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
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
“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
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
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