Pesach is also known as z’man cheruteynu (a time of our redemption and liberation). Like many concepts in Judaism, the first thing that comes to my mind is “why is it relevant to our lives today?” We are not currently slaves, and most of us do not know anyone who was a slave, so how can we relate to the concept of freedom?
To celebrate freedom, it is important to understand that from which we are free. In Shemot/Exodus 1:14 we read: “And they put hard work upon us … and made us work with rigor. And they made our lives bitter with hard work …”
To work with rigor … we all do that every day, yes? So, what makes this concept of working with rigor any different than that which we do day in and day out? What has changed?
Maimonides, when commenting on slavery, noted that “rigorous labor” is that which has no end or limit. There was no proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. What can we learn from this idea of never-ending labor?
Can we agree that labor with no end is not a good concept? Sadly though, I am not so sure that we are free from these bonds of servitude. We operate with a 24/6 work style. No matter where we are, what we are doing, we are reachable thanks to our smartphones, devices and laptops. I encounter people all day who are exhausted from the demands of life, the never-ending to-do lists, and they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
On some level, we are all enslaved and have enslaved ourselves to our work and our lists. We bind ourselves with email and social media. We need to know what is happening in real time and must share what is happening in real time. Where is the time we need to recharge our own personal batteries, connect with our friends and family, to study, and to carve out some quiet time alone?
This Pesach, I personally plan to take time to examine what is limiting me, enslaving me and weighing me down. It’s not just the tangible chametz that we can purge from our homes during Pesach, it is also the process of ridding ourselves of the unessential and complicated things in our lives. What needs to be true to make the time for ourselves and others and for us to be free mentally and physically from that which enslaves us in our lives?
I envision a Pesach where we can each feel the spirit of z’man cheruteynu. May we give ourselves the permission to focus on our personal growth and that which is truly the most important to each of us.
Wishing you and your family a Chag Kasher v’Sameach.
Rabbi Ari Leubitz is head of the school of the Atlanta Jewish Academy.