One of the most well-known moments of the Passover seder comes when we declare, “In every generation each person must see himself/herself as if he/she personally went out of Egypt.” As an American Jew, I find identifying with the slavery of our ancestors to be one of the most difficult parts of the seder.
Living in a free land, how can we possibly feel what it was like to be slaves in Egypt?
Rabbi Steven Lorch, the Head of the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, answers this question each year by producing a “Freedom Survey.” Over the course the year, from Passover to Passover, Rabbi Lorch keeps a list of major events that happen in the world. At the top of this survey, he writes a single question: As you look at this list, do you feel freer or less free then you did at your seder last year?”
Here are a sampling of major events that occurred between last Passover and this one. As you read it, think about Lorch’s question. Do these events add or subtract from your feeling of freedom this year?
June 30, 2012 – Mohammed Morsi is elected President of Egypt.
July 4, 2012 - CERN announces the discovery of a new particle with properties consistent with the Higgs Boson, after experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.
July 20, 2012 - Twelve people are killed, and numerous more are injured, when a gunman opens fire at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
July 27 – August 12, 2013 – The Summer Olympic Games take place in London.
September 11, 2012 – U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans are killed at the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
October 29th - Hurricane Sandy kills at least 209 people and causes major damage in the Caribbean, Bahamas, United States, and Canada.
November 6, 2012 – Barack Obama is reelected President of the United States.
November 21, 2012 – A cease-fire is declared after more than a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
November 29, 2012 - The UN General Assembly approves a motion granting Palestine non-member observer state status.
December 14, 2012 – A gunman opens fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, killing 20 children and six adults.
February 11, 2013 – Police at the Western Wall arrest 10 women for praying while wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) with Women of the Wall.
February 15, 2013 – A meteor explodes in Russia injuring 1,491 people and damaging over 4,300 buildings. It is the most power meteor to strike Earth’s atmosphere in over a century.
March 13, 2013 – After Pope Benedict XVI resigned on February 28, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected as the new pope, the first non-European pope in history.
In addition to these world events, we have all had experiences in our own lives since last Passover that have made us feel both freer and less free.
When we combine our experience of freedom with that of our ancestors, we get a broader perspective. We can see the arc of freedom over time – and thankfully it bends toward a freer world. That being said, there are plenty of things going on in our world that are troubling, and make us feel less free.
On Passover, we are grateful for the blessings of freedom that we do enjoy, and thank God for the gift of freedom the Israelites received all of those Passovers ago. But we also reflect the past year in order to evaluate our own sense of freedom.
So, what do you think? Do you feel freer or less free this year?