on which the created reality more deeply identifies with its supernal source. The same applies on a human level to our weekly implementation of the divine cycle of creation in our own lives. Six days a week we project outward, developing and perfecting Hashem's world, and on the seventh day we connect inwards to perfect and develop oursekves. Shabbat is not a day of inactivity; rather, it is a day devoted to the activity of rest. It is true that the laws of Shabbat are replete with forbidden activities. However, in order to rest, one must cease to outwardly project.

There is also a correlation between the defining characteristic of Shabbat and that of Pesach. On Pesach, as on Shabbat, we are empowered to experience a state that on the surface seems to have no intrinsic content of its own. It is only the negation of something else. Yet, just as rest on Shabbat is more than the absence of toil, the freedom of Pesach is more than the absence of bondage. In general, freedom is the removal of all external constraints on a person's development and self-expression. Pesach embodies a far more ambitious freedom. The exodus from Egypt, which marked the end of Israel's subjugation to their Egyptian enslavers, was the first step of a seven-week journey - a forty-nine step voyage - in the conquest that culminated in our receiving the Torah at Har Sinai on the festival of Shavu’ot.

When Moshe stood before Paroh he demanded in the name of Hashem that Paroh (Shemot 10:3) “Shelach Ami VeYa’avduni,” "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." What is the significance of this liberating Avdut (service)? Moshe could have just said “Shelach Et Ami.” Service is true freedom. The day we left the borders of Egypt we were free in the conventional sense - no longer could an Egyptian dictate what we may do. However, at Har Sinai we were empowered to strive for yet a deeper dimension of freedom.

There is nothing negative about our human potential; but we are capable of more. Our achievements can reach a level beyond the negation of doing bad. We can each reach that level of Kedushah on Shabbat or unity at Har Sinai.

For this reason, we say at Leil Seder “BeChol Dor VaDor Chayav Adam Lirot Atzmo Ki Hu Yatza MiMitzrayim,” "In every generation a person must see himself as if he has come out of Egypt. Mitzrayim, means boundaries, and the endeavor to free ourselves from yesterday's boundaries is a constant one.

Freedom is more than the drive to escape foreign and negative inhibitors. We must achieve an inner peace with our conscious self. Freedom is the incessant drive to ‘pass over’ the boundaries that inhibit us, and to achieve our divine and infinite potential to constantly improve who we are.

Chag Same’ach!

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