Passover: Our True Independence Day

Haggadah Section: Introduction

On the 5th of Iyyar, according to both the true Karaite calendar of the Aviv and the Rabbanite calendar, the State of Israel celebrates its Independence Day. There are parades, picnics, parties and firework displays all expressing national pride in the Zionist dream of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel after almost 2,000 years. We showed them, say the politicians in their speeches. With our own sweat and blood and against all odds we created a nation. We're proud to be Israelis.

This style of celebration, noisy and flag-waving and proud, captures something of the spirit that led a nation to declare its independence. A similar spirit surges up in France on Bastille Day and in the U.S.A on the 4th of July as with many other nations on their birthdays. These celebrations are secular in their entirety, bearing a striking unlikeness to the Independence Day described in the Tora, our true Independence Day, a day called Passover.

We can trace our birth as a nation back to a dark, foreboding night, our last in Egypt (Exodus, Chapter 12). There are no parades, picnics, parties or firework displays to commemorate this event. Everything takes place inside a home, with a family or cluster of families gathered around a table. Participants partake in a meal consisting of a roasted lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread, while reciting portions of the Mikra, which relate to YHWH's promises and deeds in connection with our redemption. This Independence Day is a service dedicated to YHWH whose deliverance of us from bondage was an expression of his love for his chosen people. Each item, the roasted lamb, bitter herbs and unleavened bread all have their place and their significance. It is not a party. We were born in slavery, a fact that exerts a sobering influence and places the attainment of any subsequent glory into correct perspective, and a fact that teaches humility.

More than anything else, our Independence Day, our Freedom Festival expresses this one fact: YHWH did it. No armies stood against the mighty Egyptians. Freedom came in the blackest night while families huddled around the Passover table, their bags packed, waiting for deliverance. Deliverance not just from the bondage of the body and physical pleasures of life but from spiritual servitude. When YHWH's time came, the Egyptian captors not only released us, but begged us to go and showered us with gold and riches. We remember that event with humility and praise; there is no room for pride. Later, when Pharaoh changed his mind and set his chariots loose upon our fleeing tribes, YHWH came through again. All Israel stood a trembling, already having doubts about their freedom. But YHWH destroyed the great Egyptian army affirming that he does not remain aloof and distant from the affairs of mankind. In the events of the Exodus we realized that YHWH was not just a national deity but the King of all Creation, the Master of History, YHWH is our Savior and he alone.

We were redeemed with a purpose, to serve YHWH and to keep his Tora. True freedom is not just the negation of slavery, in whatever form it manifests itself, but the willing acceptance of a higher discipline. Israel attained complete and true freedom at Sinai when we willingly accepted the discipline demanded by the Tora. We were released from subjection to an earthly master in order to prove our worth as a chosen people prepared to serve YHWH. The truth has therefore been impressed upon us: there is no absolute freedom! Only a choice of masters, we can serve YHWH and be free, or else serve man and be enslaved.

Therefore for us, the Children of Israel, independence from Egypt means dependence upon YHWH. This pattern of dependence was to continue throughout our time in the wilderness. When we ran out of water, YHWH provided. When food supplies failed, YHWH provided. When the 'Amelekites attacked, YHWH provided. Independence Day set the tone for a national history, the national history of YHWH's chosen people-Israel, a national history that is unlike the history of any other nation on earth for it is the history of the action of YHWH. A history that is intricately entwined with YHWH's plans for mankind, it is a sacred history.

YHWH comes back to the Exodus one hundred and fifty-six times throughout the Mikra as a way of describing himself: "I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of Egypt." The bondage and Exodus are in fact quoted in connection with thirty-six commandments of the Tora and an additional thirty-one enactments make passing reference to it. Thus reflecting its importance to the historical consciousness of our people as an event woven into its very fabric and not as an isolated incident for "and they will know that I am YHWH their God, who brought them out from the Land of Misrayim [Egypt]." (Ex. 29:46)[1] The memory of past oppression was not to be forgotten, but to be recalled in all our dealings with our fellow man, to stand as a marker against oppression and the perversion of justice, the Egyptian bondage is cited as the prototype of human degradation: "A sojourner you shall not maltreat and you shall not oppress him, for sojourners were you in the Land of Misrayim [Egypt]." (Ex. 22:20) YHWH created mankind with freedom of choice, the free will to choose the good and reject the evil. To deny one this ability by subjecting them to subservience to a mortal is a crime against them and against YHWH who fashioned them. The equality of rights and privileges due to every member of society can therefore be seen as the very foundation of the Tora.

The Zionist dream is, in the words of David Ben-Gurion, to make us like other nations, the exact opposite of that which YHWH intended's for us, "And you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Ex. 19:6), "Holy you shall be, because holy am I, YHWH your God." (Lev. 19:2) By the blatant disregard of the commandments for whose fulfillment Israel was chosen, by the misrepresentation of the teachings of the Tora, by the display of such conduct as will bring YHWH's association with Israel into disrepute, the God of history is defamed and the purpose of Israel's redemption is nullified. "And YHWH spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the Children of Yisrael, and say to them, I am YHWH your God. What is done in the Land of Misrayim [Egypt], wherein you were settled, you shall not do, and what is done in the land of Kena'an [Canaan], to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and in their laws you shall not walk. My judgements you shall do, and my laws you shall keep to walk in them, I am YHWH your God. And you shall keep my laws and my judgements, which when a human does them, he lives by them, I am YHWH." (Lev. 18:1-5) We are YHWH's servants and not the servants of man-made laws.

By Hakham Meir Yosef Rekhavi

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