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Freedom and Speech


The holiday of Pesach is intrinsically connected to speech. The main section of the Hagadah is called "Magid" – telling. We are instructed by the Torah והגדת לבנך to "tell (the story of the Exodus) to your children." The Hagadah says: כל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים הרי זה משובח" Whoever discusses the Exodus at great length is praiseworthy."

The Talmud calls the matzah we eat "lechem oni" and offers two meanings. The first "oni" means affliction, so the matzah is "the bread of affliction". The second "oni" is from the word לענות, to answer. Matzah is "the bread over which many matters are discussed". Although the name Pesach means "to pass over", our sages say the word is a contraction of the words Peh Sach – meaning "the mouth that speaks".

Why is it so important for us to speak on Pesach?

We speak in order to emphasize our freedom. Just as we dip our foods and lean on pillows to show we are free, so too we spend the night speaking. Slaves cannot speak freely; they cannot express themselves. Their self-expression is stifled and suppressed. So, on the night that we recall our passage from slavery to freedom we let our words flow freely.

When the Jewish people suffered in Egypt from bondage and affliction the Torah says "They cried out to God and God heard their cries." Crying is what babies do before they can express themselves with words. The Children of Israel were the infants who could only cry. When God took them out of Egypt he took them to the desert "midbar." The root is the same as for "medaber" speaks. In the desert we found our words. The Jewish people sang an eloquent song in praise of God after the splitting of the sea. The speaking and singing at the Seder also commemorate our moving as a people from a state of infancy to maturity.

Why is it so important to elaborate and expand on the story of the Exodus?

The Hagadah relays to us the story of the five sages in Bnei Brak who stayed up all night retelling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim. We are also told: "In every generation one is obligated to regard himself as if he were redeemed from Egypt." When a person relates a personal experience, he talks about it in great detail. The more we talk about our exodus from Egypt the more we transform it into our own personal experience. When we were slaves not only were our actions dictated by our masters, but so were our thoughts. Slaves do not have the opportunity to raise questions or ponder ideas. At the Seder we pose questions and open conversation is encouraged.

I know many people who are full after the meal and don't continue the Hagadah or sing the songs at the end. I believe that if you skip these songs, you are missing a valuable lesson of the Seder. In a FREE country you can express your views loudly even well past midnight. When we sing the songs at the end of the Seder loudly at the top of our voices and sometimes out of tune, we are expressing what it means to be truly free.

Not so long ago we were forced to spend Seder night alone without our family members due to a global pandemic. This year we are struggling at home in Israel and abroad with the horror of October 7. It is traditional at the Seder to relate to freedom as something we yearned for, not only in biblical times but also in dark times in Jewish history. It was so important to continue our tradition and tell our story that even under extreme hardship and sometimes even in secret, Seders were celebrated. As the Festival of Freedom approaches, we pray for the safe return of our hostages and that they may be embraced by their loved ones.

The Israeli pop singer Meir Ariel wrote a song with the refrain "Avarnu et Paro, naavor gam et ze We made it through Pharaoh, we'll make it through this too". The sentiment was true when he wrote it in 1990 and is definitely still true today.

We are a resilient people. Let's raise our voices this year, despite our tears, in discussion and song, as a way to express our freedom.

Gina Junger made aliyah from the U.S. in 1983. She studied at Bar Ilan University. Gina has been involved in Torah adult education since 1988. For the past 25 years she has been lecturing in Jewish studies at Matan HaSharon – Women's Institute for Torah Studies. Gina is also an independent Torah educator, teaching adults, youth and Batmitzvah girls. 

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Friday, 12 July 2024

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