“Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first issue of every womb among the Children of Israel, of man and beast, is Mine… With a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage.” (Shmot 13; 2,14)
What is the point? God took us out of a house of slaves just to make us slaves to Him? We want to be free! Not tied up with laws and commandments! All we did was changing the master: Before we were slaves to Egypt and now we are slaves to God!
In earlier days, what bothered people were philosophical questions, such as: Did God create the world? Did he give us the Torah? Once these questions were answered, man felt free to worship God. But today the questions are different, they are existential: Can I be free and still obligated to a higher force? Can belief go together with developing my own personality? If I am sacred to God, where do I fit in? Where does my will fit in?
There are two approaches in coping with these questions. One is saying that this is the essence of Judaism: Giving up yourself, sacrificing yourself like Abraham sacrificed everything he had and dreamed for on God’s altar. This is supposed to be real Judaism: Not doing your will but God’s will, and by fighting and beating yourself you become a greater person and more connected to God.
But, fortunately, there is another approach that feels that there should not be a contradiction between your belief and your personal will. Religion is not there to squeeze all the juice out of you, but on the contrary: to free you from your body and direct your soul to the right way! Our Sages say: “A free man is only one who learns Torah”. Is this indeed freedom? Chazal are trying to teach us that true freedom means freeing ourselves from our desires, our materialism and our evil inclination. Freedom is not having a free time and sitting in pubs all day.
It is easy to say so but hard to fulfill on a daily basis. However, this is our task today: Trying to believe that we were not redeemed from Egypt just to be “slaves” to God, but rather were we redeemed from “the Egypt in ourselves” so we can discover our true core and spiritual essence.
Maybe we should use these two approaches in a chronologically educational manner: First of all we have to teach to our children (after we have taught to ourselves…) the basic level: We need to sacrifice to God everything we have. However, on top of that, we must internalize the second level which teaches us that this really is not slavery but the true definition of freedom! If we can truly understand and believe that the Torah is part of our freedom and not another slavery, then we will be able to live as Jews in a modern world and pass it on to our children in a convincing manner.