On Passover, we celebrate our liberation from Egypt and our independence from the reign of the brutal Egyptians. It would seem ironic that instead of celebrating this momentous occasion with fireworks and taking it easy, Passover is of the busiest and most restrictive times of the year. People are painstakingly cleaning weeks in advance to get rid of any leaven which may be in their possession. For an entire week, it is prohibited to eat bread and the like. The Seder itself involves numerous Mitzvos (Torah obligations) and keeps many of us up very late. Where is the freedom in this holiday?
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz once asked Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, “What is the main virtue which we ought to gain from the story of our exodus from Egypt?” Rabbi Levenstein answered, “To strengthen our Emunah (faith in God).” Rabbi Levovitz was not satisfied with this answer. Emunah is certainly a focal point in our exodus, but there is much more to it. Rabbi Levovitz said, “The main virtue we seek to attain from discussing our exodus from Egypt is to excel in our commitment as servants of God.” Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz writes (Da’as Chochma Umussar, Vol. 1, p. 126) that this is the theme behind all the special Mitzvos which pertain to Passover. They are all about ingraining in us the concept of being servants of God.
In the same vein, the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 473:22) comments on the obligation mentioned in the Haggadah for one to imagine himself exiting Egypt. Everyone must envision themselves going out of Egypt as the process of being enlisted as servants of God forever, with no opting out. Our exodus from Egypt was not pure freedom, but rather an exchange of ownership. We transformed from being slaves of Pharaoh to become lofty servants of the Almighty. The Seder, and Passover in general, are meant for us to internalize this concept on a personal level.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan was raised in pre-war Europe in a town calledBaranovich, and eventually ended up in America and secured a job as a rebbi (teacher) in the Philadelphia Yeshivah (school for Talmud study). In an effort to mold his students to the Torah way of thinking, Rabbi Kaplan would lament, “Americans don’t want to work; they want everything to be easy.” On another occasion he remarked similarly, “No one is capable of carrying a yoke anymore; everyone wants to have fun.” Rabbi Kaplan once went over to a student and asked him to study together with another boy. The student refused and said, “I can’t learn with him because I don’t like him!” Rabbi Kaplan said to himself, “I can’t believe that boys tell me these things! It says explicitly in the Torah, ‘Do not hate your brother,’ (Leviticus 19:17). How could you not like someone?” Then he remembered that he was not living in Baranovich anymore…
The lesson of Passover is that we are not entitled to choose at whim. Our freedom from Egypt was not for the sake of allowing us to do whatever we may please to do. Our exodus was a process in which God established us as His own loyal servants, instead of us being slaves of the Egyptians as we were formerly. At times, when we find it difficult to comply with the laws of the Torah, we might feel that we can excuse ourselves. Sometimes we may be lazy or not in the mood and we think that as long as in general we are in line, it’s good enough. Wrong! Our whole essence belongs to the Almighty. A servant who is owned by his master has no say about his own decisions. Whatever his master commands him to do, he must do, at all times. Our mission in life is to live up to being loyal servants; people who subject themselves completely to the will of their Master and override their own desires. When we don’t feel up to doing that which we know God wants from us, we must realize that it doesn’t matter what we feel like doing. We are servants of God by definition, and we must always carry out His orders, no matter what.
Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)