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Sunday, April 3, 2016

For a Good Jewish Theological Discussion, You Need Hebrew!

Last night I had a very frustrating time at our monthly Shabbat Mevorchim Melava Malka, Post Shabbat study and nosh event, that we've been having on the Saturday nights after the Shabbat when the upcoming new Jewish Month has been announced in shul.

The rabbi who led it conducted a discussion, not a lecture, which he began by summarizing the story Chazal (our sages) say that before birth we have all the knowledge possible about Torah and Judaism, but as we're being born an angel kisses us and seals it or removes it. Then he asked us for our personal opinions about Passover and חרות Cherut, Freedom. Yes, he defined it as "freedom." Now that bothered me a lot. By defining חרות Cherut as Freedom, he was giving חרות Cherut  a meaning, which it may not really have.

Israel's old Right newspaper had been called חרות
Most of the participants were of the generation raised and came to age in the late 1960's, when "freedom" had all sorts of political connotations, and they tried to get those to mesh with Passover. I felt that the discussion was totally off-track, because I wanted it to be based on the linguistic meaning in Hebrew of חרות, but I guess I was in the minority on this.

I don't see any "freedom" in the way we celebrate and prepare for Passover. Actually it's the opposite. The way most of us prepare is so anti-Freedom, so pathologically OCD, it drives people from religion.

That's why I insisted on getting to the root of חרות. That brought me to what to me is the most crucial and important line in the entire Passover Hagaddah:
עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים עתה עתה בני חורין
Avodim hayinu liparoh bamitzrayim; atta bnai chorinWe were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt ; now we are "free?"
It's the statement that expresses opposite status. "Avodim liparoh bamitzrayim" versus "bnai chorin." which is commonly translated as "slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt" versus "free." Pretty much everybody stresses the "slavery" part and then gives the opposite of slavery as freedom, but I keep thinking, yes for years, that the crucial aspect of this is not the economic slavery but the fact that we had to obey the whims of the Egyptian leader and the opposite "bnai chorin" would mean that we now must obey Gd.

This would take the entire story someplace else and not at all to "freedom" as commonly depicted. This brings us to the Torah and Gd's commandments. It makes more sense and then all the kitchen cleaning and special ways of cooking mean that instead of the readily available food (chametz) given to the Jewish slaves by Pharaoh, we Jews have to rid ourselves and our homes of that and eat the food Gd commands us to eat and prepare. In the Wilderness when transitioning between slavery in Egypt and building a new Jewish society in the HolyLand, after we prepared the quick matzot, spelled like Mitzvot, Gd gave us the mahn.

Passover is not a matter of slavery versus freedom at all! Passover is the transition from following man's law to following G'd's Laws.

It took me a whole night of sleep for this to jell or "leaven." What do you think?

Here's the Atara Snowbell response to the question:  Guest Post by Atara Snowbell on חרות Herut

10 comments:

Meredith said...

Thank you for your posts and yes, we are becoming free and we choose daily to follow Torah, it is an ongoing state of being for each person as we grow into Torah observance. Pesach reminds me each year that this is my choice and my obligation to make an active choice.

Batya Medad said...

Thank you. I kept feeling that the others did not agree with my insistance on using hebrew

Mr. Cohen said...

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg said:

There is no Jewish holiday and no Jewish experience that more divides the “haves” from the “have-nots” than Pesach. The contrast between those experiencing Pesach with endless menu options, midnight BBQ’s, quinoa sushi stations, and round-the-clock tea rooms and those who literally don’t know how they will buy matzah or wine, let alone meat, is startling and staggering.

SOURCE:
Give Proportionally to What You Spend on Your Pesach
by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, 2016 March 29
http://rabbisblog.brsonline.org/give-proportionally-spend-pesach/

Batya Medad said...

I guess so.

John S said...

I believe you are wrestling with a very profound truth here Batya.

As I see it, any notion of freedom is only related to the blood of the passover lamb. Without it even the Egyptian lords were under the sentence of death.

“Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12)

In this instance God was not responding to any foolishness on the part of Israel. He had set up this unsatisfactory situation and now He was about to provide a solution. For their hard-heartedness the Egyptians experienced death. For their act of faith in God's promise, Israel was given life (freedom).

A question. Could it be that the Passover actually precedes the Law? In it was God actually foreshadowing something beyond the Law?

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke though I was a husband to them says the Lord.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days says the Lord. I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31)

Is this the real promise of Passover?

Anonymous said...

Pesach is regarded also as the Holiday of Freedom. We learn that receiving the Torah is what gave us our freedom. Living a life of Torah, a structured and disciplined life is what freedom really is. Without Torah, people mistake freedom with doing whatever pleases them and their own judgments of right and wrong. Freedom means living a life of righteousness and by the Laws that our Creator set forth for us; otherwise, it's not freedom but chaos.

Batya Medad said...

John, that's now Jewish! That's not acceptable here!!

a 4/4/16 05:12, again, you are translating the Hebrew Cherut and giving it a secular meaning. Maybe it does not mean "freedom" as we think of the word these past few centuries. I think that is a poor translation of the concept which is the opposite of "slave to Pharaoh in Egypt."

Anonymous said...

A comment to strenghten your idea. The word Cherut has the same truth as charut. The 10 commandments were Charut on the stones.

So you move over to an existence according to the charut, commandments enscribed on the stone

Garnel Ironheart said...

Yes, to understand Torah and have real Jewish discussions you need to know Hebrew.
But to kvetch properly? For that we still need Yiddish.

Batya Medad said...

a 4/4/16 13:55, thanks, that is interesting.
GI, Hah!