Every year as Passover approaches I find myself intrigued by how many Jewish people, even those relatively uninvolved in religious observance, put importance on some form of celebration of the holiday. Seeing as it is a holiday that begins with sitting around a table with friends and family, telling a story and eating, naturally it is partially due to how uncomplicated and potentially enjoyable this form of observance can actually be. However, when thinking about it this year I came to an entirely different and much deeper explanation. The attraction to Passover is that it has very little to do with religion. Passover transcends religion, inasmuch as it about something not provided by religion. That would be the basic theme of Passover, the importance of freedom.
We live in an increasingly complex society. People consider freedom to manifest itself in issues once not even considered important to humankind. In the United States, freedom now has become connected to lifestyle choices, possession of weapons, and how to treat your body. In Muslim populations, as well as ultra-religious communities everywhere, levels of freedom are often gender based, men are often provided with freedoms women are not provided with, and when not are based on first accepting the basic rules of the community. In more progressive, liberal environments, freedom is expressed by the decriminalization of things like drugs and prostitution. And in some parts of the world, freedom is still about the basic right to survive and live as the person you were born to be, without restriction from governments or dictators.
Freedom has always been the ultimate weapon. Take away someone’s freedom and the belief is that you have the ultimate control over what they do. It is the primary and justified complaint against religious leadership. The belief that impacting someone’s freedom because your belief system considers their personal choices to be wrong for society and the individual, sets up a scenario where people do exactly what is expected of them. Ironically it takes away from the freedom given by God that is very possibly the most important freedom that exists. The freedom of choice.
The truth is that no one can take that freedom away from any man or woman ever. The consequences may be dire, but the freedom remains. My grandparents, when presented with the option to accept Baptismal papers in 1943 Amsterdam, refused to accept them. Everyone, including them, knew their chances survival would be greater had they accepted them, but they made the ultimate sacrifice in choosing the freedom to live as Jews and subsequently die as Jews by refusing the papers. They let no man take away their freedom to be Jews, even though it resulted in them being murdered in Auschwitz.
The lesson to be learned is that what makes Passover so attractive is that it is truly about freedom. A freedom that no government, religious institution, or random individual can ever take from any of us. That freedom is the freedom of choice. And the reason no man can ever take it away from us is because it is a freedom given to us by God. Where religions and governments have failed all over the world is in their unwillingness to take second place to man’s freedom to decide for how he wishes to live his life. A freedom no one can ever take away and a freedom and a concept far greater than religious observance, for it is a freedom given directly to man by God. That is a freedom all men and women share equally, and the expression of that is part of what makes the celebration of Passover so attractive to so many.
Happy Passover to all who celebrate, and to those who do not, in the theme of the day I wish you a life filled with true freedom.