From Freedom to Commitment

Posted on April 26, 2024 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

The morning after 1st Seder I woke up bleary-eyed and found our granddaughter Lizzie scrolling through the offerings on Disney+. Looking over her shoulder I saw Peter Pan roll by and thought – that is the perfect film for this moment in our Jewish story.

 

Why is that? What makes the fantasy of Neverland – of eternal childhood – so fitting for the morning after our liberation?

 

I imagine that on the morning after the 1st Pesach the Israelites woke up bleary-eyed and asked: “Now what?!” What are we supposed to do today? And tomorrow? What are we to do with ourselves?

 

Life in Egypt was awful. Slavery was degrading and demeaning, but as slaves we never had to decide what to do and what to choose. As slaves we never experienced what Heschel called “the insecurity of freedom.”

 

Life in Egypt had direction and purpose. It may have been defined by Pharaoh’s purposes, but life still had definition. We may not have liked the menu, but we knew where our next meal was coming from. There was no unemployment. And though we may not have been happy with the accommodations, there was always a roof over our heads.

 

Liberation, like adulthood, brings uncertainty and the need to make decisions – to chart a path for ourselves – to find meaning. The Exodus gave us freedom from enslavement. It gave us no clear direction forward.

 

No wonder, then, that the first thing we did after crossing the Sea of Reeds was to whine and complain. We were hungry. We were thirsty. We were afraid of snakes and lizards and things that went bump in the night. Like children on a road trip, no sooner had we left Egypt than we threw a tantrum demanding that God and Moses make things right for us.

 

But no number of signs and wonders, no miracle was sufficient to quell our angst. Those were all external attempts to fix an internal problem. We had to grow up and learn to take responsibility for ourselves.

 

In their wisdom, God and Moses understood this. Their solution was march us straight to Mt. Sinai where we were given a choice, an opportunity to forge a covenant with God that would give meaning and purpose to our lives.

 

That day we committed to be God’s partners – to build families and provide for them; to create communities and govern them by the laws and values of the Torah – grounded in love, justice, peace, and compassion. We would strive to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation in the land that God had promised would be our eternal portion.

 

All these things would involve hard work and self-sacrifice. They would entail uncertainty, and they still do. Some days it is tempting to dream of Neverland, a life without the burdens of adulthood. But the truth is that those very burdens and responsibilities are what give meaning and purpose to our lives.

 

This is why, each year, our tradition tells us to relive the journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, from freedom to commitment, from Pesach to Shavuot, and to count the 50 days between them as a spiritual exercise we call the Counting of the Omer.

 

“Teach us to count our days,” said the Psalmist, “that we may attain a heart of wisdom.” We count these days of the Omer to renew our commitment to live in such a way as to make each day count – that our lives will count and give meaning to the freedom that we cherish.

 

Shabbat shalom and Moadim l’simcha,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck