By Rabbi Yael Splansky.
On my shelf there is “Difficult Freedom” by Emmanuel Levinas, “The Insecurity of Freedom” by Abraham Joshua Heschel, and a gift from Rabbi Marmur’s library, “Escape from Freedom” by Erich Fromm. Each is very different, but each collection of post-Holocaust theology includes reflections on the limits, challenges, and anxieties, which come with freedom. They also, most importantly, reflect on the responsibilities, which come with freedom. Our core narrative – the Exodus from Egypt — insists that there is no freedom without responsibility. When we left the taskmasters behind we were no longer enslaved, but we were not truly free until we accepted Torah at Sinai. It could be said we replaced one taskmaster for Another. But the demanding and commanding God who has expectations of us is also our Creator-Parent who lovingly offers us the chance at constructing, not a palace of mortar and brick for Pharoah, but a life of meaning and purpose. By our own freewill we accept the mitzvot and celebrate the freedom, which comes in the form of a sacred task, a sacred burden.
Keep it Real. Make it Relevant.
I hope your seder tables are filled with family and friends, with delicious food, joyful song and shared memory. I hope the table is also alive with discussion and debate over themes, which spring from the Haggadah. How are we enslaved? How are we free? What plagues our world today? What ought we do with our fortunate freedom?
Political philosopher, Michael Walzer writes about the invitation which comes with our Exodus narrative: “The Israelites are not, after all, magically transported to the promised land; they are not carried on the “eagle’s wings” of Exodus 19; they must march to get there, and the march is full of difficulties, crises, struggles, all realistically presented, as if to invite human as well as divine resolution.” (Exodus and Revolution, p. 10)
Let the Hagadah “invite resolution.” Make it a springboard for your own symposium on freedom and responsibility. The powerful words on these pages were written two thousand, one thousand, five hundred years ago. What do they spark in us today?
My in-laws’ seder begins with an empty Cup of Eliyahu at the center. Only at the end of the seder, before opening the door for Elijah the Prophet, do we pass the goblet around the table and each person pours a bit of his and her own wine to prepare for our mysterious guest. As we do, we each make a private pledge to do something to hasten the Messianic Age, to make our world more just, more kind, more whole. It’s a symbolic way to remember that freedom must be applied; freedom must have purpose; and justice must be pursued.
My Own Personal March through a Wilderness.
So many of you have sent good wishes, offered up prayers, dropped off nutritious meals. Thank you for every extension of support. Adam and I are so very grateful to be a part of such a loving congregation. We have felt your strength behind us and it’s made all the difference.
And so I owe you an update.
Thank God, I am well. I tell you simply as I tell my children and as I tell myself: “I had cancer. Now it’s gone and I have to make sure it never comes back.” I have a great team of physicians guiding me along the way. My surgery went very well and tomorrow I begin treatment of chemotherapy followed by radiation and hormone therapy. Everyone has a dear one who has been down this road. Everyone responds differently. I hope I will manage the fatigue well and will be able to organize and prioritize my calendar so that I can be a regular presence in the life of the congregation during this time. That’s my Plan A.
I love my work, as you know. I don’t want to miss a thing, but I am learning to pace myself and put “first things first.” Thanks to my wonderful colleagues and our tremendous team of lay leaders, Holy Blossom Temple is in full swing. The spring season is upon us with festivals and life cycle celebrations, an impressive line-up of classes and creative programming for every stage of life – not to mention a major construction project!
So we count our blessings and carry on with this good life – forward and together. That’s the only way we know how.
By Rabbi Yael Splansky.