The to-do list this time of year is always daunting. Not only do we face the yearly accounting that goes with a thorough house-cleaning (what to keep/what to discard?, what of the “things” I’ve generated, looking back on them, have value?), it’s also personal income tax season in many countries, forcing us to face the same questions in terms of our financial efforts of the past year. Not to mention, of course, the sheer drudgery of both cleaning and form-filling.
For many of us, it becomes overwhelming. There is so much to do and so little time to do it in, and, eventually, we reach the point where what’s left can only be done by ourselves. Search high and low, there is no one, absolutely not a single person or even group of people, no matter how well-intentioned and loving, who can help us or even ease our burden. We can’t even imagine a possible solution or any type of relief. We’re face-to-face with panic.
Similarly, our ancestors in Egyptian slavery. It wasn’t merely that we were forced to labor unpaid on major construction projects as is often presented. We were owned, body and soul. Our sages go so far as to say that we couldn’t even own our thoughts! Each day, the pressure would build as we descended ever farther into the depths of despair. We went to sleep in panic and woke to experience that panic somehow increased.
In our day, it’s easy, not to mention fashionable, to assume there is no higher authority than one made of humans, so when there is no person to call upon, we’re totally lost. In their day, the oppression was so unimaginably pervasive, the authority of our enslavers so absolute, we also were unable to look any higher.
The process of redemption we experienced in Egypt is largely considered to have been “from above to below”, to have been initiated by The Almighty Who extracted us, totally helpless, “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm”. However, we’re taught that before that could happen, we needed to do something, at least to cry out. A deeper reality is that even this ability to cry out was beyond us and it, also, was provided to us by The Creator.
For many of us living today, it’s difficult and often seems childish to “cry out to God”, especially if our understanding has yet to evolve beyond the image of God as inept disciplinarian or, even worse, some sort of cosmic ATM. We often don’t even know what to cry out for. House-cleaning help? Free tax advice? Help in our “struggles”?
In most significant ways, we don’t know what this “freedom” we celebrate on Pesach really is. Is it the privilege to work for our own benefit? Is it the freedom to worship or not worship as we please? Is it the freedom to buy what we want? Is it the freedom to live, for the first time in millennia, in Eretz Yisrael (which this year, like most in the State of Israel’s short existence, always seems especially threatened this time of year)? These are all so elusive and often so fleeting. In fact, we struggle with even knowing what we really want.
Perhaps our freedom, at this point, is just that, our very ability to struggle. We’re blessed with the intimation that we’re far from complete, that the world is far from perfect, that our personal tasks are far from finished. The first step towards freedom is recognizing, acknowledging and perhaps even blessing our despair.