“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a slave”. This blessing, recited daily, is consistent with the intense and almost obsessive Jewish commitment to freedom.
The Torah encourages the observance of Pesach, ‘the time of our freedom’, in terms unprecedented in almost all other biblical festivals.
When the process of freedom is described in this week’s Parsha in the context of God’s conversation with Moses, multiple words are used to illustrate the liberating experience: ‘I shall take you out’, ‘I shall rescue you’, ‘I shall redeem you’, ‘I shall take you to Me’, ‘I shall bring you to the land’(Exodus 6: 6 – 8).
Many of the biblical commandments are ‘in memory of the exodus from Egypt’. We are commanded to remember the Exodus every day of our lives. Indeed, the Torah frowns upon the Jewish slave who voluntarily enters slavery beyond the minimal term.
I believe that Judaism’s concentrated efforts in developing our awareness of freedom, reminds us that contrary to what we would imagine, freedom can easily be lost.
Even when we are fortunate to live in free societies, a luxury which much of the human population still does not enjoy, our freedom is too often lost in abusive relationships, uncompromising employment conditions, addiction, poverty, mental health conditions and so on.
Judaism is aware of how vulnerable freedom really is and how it must therefore be zealously appreciated, protected, and preserved.
But it also asserts that as free people we must become worthy of our freedom. Freedom in Judaism is not only an elementary human right, it is primarily a calling. Freedom not only enables but obligates us to shape our lives with covenant, values, compassion, justice, and truth.
Daily, when we bless God for not being slaves, we are inspired to carefully conserve our freedom, as well as employ it, thereby becoming worthy of this beautiful gift.
I hope, trust, and pray that we will all be blessed with freedom and the wisdom to use it gracefully.
Rabbi Boruch Boudilovsky is rabbi of Young Israel of North Netanya