As we approach this Passover, I feel very heavily the distinction between “freedom from” and “freedom to.” The Israelites leaving Egypt are happy to have freedom from slavery, but don’t have a clear sense of purpose or destination. While they are in the desert, their food is provided and they have no daily purpose.
It is only with Shavuot, the giving of the Torah, and then with the task of constructing the tabernacle, that the Israelites’ freedom was directed towards worthwhile goals. The Israelites now had not just freedom from slavery, but also freedom to develop themselves as a nation.
This distinction between different kinds of freedom is particularly important this Passover. Some of us are thinking of freedom in terms of the end of the pandemic for our society as a whole. Others anticipate the individual freedom that they will feel when they and those in their immediate circle are vaccinated. Each of us has things that we have lost or given up over the last year. Each of us has enslavements that we are eager to escape.
As we anticipate our freedom, I hope that we can be mindful as to whether it is freedom from or freedom to. It is not just enough that we are getting back out into the world. What purpose, what meaning, will we create with newfound freedom and mobility? Will we make sure that others share the liberation that we enjoy? How will we make that freedom worthwhile?
Rabbi Joshua Heller is the senior rabbi at Congregation B’nai Torah.