This week begins the holiday of Passover, the world’s first festival of freedom. 3,332 years ago this Thursday, a broken and tormented people marched out from the land of their captivity and oppression. With heads held high, they set forth to meet their destiny, on course to become a great nation and introduce the world to the virtues of moral discipline, personal responsibility, and social justice.
The story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt reminds us that impossible dreams can become reality, that good ultimately triumphs over evil, and that every one of us is created with the free will to choose the path of righteous idealism over the ways of egotistic self-indulgence.
But this year, the most famous question in Jewish tradition will have a different flavor to it: Why is this night different from all other nights?
This year, Passover comes at a time most of us are feeling anything but free. This year we are locked inside our houses, isolated from friends and families, cut off from our very livelihoods. In times like these, how are we supposed to celebrate freedom and redemption?
The answer is obvious when we reflect on the story of the ten plagues visited on the ancient kingdom of Egypt.
The Egyptian’s water turned to blood… they had nothing to drink. The incessant croaking of frogs destroyed the tranquility of their homes. Wild animals invaded their communities.
Lice and painful boils afflicted their bodies. Pestilence killed off their animals and locusts destroyed their crops.
Hail bursting into fire overturned their very comprehension of reality. Oppressive darkness encompassed them for three days, literally immobilizing them. The plague of the first born killed off their hope for a new generation.
And even that was not all.
Because they didn’t have Amazon, or FedEx, or UPS, or Netflix, or YouTube, or streaming, or facetime.
Imagine what our quarantine would have been like only a few years ago. Where would we be without Zoom, without Whatsapp, without overnight online shopping?
Where technology had made our human interactions shallow and superficial, now those same technologies allow us to reach out and touch friends and even strangers with a sense of urgent intimacy. The enemy that has driven us apart has, ironically, brought us together in ways that so recently seemed impossible.
Yes, our situation is uncomfortable, the news is scary, the future is unclear. But most of us are getting by. We have food to eat; we have access to the goods we need. Most of us will be okay.
And, for the most part, our children are not in danger. Compared with most human beings across the globe and throughout the ages, we are unimaginably free.
Freedom does not mean always getting what you want. Freedom means you have the choice how to play the cards you’ve been dealt, and how to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves to you.
33 centuries ago, on the night before the exodus, the plague of death swept down upon the Egyptians, a people whose empire marked the pinnacle of earthly achievement. As we are now, so too were the Jews then confined to their homes, protected in isolation by the sign of the covenant – the blood of the Passover offering above their doorposts, symbolizing personal self-sacrifice, commitment to one another, and devotion to the values of integrity and ultimate truth.
The Jews weren’t bitter that they couldn’t go outside. They were grateful for the physical and spiritual safety their homes provided them as they patiently waited for the moment when they could pass over the threshold and kindle the spark of human nobility to light the way for future generations.
Take advantage of these days. Focus on what’s good in your life to create positive energy. Identify the opportunities you have to work toward your goals and your dreams. Push yourself to utilize your talents and abilities to the limits of your potential. That is how you realize the true rewards of freedom.