On Passover, which is also called the Festival of Freedom, we celebrate that God freed our ancestors from slavery.
There’s just one problem. It doesn’t say anywhere that God freed the people. The words for freedom are not used in this story. The language in the Torah refers to the fact that God “took us out of Egypt.”
The story appears in the book of Exodus. Exodus is not freedom.
What’s up with that?
Freedom Came Before the Exodus
Here’s another thought: the moment of freedom came prior to the Exodus. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they were already free.
The Story We Tell at the Seder
At the Seder, we “tell the story” of the period of slavery and the journey to freedom. At least, that’s how we describe it.
If you have been to a Seder, or look at the Haggadah, you will see that we don’t really tell the full story. In fact, the closest we get to recounting the story as it appears in Exodus is to recount the Ten Plagues.
Why Do We Focus on the Plagues?
Why do we focus on the plagues, rather than on the years of slavery and the actual departure from Egypt — the “journey from slavery to freedom”?
Through the first nine plagues, God proved his existence to the Egyptians and Pharaoh. He was also proving his existence to the Israelites. He showed that he is more powerful than the gods the Egyptians worshipped: the animals, the sun, the Nile River. God showed that as supreme creator, He has control over all of these elements. He can create and destroy at his will.
This process slowly decimated the Egyptians’ morale, while simultaneously cultivating trust from the Israelites. Many of them also worshipped the elements. This is what they knew; this was their cultural conditioning.
The Tenth Plague
Prior to the tenth plague, Moses conveyed God’s instruction that they should sacrifice a lamb and put the lamb’s blood on the door post, so that the angel of death would pass over their houses and spare their first born.
We might reasonably ask: doesn’t the all-knowing God know which houses belong to the Israelites? Why was this necessary?
Of course he does. The purpose of the blood on the doorpost was not only to ward off the angel of death; it was to test their faith in God.
To this point, they had heard about God through Moses, and witnessed the first nine plagues.
The Egyptians worshipped the lamb as a God. The action of sacrificing the lamb tested whether the people were willing to renounce the Egyptian way of life.
Blood on the doorposts — on the outside of the home — is a public act. God’s instruction left no room for hiding; it required that the people show their faith in a public manner.
To kill an animal that the Egyptians worshipped as a God and then spread that blood on the outside of their homes was a brazen act that could put the Israelites at risk of being killed by the Egyptians.
And, yet, to not do this would put their first born at risk of death by the angel of death.
If they showed their faith in God by following these instructions, God would save their first born children.
This was the moment when the Israelites became free.
Freedom lies in recognizing you have a choice.
Freedom From vs Freedom To
In Hebrew, there are two different words that mean “freedom.” Chofshi means freedom from.Cheirut means freedom to. We rarely distinguish between these forms of freedom in the English language.
By recognizing that they had freedom to choose whether to put the blood on their door posts, the Israelites expressed their faith in the God of Moses and put themselves in position to leave Egypt, thus receiving freedom from the life of slavery.
They freed themselves by recognizing they had a choice. Then God took them out of Egypt.
Whenever you feel boxed in, stuck, or forced into a certain way of life, remember that freedom lies in recognizing that you have a choice. When you can find the choice, you can free yourself.