“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”
These well-known words of Hillel found in Pirke Avot represent the essence of what freedom is: the ability and authority to exercise personal autonomy. Only one who is truly free can make decisions … good ones, bad ones, personal ones and those that may benefit others. This year, now one full year into the global pandemic and anticipating better days ahead, Hillel’s words and how we choose to exercise our freedom have special resonance.
All of us are “…for myself.” Some of us more so; some of us less so. We need to be “for myself.” But will this past year affect our self-perceptions? For example, will we reorder some of our priorities that impact on our personal well-being?
With few exceptions, we are also “…for others.” Will what we have experienced throughout this difficult period impact how we view others and what they mean to us and our world? Will those views affect how we relate to other people and what we do on their behalf? Will we pay attention to people we have neglected?
In short, will the pandemic serve to liberate us and enable us to reach out to others anew in caring and healing ways … or will we return to our own Mitzrayim … to the narrow confines of earlier predominantly “for myself” ways?
The choice is each of ours to make, but the desirable directions are clear. “And if not now, when?”
I hope you and your loved ones will enjoy a happy and meaningful Passover this year.
Rabbi Neil Sandler is a spiritual leader at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.