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Commentary on Tanakh Class July 26, 2021

Don Perlmutter

A Fable of Freedom and Remembrance
This week’s class was ably led by Religious School Director, Lynn Calnek, who opened the class with a fable about a humble slave that became a king. He used his powers to bring equality to his subjects, and never forgot his past servitude.

Connection between Passover and July 4th
With the theme of freedom in mind, Lynn challenged us to find the similarities between these two significant holidays. We first listed those items that come to mind with our observance of each. For Passover: Avoidance of chametz, the Seder, horseradish, bitter herbs, an egg. For July 4th: Fireworks, picnics, parades, beer, public speeches.

It became clear as we listed these items that the Passover rituals are symbolic and tell a story of redemption, while July 4th is a forthright celebration rather than a time for contemplation. We all admitted, however, that Passover, because of the anticipation of the meal and the family gathering, has morphed into a cause for celebration as well.

While there are distinct differences between the two holidays, the common theme is freedom. This led us to explore the nature of freedom. In both traditions, the fragility of freedom is a subject of endless and essential discussion. 

Individual vs. the Society
There is perpetual tension between the sense of freedom of a person and the collective responsibility of the people in a society. For the society to remain secure and free, individual freedoms often must be limited. The ancient Hebrews, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, were enjoined from the freedom of idol worshipping so the Jewish people could survive. In the US, the Federal government prevailed over the freedom of Southern states to secede and hold slaves so the Union could continue. This struggle between individual rights and collective responsibilities is currently playing out in the debate over vaccinations. 

Tendency for Complacency
It is human nature to take for granted what becomes accepted and commonplace after extended periods. Freedoms are hard-won because those who hold power and limit freedoms do not willingly release their grip. A member of our class reminded us of the sacrifice of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Their wealth and even their lives were at risk by their act of open rebellion against the King of England. When the ancient Hebrews left Egypt, they faced the wrath of Pharoah and the uncertainty of wandering in the desert. Once the threat is gone, memory of the struggle fades. Our challenge is to avoid complacency. To keep our freedoms, we must exercise them. 

Keeping the Promise
An additional challenge is to continuously seek to ensure that the promise of that freedom is fulfilled. The rights declared in 1776 and codified in the Constitution have yet to be fully realized by large segments of our population. It has been said that until we are all free, none of us is free. At Passover, we Jews remind ourselves that, like the king in the fable, we cannot rest easy in our freedom while slavery and hunger persists in the world.  

Wed, July 17 2024 11 Tammuz 5784