Wishing you all a very Happy Pesach!
With the arrival of spring, new buds appearing on the trees, and new life emerging from out of the ground, the Jewish holiday of Passover approaches, this year, beginning on the eve of March 29. The Festival celebrates the great freedom story of the Bible — the journey from slavery in Egypt toward freedom for the Hebrews.
Freedom is a concept; often expressed as a goal to which we all aspire and to which we dedicate efforts to helping others achieve, too. But the biblical freedom story is a little more complicated. The Hebrews had been enslaved for 400 years — the journey toward freedom only began when they cried out.
We cannot be free until we notice the ways in which we are enslaved. A sudden act can dramatically change our circumstances, just as the splitting of the Sea of Reeds in the biblical story. We think we are free in that moment, haven shaken ourselves from our old ways and the things that we thought were holding us back.
But the biblical freedom story doesn’t end when the Hebrews escape Pharaoh’s army, singing and dancing in celebration on the other side of the shore. In fact, they spend another 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Furthermore, in Jewish communities, where the biblical books from Genesis through to Deuteronomy are read from start to finish in an annual cycle, Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses, but the people are still in the wilderness.
Why so much time spent on the 40 years of wanderings in the wilderness? Does this not seem a rather anti-climatic end to this ancient freedom story that has inspired freedom movements for centuries since?
It seems that what we have here is some ancient wisdom that each of us, in any generation and in any moment, can draw upon to guide us in our own lives. Wandering in the wilderness is a pretty good metaphor for how life can seem to many of us, particularly at certain moments in our lives. The story teaches us that freedom is not something achieved in a moment.
Perhaps physical freedom can be achieved this way — emerging from behind bars, or getting the ‘all clear’ at a medical check-up, for example. But spiritual freedom, emotional freedom, and psychological freedom are a journey. There are times when we stop and encamp at a nourishing oasis, and life unfolds in a way that is trouble-free. But there are times when we are trudging through desert sands, wondering exactly where we are headed.
The biblical Exodus story and the message of Passover coming, as it does, just as the new buds and spring flowers are emerging from the winter, reminds us that freedom is a journey rather than a destination.
There are times when the winds blow, the rains and snow falls, and we feel battered by all the elements of life. But the sun will shine again, and even when we’re not sure where we are headed, taking each next step with an awareness of what we want to leave behind and what we want to embrace more of in our lives, means that we can claim the freedom journey as our own.