In the vernacular of our sages and in our prayers, Pesach is titled, “Z’man chayrusaynu– Time of our freedom.” Although we did attain freedom at the time of our redemption from Egypt, titling the holiday as such doesn’t seem to encapsulate the root of the holiday’s greatness.
Egypt was the superpower of the ancient world from which no slave ever escaped. Yet the entire Jewish nation marched out of the country unhindered. Therefore the greatness of Pesach is that it is the time of our miraculous salvation and redemption. Freedom was indeed the desired outcome of the exodus, however, to say that Pesach is merely the “time of freedom” seems to omit the whole miracle of redemption, plagues and all.
Furthermore, Chazal state, “There is no truly free person other than one who immerses himself in Torah study” (Avos 6:2). If so, true freedom could only be attained on Shavuos, the anniversary of our receiving the Torah. If so, why is Pesach called “the time of freedom”?
In 1775, seventy soldiers of the Patriot army (known as the Minutemen) crossed paths with the six hundred or so British soldiers, who were en route to Concord, in Lexington (sixteen miles from Boston). To this day it is not known who fired first, but “the shot that was heard around the world” was fired, marking the commencement of America’s War of Independence.
On July 4th, 1776 the thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, which records the colonists’ rationalization and justification for proclaiming their independence from England. “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness… that to secure these rights Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed… that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
It wasn’t until 1781 however, when the British General, Lord Cornwallis, surrendered to Patriot General George Washington at the conclusion of the Battle of Yorktown, that American independence was truly achieved.
Any good American citizen knows that Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th, the anniversary of the completion of the Declaration of Independence. What is the logic behind that? It was the signing of the Declaration of Independence that actually placed the colonists in perilous danger. When the British were informed of the Declaration, they seethed with anger, deepening their enmity for the colonists. The Declaration placed the colonists in a situation of “no return.” Their only option now was to fight for their survival. Wouldn’t it be more logical for American independence to be commemorated on the anniversary of the victory at Yorktown? (Does anyone even know the anniversary of the victory at the Battle of Yorktown?)
The answer is that while the colonists did not attain true independence until the Battle of Yorktown, the Declaration of Independence was their proclamation of freedom. It heralded to the world that they were willing to fight for their cause. They had declared to pledge their lives and their sacred honor to the cause, even at the risk of death. Without that first step they could never have achieved ultimate independence. The Declaration was the groundwork and the root of their victory; therefore the independence that was achieved must be attributed to those initial daring efforts. Everything the United States claims to stand for was accomplished at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The truth is had Klal Yisroel not have accepted the Torah on Har Sinai, the entire exodus would have been in vain. Klal Yisroel could not have real freedom as a nation until they received the Torah. Nevertheless, the exodus from Egypt demonstrated an unwavering emunah in Hashem. Klal Yisroel fearlessly followed Moshe out of Egypt into the vast, perilous, and dangerous desert. Who would feed their children? Who would take care of their medical needs? From where would they get clothing? These logical worries did not concern them because they placed their complete trust in Hashem. With the exodus Klal Yisroel subconsciously expressed unyielding belief in G-d. The culmination of their efforts was only realized on Shavuos but the initiation, i.e. Klal Yisroel’s “shot that was heard around the world,” was marching out of Egypt into the vicissitudes and unknown of the desert.
Pesach may not be the day when Klal Yisroel became free per se, but it is the “time of our freedom” because it marked the beginning of our spiritual ascension which resulted in our freedom. It is for this reason that on Pesach we begin to count the forty-nine day omer concluding with Shavuos.
Pesach is a holiday of true commitment. One cannot celebrate the holiday of Shavuos and accept the Torah without first having demonstrated his appreciation of the message of Pesach, i.e. the concept of commitment to whatever the Torah may command and unwavering loyalty to whatever a Torah life may entail.
Just prior to the giving of the torah, Hashem told Klal Yisroel, (Shemos 19:5) “V’atah im shamo’ah tishmi’u b’koli v’hiyeesem li segulah mikol ha’amim ki li kol ha’aretz– And now, if you hearken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world.” Rashi, on the idea of hearkening to G-d, comments, “If you will accept the Torah upon yourselves now, it will be pleasant for you because all beginnings are difficult.”
What message is Rashi trying to convey? What does accepting the Torah now have to do with beginnings being difficult?
The answer lies in understanding why beginnings are so difficult. Something new is foreign and eccentric because one is not familiar with it and, therefore, not completely dedicated to it. This lack of familiarity keeps a person from placing his complete heart and soul into whatever new item/concept he is now becoming involved in. However, as one becomes more acquainted, and the novelty loses its eccentricity, one feels more comfortable and applies himself to it more fully.
G-d was telling Klal Yisroel that with Torah there is no place for sluggishness – even at the beginning. One must accept the yoke of the Torah with gusto and complete devotion. How is it possible to jump “right in” to something new? “If you will accept it upon yourselves,’ i.e. one who understands that the word of G-d is complete truth and no matter what he is commanded he will adhere to, then observing the Torah becomes a pleasant experience because he is driven to observe what he knows to be the ultimate truth.
This dedication was ingrained into the hearts and minds of Klal Yisroel at the time of their exodus from Egypt and that is why Pesach must precede Shavuos.
The holiday of Pesach differentiates those who are completely dedicated from those who have a namby-pamby belief. The eighty percent of Klal Yisroel, some twelve million Jews, who were not completely dedicated never made it out of Egypt but perished during the plague of darkness.
When a gentile decides that he wants to convert to Judaism, we do not welcome him with open arms. Rather we develop an attitude of skepticism and we even seek to ‘push him off’. This is not because we are arrogant and do not wish to have any more members join the Chosen Nation, but we are afraid that the conversion may be based on ulterior motives. Until we are completely sure that the would-be-convert has genuinely pure motives, we do not allow the conversion to take place. Only those Jews, who are ready to sign our “Declaration of Independence,” i.e. to absorb and accept our ideas and appreciation of independence and freedom, can join our elite nation.
Going out of Egypt without accepting the Torah soon afterwards would have been a worthless endeavor! Pesach is indeed the ‘Time of our freedom’ but only if it immediately begins our ascension toward receiving the Torah on Shavuos.
About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.
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