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  • Writer's pictureIOWA Project

Yearning to be Free

There is a Chassidic story about Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Yisaschar (d. 1841, Ukraine), that the morning after Pesach, a voice from heaven congratulated him on having the second-best seder in the city. Curious who had the best seder the heavenly voice told him, “Yankl.” The Rebbe and his students immediately went to Yankl’s house to find out what was so great about his seder. They entered and found Yankl sleeping, his head on the table. They asked Yankl’s wife what was so great about their seder. She said that she didn’t know. Yankl had drunk a whole bottle of whiskey earlier in the day to get rid of the Chametz (Whiskey is made of grains and is one of the prohibited foods during Pesach) and was basically asleep at the table for the seder. At one point his wife woke him up and said, “Yankl, tell the children something about Pesach” and he woke up and said with a full voice, “We were enslaved in Egypt and God took us out and made us free” and immediately fell asleep again.

This somewhat strange story makes a profound point. At our core, we are free and liberation is possible.

All the cleaning, cooking and preparation for Pesach has one purpose - to communicate this message to ourselves and the generations that come after us that we were freed from domination and, despite all the continuing oppression, freedom is possible. It is taught that each holiday in the Jewish calendar represents a different idea and at that specific time of the year each year that idea is available in ways it is not at other times. The month of Nissan, starting today and continuing through Pesach, is a time of freedom and the accompanying joy that comes with liberation.

On a personal spiritual level, we need to clarify for ourselves, “how badly do I want to be free?” and “what do I want to do with this freedom?” In other words, this is a time to awaken our ratzon/deep desire for liberation - personal, communal, and universal. Liberation takes place on many levels - there is liberation of our minds from the internalized oppression that poisons the way we love ourselves and others; there is liberation from oppressive relationships and systems that mistreat us; and there is liberation of ourselves and others to worship, celebrate and express ourselves, letting our unique souls shine and contribute to the lifting up of all creation.

And then we can prioritize our lives to live into this freedom we so desire. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (d. 2005) writes, “Seder testifies to Ratzon and true Ratzon must be expressed through Seder.” Seder is a difficult-to-translate word that means something like “priority-driven organization.” The middah/soul trait of Seder calls on us to put the most important things first. Thus, the Pesach “Seder” highlights the most important aspects of Jewish life - that we were liberated from oppression to receive the Torah and walk in God’s ways bringing a message of universal liberation to the world. The period of the Omer (49 days of counting from the second day of Pesach until the holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the receiving of Torah) is structured as a “Seder” for putting into practice this desire for freedom.

How much do you want you and your people to be free? The yearning and action begins anew today.

Chodesh Tov and a joyous Pesach to all,



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