Z’man Heirutenu, the time of our freedom. The BJ family trip to Israel this past winter made me think about the different shapes and colors of the aspiration for freedom. We met people whose grandparents made their personal exodus from the same part of the Ukraine as mine—theirs to Palestine, mine to Philadelphia. All sought freedom from oppression, from powerlessness over their fate, and none of us would likely be here if they hadn’t. But what defined the quality of the lives they made for themselves and their descendants is what they sought freedom for. Self-reinvention; financial security; a society that treats people more equally and more justly; the Zionist dream. Different promises, different promised lands.
Freedom requires freedom-from. Bound to the wheel, whether of Egyptian slavery or Russian persecution or even the self-imposed bondage to the everyday demands of the seemingly urgent, there’s no space, no breath, to imagine a different way to be. But there’s no real freedom without freedom-for: without engagement and dedication to something deep and true. Moshe demands that Pharoah release the Israelites from their “avodah,” their servitude, in order that that they may offer “avodah,” their service, to God in the wilderness—the same word used for both ‘slavery’ and ‘freedom.’ Spiritual freedom is, paradoxically, inextricably bound up with service. “You gotta serve somebody,” Bob Dylan wrote. Freedom is less about release than about asking, discovering, and continuously choosing what and whom is worth our devotion.
Z’man Heirutenu, and its offer of transformative change, seems like the time to ask: What do I serve with my energy and time? Is this how I want to dedicate it? Would my ancestors recognize in my choices the continuation of their exodus journeys?
For the seder table, compare the “Exodus” of your family to America with the biblical story. What were they seeking freedom from and what were they seeking freedom for? Do you think they found it? Imagine in what ways their and your lives would be the same or different if they had chosen to go to Palestine/Israel, or South America, or another place.
Max Rudin is publisher of Library of America, a nonprofit organization devoted to publishing definitive editions of great American writing. He and his wife, Amy Schatz, and children Eve and Noah, are longtime BJ members.