Wednesday 8 April 2009

Celebrating Freedom

The festival of Pesach (Passover) is celebrated this week, and Jews around the world are furiously cleaning their homes to rid them of all remnants of leaven in accordance with the traditions of Pesach. The theme of Pesach is freedom. We celebrate the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, which brought them to freedom by escaping the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery. The ultimate freedom came after 40 years of wandering in the desert when the Israelites eventually entered the promised land. The intervening 40 years ensured that the generation that left Egypt had passed on entirely, and it was the new generation that entered the land of Canaan.

Freedom is an enduring concept, and it seems as relevant today as it was at the time of the exodus from Egypt. Over the years, we have used Pesach as a reminder for those who were denied the right to practise their Judaism. This was a particular rallying moment during the years when Jews behind the iron curtain were not allowed to celebrate Pesach. These days, most Jews have the freedom to celebrate Pesach according to their wish and this must surely count as a significant achievement in the quest for Jewish freedom.

The Land of Israel is also a landmark on the road to Jewish freedom. This is the country where Jews are not only allowed to practise their religion as they see fit, but a country which is dedicated to making Jewish practice also the social default. Supermarkets are laden with Pesach goods of every shape and type, and the traditions and laws of Pesach are easy to adhere to. Watching people burn their remaining leavened products in secure fires set up by the local municipality this morning, brought this point home to me even more strongly.

Whilst I am not familiar with a particular country or regime that currently forbids Jews from practising their faith, I do know one Jew who will not be free to celebrate Pesach for the third year in a row. He is, of course, Gilad Shalit. I would like to encourage all Jews to set an empty place at their Pesach seder to remember Gilad and the other soldiers missing in action. It is our prayer that they will be free to celebrate Pesach with their families next year.

Whilst the freedom that we celebrate at Pesach is largely freedom in a physical sense, the modern world has created many forms of captivity which are different in their nature. We seem to be trapped in self-created cages of financial and social pressures inflicted upon us by the world in which we live. We have managed to create a society for ourselves which many find difficult to keep up with, and which creates a form of captivity that many people are unable to escape from. The number of people who are living in poverty and unable to feed their families is a frightening statistic. And the number of people requiring emotional support as a result of the damage done by the expectations of our society is continuously increasing. These are surely the new forms of slavery that we wish to free ourselves of at this time.

So, it is with this in mind that I wish everyone a Chag Sameach. May you have freedom to practice your religion in the way that you see fit. May you also have the freedom from our society's new illnesses. And may our captured soldiers be returned to freedom soon.

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