- Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”
The Haggadah teaches us that in every generation, all of us are required to see ourselves as personally having gone forth from Egypt. At the Seder, we do not recall our ancestors’ deliverance from Egyptian bondage; we re-experience our own personal liberation.
About one hundred years ago European Jews were facing some of the same challenges we are facing today. The scientific revolution and new political ideas meant grave challenges for the Jewish communities of Europe. While we tend to mythologize the Jewish past as one where everyone was observant, the fact of the matter is that this was not the case. In Western Europe and even in the larger Jewish communities of Eastern Europe (Warsaw, Odessa) there were Jews of various ideologies and even those who had walked away from Judaism entirely.
At about this time, one of the great intellectual leaders of Zionism, Achad Ha-Am (“One of the People,” the pen name of Asher Ginsburg) wrote an essay called Avdut Be-Toch Herut (“Slavery in the Midst of Freedom.”) He contrasted, unfavorably, the mentality of the assimilated Jews of France and Germany with the shtetl Jews of Eastern Europe. The Jews of Eastern Europe suffered from poverty and oppression, but mentally they were free – they were proud Jews, knowledgeable, loyal to their people and their way of life. They lived a life of Herut be-toch Avdut – freedom in the midst of slavery. Their bodies may have been “enslaved,” so to speak, but their minds were free.
In contrast, the Jews of Western Europe were slaves in the midst of freedom. They constantly worried about what the Gentiles would say, constantly worried about appearing “too Jewish.” They enjoyed affluence and a measure of physical comfort, but mentally they were not truly free.
Passover is the “Festival of Freedom.” Our people’s story has inspired oppressed people throughout the world to seek their own freedom. What is the slavery from which you need to be liberated?