During the third week of April, Jews will celebrate Passover, the annual remembrance of the Hebrew slaves' liberation in ancient Egypt. This celebration of freedom - observed by eight days of abstaining from eating any grain product that has been leavened, leaving Jews who observe Passover no bread, pasta and, for many, no rice or beans, either, for a little more than a week - seems odd. How do strict dietary restrictions hailing back to an ancient story of fleeing oppression without enough time for the bread to rise celebrate freedom?
An easy answer can be found by seeing that Jews emphasize freedom through restrictions - that when we give up a little freedom, in an area as irrelevant as what we eat, then we begin to recognize how valuable our freedom is in other, much more important areas. After all, while it may feel like a big deal to rid our kitchens of all the offending bread products and avoid them for the week following, that means little when compared with the freedom to decide all other things in our lives - who we love, where we work, where we live, and so on. Thus a small restriction lets us see how vast and significant our other freedoms are.
And yet, there might be other ideas in Passover's reminders about our freedoms that we could use in our communities this April. With freedom, Judaism says, throughout the Book of Exodus, comes the responsibility to build a better society, a society that protects our freedoms, but also requires our participation. We have come into a period in American history when it often feels like the issues that face us are so huge that we can't imagine our input making a difference. Our sense of powerlessness, however, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For when we submit that we are at the mercy of greater human powers - the government, big business and environmental problems, for example, not to mention the little issues in our own community that we allow to progress without objection - we allow them to control our lives. Let's aim for a different approach this April, for as Jews celebrate freedom, perhaps we can all learn about our own abilities to shape our community.
Instead of hoping that someone else will take care of our needs, let us stand up and make it happen. If we are truly free, then we must make that freedom worth something. We must not let ourselves believe someone else will do what needs to be done. There is no one out there who has our interests in mind like we do. If we see something lacking, we must attend to it. If our community doesn't serve us, then it may not serve others as well, and we should stand up and make it happen for ourselves and others. If we see an injustice, we must work to right it. Not because we are obligated, but because we are free, and our freedom demands we preserve and exercise it.
I hope all of us have a spring season of freedom and action, so that our community, local and worldwide, benefits from our participation. Happy Passover!
• Jonathan Freirich is rabbi of Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe and the Valley Region Jewish Community.