Tomorrow we read one of the most famous stories of the Torah – the crossing of the sea and the beautiful shira that follows. For many people this is the end of the Pesach story, however it is simply the end of the beginning. Yet this idea that people get wrong links to the next festival in 2 weeks – Yom Ha Atzmaut.
The mistake comes in misunderstanding the most fundamental idea of Pesach – Freedom.
Pesach is the festival of Freedom and of course, Seder night commemorates the original Pesach when we came out of Egypt freed from our slavery and the seventh day the final defeat of Paroh. However, is the freedom we speak about freedom FROM slavery or is it a freedom TO be able to achieve our ultimate destiny?
The key is in the Hebrew for freedom. In Parshat Mishpatim, the Torah discusses freeing of personal slaves (Shemot 21:2) ‘U va shiviit, yetzei la Chofshi Chinam’ ‘and in the seventh he shall go free for no charge’. Here we are talking about freedom from slavery, no discussion of where to next. So the Torah uses the term Chofesh.
However, Pesach is not called Zman Chofshitenu – but Zman Cheruteinu. Cherut also means freedom but a different kind of freedom to Chofesh. Cherut means Freedom to, in Pesach’s case, freedom to become the Jewish nation through receiving the Torah on Har Sinai and then onwards to Eretz Yisrael.
We see this way back in Shemot when Hashem appears to Moshe at the burning bush which was Har Sinai to begin the exodus and says (Shemot 3:12) When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this Mountain. Meaning the purpose of Yetziat Mitzraim is to arrive at Har Sinai for Matan Torah.
The whole idea of Pesach is to leave Egypt to become an Am Kadosh – a holy nation, bound together by the Torah and the Mitzvot. To simply leave Egypt and be free (chofesh) would not have achieved anything of spiritual value. Yes, we would no longer be physically slaves but we would not have reached our spiritual purpose as a nation.
The problem is, a lot of the Jewish world see the chofesh of Pesach but not the cherut.
This was actually a sticking point between Religious Zionists and Secular Zionists when Hatikvah was rewritten in 1948 from the original Naftali Hertz Imber poem from 1878, which was far more religious in tone. The idea of the nation being an Am Chofshi did not rest well with the Religious Zionist leadership, but it was felt it was important to have one anthem for the new State even if it did not yet reflect the vision of the Religious Zionists 100%.
That idea still runs through to today, where the idealism of Religious Zionism both in Israel and globally strive to inspire the Jewish people to become an Am Kedoshi and to see freedom as an aspect of Cherut not just chofesh.
Similarly, it behoves us, to realise who we are and what our nation was taken out of Egypt for – to receive the Torah, 49 days later in order to make us truly free.
As Pirkei Avot reminds us. Said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi … ‘And the writing was the writing of God engraved upon the tablets’ (Shemot 32:16) – “do not read ‘engraved’ (charut) but rather ‘freedom’ (cherut), for no man is truly free except he who engages in the study of Torah.” (Avot 6:2)
So, wherever you are in the world, enjoy the end of Pesach. Recognize the gift of Cherut that Hashem has given us as we celebrate 3331 years later the crossing of the Red Sea on shevii shel Pesach. We realised then that we had just completed freedom from Egypt not as a final achievement but as part of the spiritual journey of 49 days from Yetziat Mizraim to Matan Torah.
That was our challenge then – to understand the difference between Chofesh and Cherut.
That challenge is as real as it ever was.
Chag Kasher v Sameach v Shabbat Shalom