Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pesach: And G-d Knew . . .

This year especially, the theme of Pesach, the story of slavery and freedom is not only in my thoughts, not only in the Haggadah, but also real and alive in the world, as I watch my countrymen wake up and the Freedom Movement take shape in the face of the gathering storm.

I have written about how different parts of the Maggid--the Telling--come alive each year, and that this year was no different, except that the words that move like fire off the page had a particular intensity at this time in the saeculum.

I have been thinking about the coming forth from Egypt a great deal this winter and spring, as I have watched people react to the developing crisis in several ways. And one question burning in my mind was what is it that makes people accept slavery with a certain resigned equanimity? Last year, I talked about the slave mentality in a post, but this year a different part of the Haggadah is resounding in my mind, for I am thinking also about what is it that wakes people up from the slave mentality?

"And G-d looked upon the Israelites, and G-d knew . . ." (Shemot 1:25)

" 'And G-d knew . . .' What did G-d know?

"When the Israelites had grown accustomed to their tasks, when the Hebrews began to labor without complaint, then G-d knew that it was time to be liberated.
For the worst slavery of Egypt is when we learn to endure it.
And G-d knew . . .

"As long as there was no prospect of freedom, G-d knew the Israelites would not awaken to the bitterness of bondage. First Moses taught the taste of Freedom's hope, and only then did servitude taste bitter.
So though bitter slavery is first, and then comes liberation, the Seder teaches us to taste the Matzah of Freedom first, and only then the bitter herbs of bondage.
And G-d knew . . .

" . . . If our freedom had been given us by Pharoah, we would have been indebted to him, still subservient, within ourselves, dependent, slavish still at heart. . . .
And G-d knew . . ."
(Central Conference of American Rabbis [1994]. A Passover Haggadah [a.k.a.the Baskin Haggadah], Revised Edition. Drawings by Leonard Baskin. New York. pp. 41, 43)

Freedom, Liberty and Rights: these do not come from kings or governments.
Our founders taught "that they are endowed by [the] Creator"; they are part of the fabric of our nature as human beings.

To be free, we must live free; to have rights we must exercise them. That is why the Israelites had become innured to slavery after generations of servitude; because, according to the Haggadah, they did not have the taste of freedom in their mouths, they did not know of freedom in their hearts. The generation that cried out, finally, did so because Moses taught them the taste of freedom.

My D'rash: Moses knew. How did Moses know the taste of Freedom? For to teach, one must know. In the story in Shemot, we read that the women around him acted as free people, even under slavery. The Hebrew midwives--Shifra and Puah--delivered Moses to life, not death, acting freely, against Pharoah's command. His mother,Yocheved, hid him, and then set him free to float on the Nile. His sister Miryam guarded him, and guided Pharoah's daughter to take his own mother as a wet nurse, so that Moses took in the taste of freedom with his mother's milk. And Batyah--Pharoah's daughter--took the Hebrew child in, acting freely, nurturing the life of a child whose death had been ordered by the tyrant. Thus, Moses experienced freedom once-removed, through the actions of those who saved his life and raised him. And when he was grown, and saw the taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave near to death, Moses knew. And he killed the taskmaster, and went to the desert, the elemental cradle of Freedom, where a person must choose and choose freely, whether to live or die. So Moses experienced Freedom first hand. Moses knew . . .

Now I understand why Ronald Reagan said that if our generation gives up our freedom, it will be lost for generations. Because our children and our children's children, down to the fourth and fifth generation will live in servitude to the debt that we are making as we trade our liberty for an illusory security.

When we pass this debt on to our kids because craven politicans care more for their immediate power than their children's future, and because we did nothing to stop it, following blindly like sheep, then our children's children will not have the taste of freedom in their mouths--they will consume only the bitter herbs of slavery and the salt water of their servitude.

And G-d knows . . . we, who still know freedom, even if but distantly as it fades, even if imperfectly because we were not taught in our schools, it is we who must act freely and restore to future generations the heritage of our liberty.

And this is why so many of us will gather next week, on taxx day, to cry out. There are three boxes for the preservation of our liberty:

The ballot box.
But our non-representing representatives do not heed, though elected. They believe their power resides outside of the rights of We the People. The siren call of power seduces them to tyranny.

The soapbox.
This is the work of the Tea Parties, the Petitions for Redress, the Committees of Correspondence and the Committees of Safety. The New Continental Congress.

And . . .

Let it end at the second box. We do not want our children made indentured servants, and live in a world made dark by servitude; We do not want them to have to rise up and kill the taskmasters because they have only a dim memory of freedom passed down from the generation that handed over their birthright for a mess of pottage.

"And G-d knew . . .

"If our freedom had been given us by Paroah, we would have been indebted to him, still subservient, within ourselves depedent, still slavish at heart. We had to free ourselves!"

"And G-d knew . . ."

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