Freedom?

Pesach (Passover) was not that long ago that we have forgotten the major themes that dominated that time: Freedom and deliverance from those who would and did oppress us. Pesach and freedom are semantically intertwined, you can’t have one without the other. Yet the nature of freedom is a challenge to understand. Freedom today is defined largely by a personal response and rejection of anything that would attempt to restrain or cramp individual style. This form of freedom rejects authority, preferring to replace the Torah’s view of a hierarchical form of authority based on experience, calling and training with an experiential almost emotionally charged form of self-determination. ‘Man is the centre of the universe and I am at the centre of mine’. But is this freedom? Is this what the Scriptures teach? One might even connect such forms of self determination with the very first act of sin and rebellion in Gan Eden when Chava decided using her own faculties of reason and analysis to rebel against G-d. In Jewish thinking collective leadership drawing down the wisdom of the ages and applying Torah in a ‘human’ way is the chosen structure of order in Jewish communal life. To function within a Jewish community is to recognise these G-dly forms of order, to recognise that the Mitzvot themselves demand a form of submission to G-d that involves a surrender of yourself to Him who alone has the right and power to organise, dare we say control, your life.
We don’t like relinquishing that power to run our lives. Such has always been humanity’s problem, let alone our Jewish problem. Yet relinquish it we must. Rav Shaul in his letter to the Jewish community in Rome (ch 6) describes a situation where we are removed from being servants or slaves to sin because of the freedom brought in our redemption through Yeshua. This parallels our freedom from Egypt. But Rav does not stop there. He continues to say that our new position is that we are slaves to righteousness. We are not ‘free’ in the modern sense of that word. We belong to G-d because He bought us, the slave price, and now we are His. He does indeed have the legal right and authority to tell us what to do, and that includes a voluntary submission to the structures embodied in the community to express His global will.
Modern man despises such ideas and sees in them another form of oppression, yet this is not the case. Why? Elsewhere in the Messianic Writings Rav Shaul commands men to not ‘lord it over others’ as the pagans (gentiles) do. What we discover through this is that the G-dly, Jewish, righteous way to function as ‘slaves to righteousness’ is to offer submission. It is never demanded, insisted upon or forced. All community leaders can do is to point the way to the real righteousness of G-d, and trust, hope, that people will follow. Such voluntary surrender to HaShem opens the door to see real righteousness in action, and we then discover that as much as we are still ‘slaves’, we are in fact part of the family.

Passover/ Pesach and the Jewish Vision

‘This shall be the beginning of the year to you’. So comments the Torah on the month of Nissan which contains the festival almost universally known whether Jewish or not: Passover. This is the festival that truly sets the pattern of Israel’s leitmotif and message to the nations: deliverance, redemption, freedom and salvation. Passover teaches us that even in the depths of despair, when it seems like there is no way out, that there is a G-d who hears the cries of the human heart and is moved to act. Jewish history with all its ups and downs, times of rejoicing and times of deep grief, has nevertheless been formed and framed by this festival. When our cause seemed lost beyond all human ability, when we were tempted to think that Heaven had gone quiet, then the One and only G-d reached down and saved us.

And there is something at the heart of our Passover Seder that represents this message likeĀ  nothing else. The humble matzah, the bread of affliction in its double role is the star of the Haggadah. ‘Double role?’ It is curious that at the end of the Magid section we are informed, when we ask the question ‘why matzah?’ that this was because we had no time to let our dough rise and we were in a rush to leave Egypt. All well and good, and for most people this is the reason for matzah. Yet in the Yachatz section earlier in the Seder we are informed that this matzah is the ‘bread of affliction or poverty’. Same matzah, different names and themes. In fact in the Haggadah we all say ‘This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate IN the Land of Egypt’ (capitals mine). IN, not ‘as we were leaving Egypt’. It turns out in fact that matzah was eaten in Egypt too by our ancestors as were slaves and all we were given to eat was this rough, dry, tasteless bread: the bread of slaves. It had , it seems, a double function, both reminding us of our time as slaves under harsh repression and oppression, yet also reminding us of the freedom that came as a result of G-d’s power revealed through Moshe to Pharaoh. Something so simple, uncomplicated and basic, the bread of Life coming to symbolise the depths and realities of our salvation. It stands for both the pain and subjugation of slavery and the essence of freedom from it. As Yeshua Mashichaynu took the matzah in His final Seder and identified it with His body He knew what message He wanted to convey: like the matzah He too took this double role of feeling the oppression of sin and its judgement while also being the very vehicle and mode by which we were set free. His body reminds us OF sin and its destructive corrosive force as harsh as any slavery, and OF redemption supernaturally wrought and rapidly implemented. He IS the pain and the freedom.

But our Jewish message doesn’t end there. Even after we have chanted ‘all who are hungry, let them come in and eat’ the final aspect of this message becomes clear. As the Egyptians that fateful night filled Jewish houses daubed with blood, they too came in to eat. As they joined with us it was their first step of acknowledging the One true G-d, the G-d of Israel. As He had revealed Himself through miracles and supernatural acts in Egypt during the previous year it had convinced many that the G-d of the Jews was indeed G-d. The symbolic act of crossing the threshold that final night in Egypt determined their future and identity. The Torah calls this the ‘mixed multitude’ that left Egypt, a multitude moulded into one nation, the Jewish nation at the foot of Sinai. Passover today reaches out with the same message: come and join us. If you are struggling with sin, dealing with situations caused by sin, then there ISĀ  away out. The living G-d of Israel is tough not just on sin, but the causes of sin.