Spring is here and the taste of Matzah is in my mouth. It can only mean one thing – It’s Passover! Given the increased restriction (or call to awareness) on the foods that Jews traditionally consume on Passover, it is an interesting paradox that this holiday is also called “The Season of our Freedom.” Centuries ago that Hebrews escaped Egyptian bondage and began their journey to self-ruled nationhood, or rather to a One-God ruled nationhood. And so today we remember, oh yes, we are free!
But what does it mean to be free? Heschel wrote, “The danger begins when freedom is thought to consist of the fact that ‘I can act as I desire.’” Freedom should not mean, “I can do whatever I damn well please,” because if it does mean that, we would quickly strip away the freedom of those around us if their expression of freedom conflicts with our freedom. I think we encounter this definition of freedom on the pre-school playground, “That’s my toy!”
From an existential perspective Freedom always comes with Responsibility. I would venture to say that responsibility bounds freedom before it becomes toxic. We simply cannot do whatever we want or we would destroy the planet (Global warming or not). Life is laced with freedom and responsibility.
At the same time responsibility does not override freedom. Freedom, rather, is the fundamental element of responsibility. If we did not choose to assert ourselves towards a certain cause or caring relationship, there could be no responsibility. And it is in this assertion that we truly express our freedom.
Freedom can become overwhelming. For example, it can be easier to live a religiously observant life if you believe that you have no choice in the matter. For me, when I introduce the element of choice that I have the freedom to walk away from observance and still live a happy and fulfilled life, I begin to question if I really need to be living life in this manner. I can just go eat the freakin’ bagel on Passover, and it really would be okay. But as I shift my mind away from my stomach, I realize that it is MY conviction to carve a personal path in observance that makes the whole ordeal meaningful and even somewhat magical. I come into contact with my POWER to choose.
I think a good challenge for this “Season of Freedom” is to remember all those places that you are actually choosing to engage in your life that you have tucked under the rug for a, “I have no choice!” attitude. For example, your commitment to care for your kids or elderly parents is not without a personal choice. Working 80-hours a week is also not without your personal seal of approval. I am not suggesting that you change anything, only that you become more intimate with your personal power to choose, (AKA your FREEDOM) and to feel empowered even when you feel stuck.