Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



The meaning of freedom



One of the key themes of Pesach is freedom. The SA Jewish Report asked students at Jewish schools to consider what freedom means to them. This is a selection of their replies.

We’re slaves. Here’s what we can do about it

Eliana Hepple, Grade 12, Cape Town Torah High

The Oxford Dictionary defines freedom as “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”, and the definition of a slave is a person who is forced to work for and obey another, and is considered to be their property or a device, or part of one, directly controlled by another. The question is, do you have freedom?

In contrast to Mitzrayim, yes, we’re free, but if we look at the definition above and the celebration of Pesach, we’re not free. Pesach celebrates leaving Mitzrayim, and it’s a mitzvah to relive that moment, but how do we do that? We must leave our own Mitzrayim, leave what we’re slaves to.

We’re all devices controlled by another. We’re controlled by technology, the internet, society, and our yetzer horah (inclination to do evil). We can’t be authentic until we leave this Mitzrayim. But it’s difficult to give it all up at once. You can’t just put your phone and laptop away forever, but Pesach is a time for us to temporarily leave our Mitzrayim. Once we “cross the Red Sea”, we arrive at a better version of ourselves and are able to serve Hashem with true love and kavana (sincerity). We’re currently being held back from serving Hashem, we’ve become too materialistic and have forgotten that we come from Hashem.

Are we physically free? Yes. Are we spiritually free? No. Now’s the time to fix that.

From captivity to guided limitations

Jarred Zolty, Grade 11, Cape Town Torah High

What’s freedom? That’s a question I ask myself each year in the lead-up to the Pesach holiday. Some say it’s literally our freedom from persecution by the Egyptians, others say it’s spiritual freedom because we left our lowly position to become elevated enough to receive the Ten Commandments. I believe the exodus from Egypt was both a literal and spiritual freedom, but what type of freedom are we experiencing today?

As a 17-year-old, I don’t have all the freedom in the world. I can’t do whatever I want, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, I do have some freedom. I can go out with friends, play sport, and to an extent learn things that I want to learn, but there’s a boundary to that freedom. The boundary is in place so that I can grow within it, and yes, naturally, part of me wants to leave that space, just as Moshe and the elders wanted to leave Egypt, but I know that leaving it now isn’t what’s best for me in the long run.

Limited freedom prepares you for having the freedom the world has to offer, but even then there are still laws to follow and you could say that it becomes even more limiting, because you have bills to pay and your actions have way more consequences.

This can all be related to the Jewish people leaving Egypt. We were trapped as slaves to Pharoah with very little freedom and spiritually, we fell, but we needed to fall so that when Hashem saved us and took us out, we appreciated it so much more. We then came to the acceptance of the Torah, which gave us 613 mitzvot to follow, which limits what we can and cannot do, however, it gave us all the freedom to grow spiritually and become a nation unto Hashem.

Chag sameach!

Don’t take freedom for granted

Eliya Ossin, Grade 11, Yeshiva College

At the beginning of the Haggadah, our sages command that, “In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt.”

For us Jews who are free, this is a difficult task. How are we expected to experience feelings like we’ve just come out of slavery?

There are enormous differences between modern Jews and the Jews of ancient Egypt. As slaves, Jews weren’t allowed to practice their culture and traditions, choose their occupation, and live with the freedoms we take for granted as modern Jews.

On the face of it, the differences are so stark, there doesn’t seem to be any common ground between us and our ancestors. But there are commonalities. One of these is Israel.

The exodus from Egypt was liberation from oppression culminating in the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel and the building of the Temple.

Israel also provided a safe haven for Jews who survived the Holocaust and Jewish refugees from countries such as Yemen and Ethiopia, who experienced their own exodus.

As a modern Orthodox Jew, Israel continues to be a place where I’m able to express my Jewish roots without fear.

Over time, Jews have been deprived of freedom in almost every country in which they have lived. To this day, there are countries where Jews are advised not to visit.

As Ronald Reagan once stated, “Freedom is a fragile thing and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction. It’s not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation.”

May we all experience true freedom this Pesach. Chag sameach!

How can poverty be associated with liberty?

Gavi Ben-David, Grade 11, Yeshiva College

Freedom is a fundamental human right that many societies have fought for throughout history. However, the question of whether we have true freedom now is complex. This is especially poignant during Passover, a holiday commemorating the Jewish people’s escape from oppression in the pursuit of liberty.

In today’s cancel culture, people are ostracised for expressing what’s deemed to be “politically incorrect”. To add insult to injury, companies use algorithms known as “filter bubbles” which show users only content that matches their beliefs and preferences. As a result, we hear only the ideologies that Facebook or Twitter want us to hear, reinforcing our biases and impairing our critical thinking. The echo-chamber effect of large media corporations in which they filter out ideas, resembles the techniques used by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany such as burning books that contradicted the Nazi agenda. One can argue that silencing opinions on social media is even more damaging than burning books as they can be seamlessly deleted in a click of a button.

The matzah we eat symbolises our “redemption from slavery to freedom”. Matzah is referred to as “poor bread” by our sages. The Maharal, the chief rabbi of Prague in the 15th century, poses the question why poverty should be associated with liberty. These concepts appear to be polar opposites. He answers that a poor person is frequently dependent on others, and is unquestionably not free. One who is poor has little to no material possessions. “Poverty” (as opposed to a poor person) represents lack of connection to anything else other than the thing itself. Redemption occurs when the independent become self-sufficient. Like a slave freed from his master or a baby born from the womb. Lack of autonomy results from submitting to an authority figure. Such was the state of affairs in Egypt. And then G-d redeemed us, and we became sovereign.

The Maharal said that a person immersed in the physical pleasures that his body craves will never be free because he is reliant on desires. How common is this in our day and age? People believe that keeping mitzvot is constraining, in truth the real limitation is being imprisoned by longing for destructive wants. While it’s true that we have gained the freedom to do as we please, ironically, we’re more trapped than ever.

Our sages tell us, “There isn’t a free person except for a person that toils in Torah,” (Pirkei Avot 6:2). Such an individual on the quest for the real truth will be led to true freedom.

It’s a gift, use it responsibly

Jenna Zetler, Grade 12, Herzlia High School

Freedom is more than that feeling of relief once you have completed that long-awaited, dreaded school task. I believe that with freedom, comes responsibility. In Judaism, freedom without responsibility means slavery to one’s ignoble impulses.

Responsibility in Hebrew is “acharayut”. If we look at this word closely, the first letter is “alef”, which refers to “ani”, meaning “I”. This shows that we have a responsibility to uphold to ourselves. If we add another letter, we get “ach” meaning “brother” in Hebrew. This expresses that we have a responsibility to our family. If we add another letter we get “acher”, “other” in Hebrew. This shows we also have a responsibility to others in our community. If we carry on this process, we get “acharey”, which translates to “after me” in Hebrew. This shows that when we seek to deliver our responsibilities by fulfilling our duty of tikkun olam, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. “Acharayu” means “after him”, referring to Hashem. We must recognise that ultimately, every positive change we bring about is done in His image for the sake of all those that were created in His image. Finally, by adding the last letter, we get the full word “acharayut”, which translates to “responsibility”, which ties every concept together.

Only once we comprehend our responsibility towards the greater world, can we be truly free. Jewish people in ancient Egypt had no freedom of that sort. The Pesach story highlights the giving of the fundamental gift of freedom from Hashem. Hashem also gave us the state of Israel, allowing us to live freely in the Jewish diaspora knowing that we will always have somewhere to call home.

Each morning I wake up to endless opportunities made possible by my ancestors and Hashem. They remembered the responsibilities they had to themselves, their family, each other, and to Hashem. This is what drove them to conquer their obstacles.

True freedom is when we can live to our full potential. We shouldn’t take it for granted, let’s all use it responsibly in pursuit of a better world.

How to escape your inner Pharoah

Leah Sassoon, Grade 9, King David Linksfield

I’ve always wondered why we talk about freedom so much on Pesach. What’s the point? We aren’t slaves anymore, we’re free, no? But are we really free. Yes, we’re not slaves to Pharoah in Egypt, however we’re slaves to many other things – technology, toxic people, social media, and so much more. But, why are we slaves to these things, why can’t we overcome them? The truth is, we aren’t really slaves to all those things, we’re slaves to ourselves.

Your own brain is telling you that you’re not good enough without something, or is holding you back. Nobody other than yourself is preventing you from reaching your full potential. The amazing thing about the story of Pesach is that it’s still relevant today, thousands of generations later.

We celebrate Pesach and retell the story every year because it shows us that we’re still slaves, just like the Jews in Egypt. Our brains are like the pharaohs in our lives, and with Hashem’s help, we can overcome them. Freedom means not letting anything – especially yourself – hold you back from doing what you believe you should, and not being ruled over or controlled by anyone.

I hope that this Pesach, everyone will escape their inner Pharoah and finally become free, just like the Jews in Egypt.

The privilege of discovering who we are

Sarale Shishler, Grade 10, Torah Academy Girls High School

“Freedom is the choice to live one’s life doing what one wants, to live where one wants, eat by own choice, and learn what one’s heart desires. This means that freedom can apply to different aspects of life, and freedom isn’t an absolute term.” – John F Kennedy.

Freedom is being able to live with respect and dignity according to the choices I make. All societies define freedom in different ways. Each culture sees freedom in its own light.

The Jewish people weren’t freed from Egypt so that we could do whatever we wanted when we wanted to do it. We were redeemed so that we would live lives of value and meaning, in harmony with our ideal selves. It’s up to us to achieve our true identity. In this way, we become truly free and no external force can change it.

Every Pesach, we leave Egypt again; every Pesach, we’re given the ability to strengthen our identity. Sometimes we have to take the time to rediscover that inner truth, but it’s there, and it’s the most important part of us. Carl Jung said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” That’s the opportunity of Pesach.

A complex question with no easy answer

Yocheved Saksenberg, Grade 12, King David High School Victory Park

Around this time every year, my father asks me if I think I’m free, and every year, I somehow manage to answer incorrectly. Eventually, I learned to remember the answer from the year before and parrot it back, but I was still wrong.

Last year, I asked my father why he kept asking me the same question each year if the answer was always changing. How I could possibly get it right, and how did this make any sense? But when he explained, it made perfect sense. Freedom isn’t an end point, it’s a spectrum, and it’s always changing. I need to reflect if I have more or less freedom this year than I did last year, and acknowledge and appreciate that change.

I’ve never had a problem acknowledging freedom, but I have always had trouble appreciating freedom. I’m approaching a time in my life where there will be a fundamental increase in the amount of freedom I have, and with that comes a frightening amount of responsibility – something I often try to avoid. I only learned to appreciate it when writing the first draft of this very essay.

If I look back to the time when the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, their idea of freedom was simply liberation. Since then, however, that simple idea has expanded into so much more. Just take a look at the 1960s, the prime era of the fight for freedom. There were the women’s movements, the civil rights movement, and the peace movements in which each member was fighting for freedom or improvement of freedom. We’ve come such a long way, and as a result, I have so many more opportunities. Because of these fights, we have freedom of religion, expression, movement, and more! We have freedom to make choices of consequence, which according to the רמב״ם is the definition of freedom.

You never know how to appreciate something fully until you acknowledge that you no longer or didn’t ever have it. So, though it’s difficult to relate to the Pesach story, why not try to use it as a springboard, the start of the fight and winning of freedom so that maybe this year, you can fully appreciate freedom and relate to the story a little more, and hopefully, I’ll get the answer right.

We’re in exile more than ever

Yossi Shaw, Grade 11, Torah Academy

The real question is, do we have freedom now? In the days of Mitzrayim, Jews were overworked and pushed to death without earning a single cent, they were given minimal homes to live in, and to make matters worse, the Egyptians swapped men’s and women’s work so that they wouldn’t even have the freedom to do what came normally to them. This evidently isn’t freedom, it’s prison.

In the 21st century, do we have freedom? Jews may work in most places they choose, and earn money for it, men and women do their own respective work, and Jews can choose where they want to live. Is this what we as Jews call freedom? No. As Jews, freedom is on a much higher level.

These days, we’re all chasing after new Netflix shows, the newest clothes, and the newest pop music, but the reality is that none of that matters when we go up to שמים. Chasing after these mundane things isn’t freedom, therefore we’re truly more in golus (exile) than we thought we were.

Can we compare ourselves to the Jews in Mitzrayim? Jews in Mitzrayim may have not had the same luxuries we have today in our somewhat freedom, but they knew they were in golus while we struggle to comprehend the fact that we are in golus more than ever.

From indignity to pride in three simple steps

Ruvi Naparstek, Grade 11, Torah Academy

Jews in Egypt were enslaved in the most gruesome way – to the extent that they had their new-born boys ripped from their mother’s arms to be killed among hundreds of thousands more just because of the Pharaoh’s paranoia.

They had all their basic human dignity stolen from them. The Mefarshim explain that after leaving Egypt, the Jews were left with only three things: their names, their clothing, and their language. This was the last brittle line preventing the Jews from disappearing into assimilation in Egypt. Their names represented Jews’ ability to be their unique selves, using G-d’s gift of identity. Their clothing represented the sliver of freedom that Jews had to dress modestly and properly before G-d, not having to drop to the level of the Egyptians. Their language represented the ultimate freedom of being able to speak their Jewish thoughts in the holy tongue. Regarding this point Mefarshim explains that if the Jews had not kept these three things, G-d would not have rescued them as there would be no more Jews, only Egyptians. This shows how close the Jews truly were close to extinction by assimilation.

I believe that we are in the most free era in human history. Never before has there been a time where we Jews, Muslims, Christians and so many other religions and cultures were living peacefully together without anyone having to constantly look over their shoulders. While we have to look into the past to learn from our ancestors’ mistakes, we also have to look at their values and morals. We must be grateful that we can still stay true to the values. We must look at our ancestors in Egypt, in awe of the true G-d. Without their faith we would still be in Egypt, not even aware of our rich Jewish ancestry.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *