Thursday, January 21, 2010

Freedom of the Inside

The drama of the Exodus has been portrayed in film and art. It captures the imagination. From Cecille B. Demille to Steven Spielberg the story has captivated not only the faithful, but even the secular. Everyone knows the story. Right ?

Well maybe not quite. This week's parsha tells us the events in detail. Prior to the exodus from Egypt the Israelites held a meal in their homes, the first seder we might say. They ate the paschal lamb and placed the blood of the lamb on the doorpost and the lintel. We are told G-d passed over the houses of the Israelites that night as He slew the first born of the Egyptians. The Torah says, " The blood shall be for you a sign on the houses that you are in. And I will see the blood....and passover...and not let the destroyer enter your homes to cause strife".

Ok, that much we knew already. But where did the Israelites place the blood? On the outside of the doorpost or the inside? Most, if asked, would say on the outside, after all it was meant for a sign. Yet Rashi, quotes the Michilta that says "for you a sign and not for others" and that the blood was in fact placed on the inside of the door frame.

The question is why? Why would the blood be placed on the inside of the home? Rabbeinu
Bachya says that the purpose of the blood on the door was to show the absolute faith the Israelites had in Hashem, so much so that they slew the lamb, a god of the Egyptians and publicly displayed its blood on their doors. That reasoning would only make sense if the blood was placed on the outside.

But we might yet ask a more central question. What is the meaning of the meal of the Exodus celebrated while the Israelites still were in Mitzrayim and not yet liberated? Would it not have made more sense to celebrate a meal of freedom after they left and were in reality free?

In answer to both questions I am reminded of a time I conducted a seder for Jews who were hospitalized at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center in New York City. The patients who came were in wheelchairs. All had been recent victims of a stroke. For most their life was changed forever. As I saw the parade of wheelchairs coming down the hospital corridor I thought to myself, what does it mean for these men and women to mark a meal of freedom when they can't even use the bathroom without help? How can the seder have relevance to those incarcerated in their wheelchairs? Can these men and women really taste the freedom in the matza and wine when they are held captive in their own bodies?

And yet they did ! To my amazement despite the paralysis of their bodies they experienced Pesach and indeed the thanksgiving of liberation. Perhaps even more so! They knew their circumstances all too well. They also knew that the freedom they owned was not about external movement. It was about the ability to transcend the circumstances and affirm the power to choose and to be. Perhaps deprived of the trappings of freedom, they identified with the essence of what it means to be free. They celebrated the gift of the spirit that can never be enslaved, the spirit that made choices, even in these trying times for them to be Jews and to identify with their people and their story.

I believe that's the core message the Torah is teaching us in saying "for you a sign and not for others" as the blood was pasted to the inner door frame. It was for us to realize even as we celebrated seder in the bowels of Egypt that we are free so long as our spirits are free. No external forces outside our door, no matter how pervasive or how powerful can ever take that away from us. Freedom can be had even in Egypt, even in the Warsaw Ghetto, even in a Concentration Camp, even in Rusk Rehabilitation Center. We are free so long as we choose our destiny, so long as we affirm who we are. Being free is not a statement about our external situation, that may often be outside our control. Freedom is about our state of mind and spirit.
That freedom is G-d given and can never be taken from us. It is that freedom we celebrate Pesach, and yes, precisely while still in Egypt.

The message here for me and perhaps you, is clear. Sometimes we feel our life is so constricted.
We may feel enslaved by forces that limit us and the choices we may make. At times that which binds us may be physical, at times emotional. In either case the compelling forces often deplete our spirit and rob us of the feeling that we are free.

It is in those times that we need to remember Pesach Mitzrayim, and the blood on the inside of the door. Real freedom is not something we are given but something we choose. Natan Schransky was free in the Soviet gulag. We can be free wherever we are, if we so choose.
That won't change our external situation. But it will allow us meaning and purpose, the key ingredients to a quality life.

Shabbat Shalom

No comments:

Post a Comment