Article By Gabriella Keren

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From Bondage to Freedom

Thoughts For Passover

3000 years ago, the Hebrew People were released from physical and geographic servitude. Today, back in our homeland, we still are exiled from ourselves and in need of liberation from spiritual bondage.

The theme of passing from bondage to freedom, from exile to redemption, has always been engrained in the existence and history of the Jewish People. This theme is dealt with at length in the first eight chapters of the book of Exodus and particularly in the accompanying readings of the prophets. According to cabalists, this period is marked by the seal of "tikkun" (repair), of a return to oneself and to the genuine values of existence.

The reading of Isaiah (Ashkenazi) talks about Israel's future deliverance. The Sephardic rite talks about the deliverance of slaves through Jeremiah. Between the lines, appear certain events that mark our time in a way which is quite troubling. Actually, these texts, far from having been picked at random to accompany the beginning of the Exodus the theme of bondage and servitude, have a timeless content that associates past, present and future and that are anchored in real updated time.

The Talmud establishes that whoever enslaves a person will ultimately become his subordinate. Simply because within this relationship master and slave are equally trapped. This axiom does not resolve the problem of servitude or of a servile attitude, which is a given in all societies. The communist theories that pretended to establish equality and the abolition of social classes, confirmed, once applied, that they were the exact antithesis of the humanitarian theory upon which they rested.

On an individual basis, we could say that when a man seeks marriage as a simple means to attenuate his solitude and his need to "chercher la femme", he risks exchanging one prison for another. Even a religious man who wants to serve the Creator, risks through his zealous attitude and his need to get encapsulated in outer forms of worship, to be enslaved by behavioral attitudes, dress codes and prejudices, concealed behind the commandments of the Torah. In both cases, man remains a slave to his instincts or a slave to his ideas. Nobody has found a formula to attain total freedom.

Fear often generates enslavement. Many people are afraid of lack and poverty; others are afraid of solitude and of being cast out of society. In both cases, the need to survive is quickly transformed into a frenetic passion that immobilizes an individual behind the bars of slavery. To be freed from the above equals being freed from the laws of nature. The latter intensify the dependence of human beings upon each other by imposing vital survival needs.

The Torah-portion of 'Mishpatim' (laws) describes slavery as part of the human condition. But it emphasizes subordination as a temporary condition. The slave must aspire to become free, once his "serving time" is finished. Just like the Sabbath, which intervenes in the story of the Creation of the world on the evening of the sixth day, the slave must be redeemed after six years of service. If he expresses a desire to continue serving his master, his owner must release him on the year of the Jubilee. Each man is commanded -- according to the Torah, to seek freedom from social constraints and servile labor. But we must also be freed from the laws of nature. The weekly Sabbath allows man to taste the delight of the grand Sabbath awaiting him towards the end of the sixth millennium when the messianic era will begin. Man has always aspired to control his surroundings by rationalizing his social and natural environment in order to seek reassurance and step on secure ground. But, towards the end of the sixth millennium, all habitual laws of nature will cease to function and the world will be governed by uncertainty.

Towards the end of the prophetic reading, the Almighty alludes to the laws of the heavens and the earth which were created and which will have longevity in this form in order to allow the world to reach the Sabbath millennium. Thereafter, the constricting laws of nature that enslave human beings and subordinate man to all sorts of dependencies will be totally changed. All theories, all ideologies and all human concepts that attempt to trap reality will lose their validity. Reality will be perceived as a series of events happening outside of the limits of time and space. Reality will be ruled by uncertainty and the unforeseen will govern the world. Only then, will man be truly free.

Gabriella Keren, 1/April/2004

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