Passover Edition

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 31, 2023 / 9 Nisan 5783

REMINDER: The Levits, the Ukrainian family that CNS helped relocate to Portland, will be sharing their story during the Friday service this evening. Please attend to hear their first-hand experiences and to support them. If you need more incentive, there will be “chametzy” desserts.

Saturday is Meditation Shabbat in addition to the bar mitzvah ceremony of Yoav Shuall, who is a very sweet young man. Please consider attending.

To sell me your chametz, please use this link.

Summary: This week, I provide some reflections and probing questions about freedom that may be useful as we gather for Passover.

Reading Time: Three minutes

So much has happened since Pesach last year. The war in Ukraine is now in its second year, Israeli protesters managed to slow the passage of a judicial overhaul that would have eroded a necessary system of checks and balances, while America, in case after case, has been struggling to determine what we think freedom of speech means and where its limits should be. We also witnessed the rollback of Roe v. Wade, which resulted in many states curtailing women’s freedom of reproductive autonomy. When we take consider these and other global events as a unit, it offers us a slightly different perspective on our national celebration of freedom and redemption. It reminds me of that famous line ascribed to Benjamin Franklin: “It’s a republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

It would seem that our human species is struggling to define and value freedom. While there remain many countries that have never achieved even a basic degree of freedom and human rights, it is surprising that those of us who have it are unsure how to defend it, or if we even wish to. Freedom creates uncertainty and other forms of insecurity; in a period of tremendous anxiety, it’s understandable that many would spurn this unusual birthright in favor of other social good.

With these thoughts in mind, can we invest some time at our seders this year discussing how to preserve freedom and not merely discuss how to achieve it? Do we still believe in free trade? When, why, and with what limits? Vouchers and charter schools continue to be an activating issue for some (look up the school choice bill Gov. Ron DeSantis just signed in Florida), even as others wonder whether some books or ideas should be censored. Do we believe in freedom of education? What does that mean?

The Jerusalem Talmud preserves a teaching of Rabbi Benaya that we drink four cups of wine to correspond to the four types of redemption we experienced: being released from the burdens of Egypt, rescued from their bonds, redeemed with God’s outstretched hands, and taken by God to be a people with a unique mission and destiny.

Many explanations of these different forms of freedom have been offered by our Sages; suffice it to say that some discerned Rabbi Benaya’s statement to indicate freedom from, freedom to, and freedom to be. Part of the turmoil in today’s world probably can be described by which sort of freedom we most gravitate to. While we each care about all these different types of freedom, I have a suspicion that we care more about some than others; some of that difference may spring from our different contexts and backgrounds.

Are we most concerned with being free from interference? Do we desire freedom to pursue some higher goal? Or are we more focused on learning to be ourselves, with less reference to what we accomplish? What freedom do you want to keep?

Regardless of how we each answer, I’d like to wish you freedom from illness, financial hardship, and mental distress. May you have a sweet Pesach and a year of greater ease.

Chag Kasher Sameach,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. We all have our own customs around the seder and conversations that we plan or that organically arise. That said, I hope that some of the questions embedded above can spark some interesting discussions that strengthen our bonds of understanding with those whom we will gather and spend the Seder nights.

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.