Pesach is referred to in our tefilot as Zman Cheyruteinu, the Time of our Freedom. To appreciate the concept of freedom we have to ask ourselves: Freedom from what?
From an historical perspective the answer is straightforward. We read in the Haggadah how our ancestors were subjected to back-breaking labor, a disruption in family life, even infanticide. We can understand, then, why we commemorate the fact that over 3,300 years ago Hashem freed us from this oppression with a Mighty Hand and an Outstretched Arm.
However, if we were merely trying to commemorate a historical event- why not have a Pesach Seudah- like we have a Purim Seudah. I’m sure there are many wives (and also husbands) who would not mind a Pesach Seudah more like Purim, instead of the preparation and effort necessary for Pesach
At the seders, we read why a Pesach Seudah would not suffice: “In every generation, it is one’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt.”
It’s not enough to play pretend and imagine that we were freed, or to appreciate that Yetziat Mitrayim then has an impact on us now. The Haggadah is teaching us that by way of the Exodus Hashem created a type of redemption and freedom that continues to be relevant in a concrete way even today. To appreciate a freedom that we can personally experience today we must find types of slavery that are as relevant today as they were in the times of the Exodus.
The key to bridging the gap between then and now can be found in the Haggadah in the paragraph of Avadim Hayinu: “Had Hashem not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, then we, our children, and our children’s children would have remained ‘Mshu’badim’ to Pharoh in Egypt.”
The word “Mshu’badim” does not necessarily mean physical slavery. In the course of 3 millenia, either the Hebrews would have somehow gained their freedom or else ceased to exist as a separate nationality. Rather, “Mshu’badim” here refers to a slave mentality. Had we been freed any other way, we would not have been able to shake the psychology and thought-processes typical to one who lacks freedom
Analyzing the Halachot of a slave, Rav Soloveitchik taught that there are three characteristics of a slave mentality:
A slave is Pasul L’Edut; his testimony cannot be accepted in a court of law. As a slave he cannot make his own decisions. His ability to distinguish between truth and lies, between right and wrong is never sufficiently developed. Furthermore, truthful testimony can only be offered by a person who will not be coerced or punished due to what he says. Slaves live in a constant state of fear, and we are concerned that the slave will testify according to what is best for the master or what the master wants to hear.
Secondly, a slave is exempt from time-bound commandments, Mitzvot Aseh SheHa’zman Grama. A slave’s time belongs to his master. He does not have the freedom to set his own schedule or calendar. Therefore, the slave develops an attitude of indifference or even antagonism toward time, as it is a reminder of his predicament.
Lastly, a slave is unable to get married. Marriage is not merely a utilitarian institution for the fulfillment of certain personal and social needs. Rather marriage encapsulates a spiritual relationship, one in which spouses depend on each other, while at the same time being obligated one to the other. Being that the slave has a human master, he is unable to obligate himself to anyone else nor depend on and develop that spiritual relationship with anyone else.
Many of us struggle with some, if not all, of these traits intrinsic to a slave’s mentality. Although we may be kosher witnesses, many of us struggle with discerning between right and wrong, especially when the difference between the two is not black and white- more like shades of grey. And even when the right choice is clear, we may still struggle. We may not be coerced by a slave master, but we are often enslaved by peer pressure and our own self-doubt to act in a way contrary to what we know is right.
Each of us has a connection to time-bound Mitzvot. Even women who may be technically exempt from certain time bound Mitzvot nevertheless have the option of fulfilling such Mitzvot, are encouraged to do so and make a bracha when they do so. We can fulfill time-bound Mitzvot because we have the capacity for time awareness, time-management and even time-mastery.
And yet many of us are enslaved by time. Sometimes time crawls by slowly, but more often time flies by. The great increase in technology over the past two decades was supposed to save us time. Instead it created multi-tasking: the attempt to cram more activities into the same amount of time or less. These new technologies have also given us countless new ways to waste time without even realizing it.
I edit this column, taken from a past Pesach sermon, as our beloved shul campus is closed due to the pandemic of COVID-19. In these times of uncertainty, I urge you to be careful, be kind and be strengthened in your Bitachon in Hashem. It very well might be that we will be experiencing a Pesach this year unlike any other. If we end up with less freedom to do what we usually do on Yom Tov, let us utilize the time to consider how we can still express our freedom: by making good decisions, by valuing our time and by appreciating our families
As we refer to this holiday as Zman Cheiruteinu let us appreciate that Yetziat Mitzrayim all those years ago created the opportunities and responsibilities that continue to define what freedom is, even today.
Rabbi Yosef Weinstock was born and raised in New Haven, CT. During his childhood, his hometown synagogue was more than just a place to pray on Saturday mornings: it was a focal point of family and community life. These memories had a lasting effect in determining his chosen profession.
Rabbi Weinstock attended Yeshiva University, beginning with high school. After two years of study at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, he returned to Yeshiva University where he graduated summa cum laude with a major in history. Rabbi Weinstock received his Rabbinic ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (at Yeshiva University) with a concentration in pulpit rabbinics. He also earned a Masters in Social Work from Wurzweiler School of Social Work with a concentration in casework.
Rabbi Weinstock worked for 4 years for the New England Region of NCSY (formerly National Conference of Synagogue Youth), first as a Regional Advisor and later as a Chapter Director. In this capacity, he wrote educational materials, oversaw leadership training of teens and pre-teens, and trained other collegiate advisors on the mental health aspects of working with teenagers.
Rabbi Weinstock also served as Interim Rabbi of a Jewish nursing home. This experience, coupled with his graduate work at a Meals-On-Wheels facility sensitized him to the strengths and needs of the senior population.
Prior to coming to Hollywood 14 years ago, Rabbi Weinstock served as the Director of Special Projects at the Jewish Family Service in Clifton, New Jersey. His responsibilities included counseling teenagers, managing a resource center for parents of children with special needs, serving as liaison to the local Rabbis, grant writing and monitoring.
Rabbi Weinstock is married to Rebecca (Schenker), a speech therapist for Broward County Schools. They are blessed with four children: Yaakov, Shoshana, Avi and Eitan.
Rabbi Weinstock is a Vice Chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of Israel Bonds and a member of the National Board of Mizrachi-Religious Zionists of America. In October 2017 Rabbi Weinstock was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to the Florida Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council.
Rabbi Yosef Weinstock
Pesach - Freedom