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From Slavery to Freedom - For All

What is slavery? Chains, bondage, enforced restrictions on living conditions, religious freedoms, economic potential, educational opportunities, access to communications . The more one examines the conditions and restrictions of slavery, the more one realizes that the external factors lead to nothing less than murder of the spirit.

What is freedom? The absence of chains, bondage, enforced restrictions. The elevation of one's potential in all realms. The boundlessness of access. The growth and flourishing of the human spirit.

That any individual or any person should be subject to slavery because of the circumstances of their birth is an intolerable crime. There is no "acceptable" level of slavery. Any restriction tolerated on the level of working, living, learning - any regular activity of daily life - should be anathema to the people who daily recall, and annually celebrate, yetziat mitzrayim, the Exodus from our slavery in ancient Egypt.

Last week, as the Torah turned from the opening passages of the book of Shemot to the heart of the Exodus narrative, I was privileged to be in eretz Yisrael, visiting the land, and the people, who, with us in the Diaspora, proudly uphold a founding national commitment to freedom and justice. In a large hallway outside the Knesset chamber is modestly displayed the original declaration of independence. I could clearly read, from the scroll, my favorite paragraph:

"The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.."


Another well-appreciated stop on this whirlwind week-long mission was a delightful Shabbat spent at Beit Daniel, a flagship congregation of the tenuah leyahadut mitkademet, the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel. The song-filled Kabbalat Shabbat service was attended largely by Israelis, including many Russian olim. What a wonderful, concrete expression of so many principles of the founding of the state!

I was further delighted to find, just outside the sanctuary, a poster with the same slogan affixed to the car of my children's other mother. Tentatively, I inquired of our hosts if those bumper stickers were still available. Now, I also sport this message on my car: yesh yoter miderekh ehad lihiyot yehudi - "There's more than one way to be Jewish." Indeed, just carrying such a message between these two lands feels like an act of freedom and justice.

But the context renders the message differently. One of the ways the slogan "reads" distinctively in the two countries is expressed through the graphic image that occupies a third of the surface. It is a hand-crafted Jewish star, comprised of rainbow-colored clay. It's a colorful match to my other bumper sticker, the rainbow-encircled message: "Family on Board."

Yet in Israel, the rainbow was surely based on the sign of the keshet following the flood, evoking connections of renewal, pluralism, and celebration. In North America and world-wide, it is a symbol of pride for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.

In this week's portion, Bo, we read that the first seder took place in slavery. On the night of the 15th of the month of Nisan, the enslaved Hebrews were told to stay indoors, smear the blood of a lamb on the doorpost, and make a seder (Exodus 12:3-11). We eat the matza of freedom, the Talmud tells us, because we were redeemed while we were still in bondage (BT Pesahim 116b).

As we read of, and perpetually celebrate our freedom, we must be constantly vigilant on behalf of all of sisters and brothers. No one - not one Jew, not one living soul created betzelem elohim, in God's image - should ever suffer physical or spiritual enslavement because of who they are, where they live, how they pray, or whom they love.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah