Written by: Jake Greenstein, 2020 Men's Program Alum
Freedom is often split into two categories: freedom to, and freedom from. The former is a state where I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Freedom is an assertion about my rights. A libertarian utopia. A life without restraint, without limitations. The latter is a state in which I transcend my own engrained limitations to reach something outside of my immediate grasp; a piece of me that lies beyond my experience of me.
Passover asks us to relive the exodus from Egypt and, in doing so, recall the transition from slavery to freedom. By retelling the story of our ancestors leaving Mitzrayim, we are encouraged to identify our personal Mitzrayim (meaning “boundary”) and use Passover as a springboard to greater freedom.
When we reflect on what makes us free in Western Democracy, the United States Bill of Rights comes to mind. It enables us to seek "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" on our own accord; spelling out quintessential rights such as freedom of speech and press, the right to bear arms, and freedom of religion, to name a few.
Is this the freedom of the Passover story? No.
Why not? This is freedom to. A life without restraint can easily descend into an unbalanced one. It’s human nature to want to take the easiest route; freedom to indulge in food, social media, or other such things becomes an escape. Not to say these things are wholly negative G-d forbid, but to overindulge in temporary escapes ultimately distracts from our mission: to live a life of purpose and meaning. Freedom to takes us back to Mitzrayim.
On the other hand, freedom from means free from doubt, sickness, hunger, depression, anxiety, addiction, and so forth. Freedom from identifies the problem: the personal Mitzrayim. And what leads us out of our personal Mitzrayim is a life of Torah and mitzvot.
But this is counterintuitive. Living a life of Torah and mitzvot, from the perspective of freedom to, seems limiting. The Torah's requirements of us seem like constraints. How could it be that putting parameters on behavior could be freeing?
By living a life of Torah and mitzvot, we are actually free to pursue what matters. When we are free from the temptation of kelipah, we are free to utilize our energy towards kedusha. Rights give life freedom to maneuver however you please, but responsibility gives life meaning. To raise a family, to have a satisfying career, to continue growing intellectually and spiritually - these make life worth living. The answer is that real freedom is freedom from, not freedom to.
Passover challenges us to identify our personal Mitzrayim - that which we have become slaves to in the daily struggle of our unique spiritual journey. The solution? Leave Egypt. Free yourself by taking on just one extra mitzvah. Push yourself beyond your limitation, by letting go of whatever holds you back. Though life in Egypt was comfortable and predictable, the reward that rests on the other side of the journey makes it all worthwhile.