04/01/2014 09:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Freedom From Religion


Passover, the Jewish holiday of Freedom. Freedom from the slavery and rules of Pharaoh to become a free nation. On Passover, Jews around the globe will gather together to read the Hagadah, the story of Jewish Freedom from the oppression in ancient Egypt. The struggle for freedom is a seductive tale that has been repeated many times over in the fall and rise of governments, the emancipation of races and the every-day lives of people you know. Yet the verse says "Because the Israelites are my slaves, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves." (Leviticus 25:42).

Question: Did we escape Pharaoh's Egypt just to exchange one controlling master for another?

For many, "freedom" may be the ability to do whatever you want. But is that necessarily positive? If you could do whatever you wanted, with no consequences, what would you do? Travel the world, buy everyone in your family their own separate island, stay in the nicest hotels, rub shoulders with the rich and famous, conquer a country, destroy all your enemies, force people to bow down to you...would being free to do whatever you want lead you to good or evil? All morally progressive societies don't allow their citizens to do whatever it is they want. On the contrary, the people that do whatever they want whenever they want are in prisons or mental institutions. Does that mean they are the only true "free" people? Or can the ideal of freedom mean something else?

Freedom is not doing what you want but becoming who you are.

Freedom is not anarchy but the struggle for self-actualization. Our Founding Fathers struggled for freedom from an ancient monarchy not to create a country of no rules but to create a country where its citizens weren't prevented from living their dreams and becoming all they could be. The Jews left Egypt not to become free to do whatever they wanted but to become free to follow their destiny of becoming a "light unto the nations" (Isaiah 49:6).

This idea can profoundly be seen in the verse "Because the Israelites are my slaves, whom I brought out of Egypt..."(Leviticus 25:42). The hebrew word for slave in this verse is "eved" which is the same word as the modern Hebrew word for "work". Many of us may be "slaves" to our work while some of us may be on a truly freeing path of passion in our respective careers. The difference is just whether you're excited to go to work or not. Both people follow the same schedule, wear the same suit and perhaps follow the same rules...yet one is a slave and one is free.

The distinction lies in whether the person's real "neshama" (soul) is being expressed through their work. Children can play all day and never get tired because they love what they're doing. And when they play, their full "neshamas" come screaming out on the playground. Truly passionate adults are the same. When we're doing the things in our life that speak to the destiny of the light we have to offer the world, then the hours, discipline and focus that we spend at our work do not feel enslaving but empowering . This type of work becomes our service to the world. It may not be by chance that the word "servant" is just a few letters off from the word "service". For this reason, I believe the abovementioned verse must be translated as "Because the Israelites are my "people of service", etc. Being a "servant" is just the flip side of being a "person of service". The difference is just whether the person is being forced to do something which robs them of their potential or whether they voluntarily throw their lives towards a passion which gifts them their "neshoma" back.

That's the true message of Passover. Not that a couple of frogs and magic tricks led us to become a self-autonomous people. But that a couple of men and women left their slavery behind in the desert to chase their destiny of being a "light unto the nations". That a couple of people threw off the yolk of apathy and self-doubt to realize the depth and power of their own "neshamos". That people like you and me could be raised from the prisons of vanity, arrogance and self-worship through 613 commandments that lead us up to the glorious mountaintops of altruism, humility and spiritual freedom.

As it says: ""I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." (Exodus 3:12)