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For Passover and Easter: celebrate freedom

For Passover and Easter: celebrate freedom

It’s the holiday season, one of those rare years when Passover and Easter come close together, as they did during the original Easter. So I get a twofer when I wish my readers “Happy Holidays!”

In recent years whenever I’ve attended a Seder I’ve been impressed by the fact that Passover is a religious holiday dedicated to an idea that’s not really primarily religious: freedom. Yes, it’s about a particular historical (or perhaps legendary) event: the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But the Seder ceremony makes clear that, important though that specific event may be, freedom itself is also being celebrated.

For those who’ve never been to a Seder ceremony, I suggest attending one. A Seder involves some dramatic acting out complete with symbols and lots of audience participation. Part of its power is that events aren’t placed totally in the past tense and regarded as ancient and distant occurrences; rather, the participants are specifically instructed to speak as though it is they themselves who were slaves in Egypt, and they themselves who were given the gift of freedom, saying:

“This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people…”

Passover acknowledges that freedom (and liberty, not exactly the same thing but related) is an exceedingly important human desire and need. That same idea is present in the Declaration of Independence, which also cites the Creator:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is ironic, of course, that when that Declaration was written, slavery was allowed in the United States. That was rectified, but only after great struggle, which goes to show how wide the gap often is between rhetoric and reality, and how difficult freedom is to achieve. And it comes as no surprise, either, that the Passover story appealed to slaves in America when they heard about it; witness the lyrics of “Let My People Go.”

Yes, the path to freedom is far from easy, and there are always those who would like to take it away. Sometimes an election merely means “one person, one vote, one time,” if human and civil rights are not protected by a constitution that guarantees them, and by a populace dedicated to defending them at almost all costs. Revolutions, or wars such as that in Iraq, only give an opportunity for liberty, they do not guarantee it. What we’ve observed in Iraq and elsewhere is the hard, long, and dangerous task of attempting to secure it in a place with no such tradition, and with neighbors dedicated to its obliteration.

Sometimes those who are against liberty are religious, like the mullahs. Sometimes they are secular, like the Communists. Sometimes they are cynical and power-mad, sometimes they are idealists who don’t realize that human beings were not made to conform to their rigid notions of the perfect world, and that attempts to force them to do so seem to inevitably end in horrific tyranny, and that this is no coincidence.

As author Milan Kundera wrote, in his Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

…human beings have always aspired to an idyll, a garden where nightingales sing, a realm of har­mony where the world does not rise up as a stranger against man nor man against other men, where the world and all its people are molded from a single stock and the fire lighting up the heavens is the fire burning in the hearts of men, where every man is a note in a magnificent Bach fugue and anyone who refuses his note is a mere black dot, useless and meaningless, easily caught and squashed between the fingers like an insect.”

Note the seamless progression from lyricism to violence: no matter if it begins in idealistic dreams of an idyll, the relinquishment of freedom to further that dream will end with humans being crushed like insects.

History has borne that out, I’m afraid. That’s one of the reasons the people of Eastern Europe have been more inclined to ally themselves recently with the US than those of Western Europe have; the former have only recently come out from under the Soviet yoke of being regarded as those small black and meaningless dots in the huge Communist “idyll.”

Dostoevsky did a great deal of thinking about freedom as well. In his cryptic and mysterious Grand Inquisitor, a lengthy chapter from The Brothers Karamazov, he imagined (appropriately enough for the approaching Easter holiday) a Second Coming. But this is a Second Coming in which the Grand Inquisitor rejects what Dostoevsky sees as Jesus’s message of freedom:

Oh, never, never can [people] feed themselves without us [the Inquisitors and controllers]! No science will give them bread so long as they remain free. In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet, and say to us, “Make us your slaves, but feed us.” They will understand themselves, at last, that freedom and bread enough for all are inconceivable together, for never, never will they be able to share between them! They will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever sinful and ignoble race of man?

Freedom vs. bread is a false dichotomy. Dostoevsky was writing before the Soviets came to power, but since then we have learned that lack of freedom, and a “planned” economy, is certainly no guarantee of bread (just look at Ukrainian history).

Is freedom a “basic need, then? Ask, also, the Vietnamese “boat people.” And then ask them what they thought of John Kerry’s assertion, during his 1971 Senate testimony, that they didn’t care what sort of government they had as long as their other “basic needs” were met:

We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart…

So that when we in fact state, let us say, that we will have a ceasefire or have a coalition government, most of the 2 million men you often hear quoted under arms, most of whom are regional popular reconnaissance forces, which is to say militia, and a very poor militia at that, will simply lay down their arms, if they haven’t done so already, and not fight. And I think you will find they will respond to whatever government evolves which answers their needs, and those needs quite simply are to be fed, to bury their dead in plots where their ancestors lived, to be allowed to extend their culture, to try and exist as human beings. And I think that is what will happen…

I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in others it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.

I beg to differ. I think there’s another very basic need, one that perhaps can only really be appreciated when it is lost: liberty.

Happy Passover, and Happy Easter!

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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“It is ironic, of course, that when that Declaration was written, slavery was allowed in the United States.” Actually, a draft version of the Declaration included a grievance against the King of England for allowing slave trade in the colonies.

The effort to get rid of slavery started with the founding of this country.

the US didn’t actually exist when the Declaration was written so how could the US have been allowing slavery?
didn’t actual slave trading pick up in early 1800s?

    ThomasD in reply to dmacleo. | April 19, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    The further importation of slaves was banned by Congress in 1807 – as soon as it was constitutionally permissible for them to do so.

    Everyone involved in the slave trade at the turn of the century knew the handwriting was on the wall, so yes, there was something of a mad rush to beat the clock.

    Revisionists like to act as if the people of the time thought slavery was no bother, and was something that would never end. When the truth is more the opposite. Slavery was always thought questionable at best, and was always thought to be something that would be brought to an end.

BannedbytheGuardian | April 18, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Yesterday Ihad to explain to military officer daughter why the shops were not open . The explanation was not enough so she googled the opening hours to check. Singularly unimpressed.

From her perspective she has no liberty 24/7 & when they get a. day off they can’t go Bridesmaid dress shopping. Have you guys experienced contemporary wedding campaigns? They are Napoleonic .

So that is freedom from Gen X perspective .

    Here, we call the woman at the centre of the campaign “Bridezilla.”

    I have personally witnessed a snippy discussion about the importance of having dyed-to-match silk shoes dyed in a SINGLE batch, because the color variation is otherwise unacceptable.

    I have also observed that the person with the freedom and the money is Daddy, not the girls.

David R. Graham | April 19, 2014 at 1:20 am

Oetinger said that the end of the ways of God is corporeality. That means, among other things, that religion is about freedom par excellence. Oetinger was a non-Christian mystic, but in this particular at least he spoke the truth. The Exodus and every other story of Holy History describes freedom from the delusion — Sin — of separation from one’s root, from God. Religion is about health here or it is about nothing useful.

Juba Doobai! | April 19, 2014 at 3:28 am

Good article, but this, “Passover is a religious holiday dedicated to an idea that’s not really primarily religious: freedom” is a gross error.

Freedom is the most religious concept and undergirds Judaeo-Christianity. Man was created a free creature by God: free to stand, free to fall. God forces no one to worship Him: choose, this day, whom ye will worship; for freedom Christ has made us free.

Worship of God is the right exercise of freedom. All other freedoms flow from the idea that man was created free. Without that understanding, one can be bogged down in a culture that abhors freedom.

Liberty is no guarantor of freedom from want, from self, from the fear of all that life leads us through. The Exodus reminds us of this.

God saw the plight of his people in Egypt. He saw how they were treated by the Egyptians as slaves. The Jews complained day and night about the conditions but were silenced by the ‘authorities.’

[God’s Exodus purpose: specifically, for God to keep his covenant promise (his word) to Abraham of making Abraham a father of many nations (including us Gentiles), God ‘had’ to bring his people out of Egypt and lead them to His Promised land.]

When the Jews were finally set free from Egypt their complaining continued. They first complained about not being prepared for the exodus. They complained about the Red Sea blocking their path. They said “God has brought us here [a free place] to die.”

Then they complained about the desert, the constant camping and about the food. They longed for the “leeks and garlic” of Egypt. They complained about everything under heaven and in heaven.

While in Egypt the Jews had task masters who made sure, with whippings, that the Jews fulfilled their quotas for the day. Yet, in spite of being free from this, the ‘wandering’ Jews missed having a visible sign of authority over them. God then gave them a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night to guide them besides their human leaders Moses and Aaron.

They still complained. At one point they decided that Moses wasn’t coming back from talking to the One who freed them-God. So, along with Aaron, they created a golden calf to fill the ‘authority’ bill. Today, in the U.S., we have the Ebony Calf.

The people who voted for Obama, the wandering complainers, must believe that God has forsaken this country or was never involved. They demand from Obama and the Democrats ‘their’ bread and ‘their’ college education and ‘their’ condoms and ‘their’ health care and ‘their’… NOW. Or, they just believe that there is no God at all.

Liberty is, of course, de facto important to all who seek it. But, liberty granted w/o direction from above, as shown, leads to wanderers who fall into all kinds of trouble just as sheep do without a Good Shepherd. Liberty needs to be guided, self-governed and shepherded by Absolute Truth.

Liberty at its best is summed up by the apostle Paul when he said “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” That is liberty-freedom- within a ‘Promised Land’.

Have a blessed Passover and a blessed Resurrection Day!

How any American patriot can attend a Seder and not be brought to tears escapes me.

That the western tradition is also called the Judeo-Christian tradition is not a mere politeness.

Sometimes it seems though as if people do not recognize it’s origins are wholly Hebraic, or speak it as if it should be muttered quickly and treated as an afterthought.

That is unfortunate and does us all a great disservice.