Freedom has responsibilities

By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – April 5, 2013

The festival of Pesach — known as Passover in English — concluded several days ago. During this holiday, we remember that around 3,200 years ago, our ancestors freed themselves from Egyptian slavery and returned to the land of Israel.

According to Jewish tradition, the exodus from Egypt must not be remembered only as an historical event that happened long ago. It must be felt as a present experience in our lives. We must imagine the taste of slavery and ask ourselves whether we may be slaves to something in our lives. We must meditate on those things from which we should be liberated, and strive for freedom. We must transform historical facts into personal experiences.

The biblical narrative found in Exodus 7-12, tells us that God sent ten plagues to afflict Egypt. In contemporary times there are modern plagues, too; they are not sent by God, but are caused by human action or inaction: social exclusion, hunger and homelessness, human trafficking, corruption, terrorism, and racism, among others.

Freedom has responsibilities. When we recall the suffering of ancient slavery, we must also remember that there are people today who are enslaved to the above-mentioned plagues of our time. But remembering is not enough. On Pesach, the festival of freedom, we have to ask ourselves, “What are our responsibilities? What is expected from every individual?”

The Hebrew Bible tells us what is expected from us (Isaiah 58:6-7): “… to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke… share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin.” It encourages us to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Let us do our part to help people free themselves from contemporary plagues. Let each one of us make a contribution toward bringing freedom to all corners of the earth. Let us work to make the words of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 25:10) a reality: “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”

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Rabbi Levin is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, IN. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for his years of dedicated service to the Conservative movement and the Jewish community...Full bio