April/May 2009

Top Stories
• Obama’s First 100
• Madoff Response
• Madoff Foundations
• Norm Coleman
• Climate Change
• Letters to the Editor

• Kibbutz Life

In Their Own Words
• Alan Grayson
• Pres. Obama

• PA Hunger

• LimmudPhilly
• Bob Woodruff
• Health Fair
• Bikers Help MDA

Raising A Mensch
• Ethiopian Pesach
• Minding the Mind

Living Judaism
• Becoming a Jew
• A Taste of Freedom

Teen Voice
• Role Model

The Kosher Table
• Passover Recipes
• Haroset

Free Subscription

Past Issues
2009 JFMA

The official registrations and financial information of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.
    Email This     About     Subscription     Donate     Contact     Links     Archives  

"Exodus, 2001," copyright Michael Bogdanow.

Living Judaism

A Taste of Freedom at the Seder

-- Barry Bub MD

A recent CNN opinion poll reported that 89% of Americans consider the economy to be in poor shape with 45% afraid that the economy will sink into a depression within the next 12 months. One way or another, most of us have been impacted by the economic crisis and many of us are living in real fear that the future will be even worse.

With Passover just on the horizon it’s appropriate to turn to the lessons of the Exodus saga for support, guidance and hope. This story, whether fact or myth offers an incomparable template for the transformation of persons and peoples. When viewed at its very simplest level, Passover is about an enslaved people achieving physical freedom and independence but of course, there are many levels of meaning.

A few years ago, my wife Rabbi Goldie Milgram and I were leading a week-long workshop on the metaphors of Passover at the idyllic Esalen retreat center in Big Sur, California. Each day was devoted to a particular theme. Finally, on day five it was time to introduce the topic of freedom. We had worked hard all week and the little group was looking forward to this day. On a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon, we converged onto the porch of our meeting house. Since it was my turn to lead and we were nearing the end of the program, I felt the freedom to innovate:

“Guys, there is an adage that 90% of what you learn you forget and 90% of what you experience you remember. So today, rather than teach about freedom, I’d like you to experience it. For the next hour do whatever you need to do to feel completely free, then report back.”

Mutter, mutter, mutter – there was grumbling and even a hint of rebellion in the air. Without the course leader directing them, freedom entailed responsibility. Suddenly, freedom felt elusive if not burdensome.

Goldie, taken by surprise, gave me a quizzical look then dashed off to do some overdue photocopying until she noticed her habit to fill her free time with work. One of the rebellious students refused to wander off. Instead he reached for a book of Rumi poetry that someone had left on the porch. The very first poem had him wow in astonishment as it revealed a solution to the dilemma that had preoccupied him all week. A delightfully young elderly participant gleefully went shelling on the beach and almost forgot to return, so immersed was she.

Following their return only one participant, a young woman, thought the freedom experiment a waste of time. She explained:"At first I was annoyed that I wasn’t being actively taught in a structured class, and then I worried that I would not use the time productively.”

“Was there any time at all that you experienced freedom?” I asked.

“Now that you mention it, there was” she replied after a moment’s thought. “I decided to cross the river and as I stepped very, very carefully on the rocks, I became totally absorbed in the challenge of not slipping. All thoughts of time and productivity left me and I felt completely free. Was this the lesson I needed to learn?”

An acronym for fear is Future Events Appearing Real. Fear enslaves us. It grips us, sucks us in and because it is totally future-oriented, robs us of the present. When we are able to experience the present we become enlivened and aware. For a while at least, we are able to experience a blissful sense of well-being.

This is one of the many wisdoms of the Passover Seder. As we experience the metaphors of the Exodus they ground us in the present. Our senses are flooded with the bitterness of suffering, the saltiness of grief, the sweetness of empowerment, the green of growth and potential, the community of singing, and the leaning of our bodies into relaxation. The Seder becomes a multimodal and cross-modal synesthetic experience that draws us into the Now and liberates us from fear. Instead of thinking fearful thoughts, we experience blessing as the babies sound off, the elders nod, the teens and college youth weigh in with their truths, and we sigh happily in the freedom of time. Z’man cheyruteynu mikrah kodesh, as the Passover Kiddush relates, “Times we are free holiness happens.”

To view previous editions of "Living Judaism", please click here.

Did you enjoy this article?

If so,

  • share it with your friends so they do not miss out on this article,
  • subscribe (free), so you do not miss out on the next issue,
  • donate (not quite free but greatly appreciated) to enable us to continue providing this free service.

If not,