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How can we Celebrate Freedom in World of Injustice?

By the time you receive this new edition of the Temple Times, Nisan, the month of Pesach, the month of freedom, will be just a few days away from starting. It's inevitable to enter Nisan and not think about Pesach, to start reflecting on our freedoms and our slaveries.

We truly feel and believe that we are free. We are confident in living in a society where democracy allows us to choose the government that the majority chooses; that our representatives in government will fight for our ideals that were outlined in the electoral platforms that made us their voters. We are sure our chosen ones, be they presidents, senators, or any government position for which they were elected, will do everything to ensure that our voice represented by them builds a better country, a better world.

Are we being naïve?

Why do we keep celebrating freedom if we know it is not real in our world? Why do we keep proclaiming that our freedoms are assured when a setback in an election can undermine the most fundamental personal decisions like abortion or when any deranged individual carrying a weapon can enter a school and shatter innocent lives?

Why do we keep remembering year after year that we were slaves and now we are free when in our home, our own Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, a lunatic in charge of the government can lead us to an October 7th and unleash a wave of suffering among

ourselves and our neighbors?

Sometimes it's difficult for us to be grateful for our freedoms, our lives. Especially when suffering occurs. You may not realize it but being grateful every morning just for the mere fact of breathing, opening our eyes again, and being thankful for what we still have, is an integral part of our tradition even when reality is not what we desire.

We choose to remember time and time again that we were slaves, to compel ourselves and teach our own to appreciate our freedoms even more. Those freedoms that allow us to make decisions that are impossible to make when enslaved. Because even from the bad choices we make, from the wrong decisions, from the bad votes, we can return and improve if we live in freedom. Even from what led us down the wrong path, we can turn back and choose the right one. But it's necessary to do so with respect for those who think differently, and above all with respect for that freedom that also allows us to make mistakes.

This year is even more difficult.

A world shaken by disrespectful governments, ceaseless violence, and declared antisemitism where we did not seem to have problems to exist and express ourselves. It made make us question the meaning of the word "freedom". The freedom of expression that allows the mockery of the minority. The freedom of self-determination of people that allows a terrorist government to dictate the fate of those who, like the vast majority in all nations, do not know how to express their own opinion, or are not ready to do so, or simply live simple lives without the desire or need to get involved in big political projects.

I am not providing reasons that could be construed as advocating or inviting the deprivation of a people's freedoms. It is just an invitation to reevaluate what is valuable for our own freedom.

That is why we keep singing "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and the Holy One, blessed be He, took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm." This is why we keep passing on to our children, grandchildren, all those who may follow us in the titanic task of making this world a better, freer, and more equitable one for everyone, without difference of creeds or opinions, but respecting the integrities of each and every one who compose it while defending freedoms.

Because we cannot proclaim the right to any freedom by destroying lives.

Because no one can claim the right, no matter how just it is, by cutting short the lives of innocent children, young people, and the elderly.

Because there is no possibility of continuing to use the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, our God, to justify the contempt and denial for the right of dissent that exists in our People for 2000 years, manipulating our scriptures and their message to

empower oneself with a truth stolen from our tradition and from Chazal, our Sages of Blessed Memory.

In Nisan, the month of Pesach, we put our voices, our bodies, and our Kavanah, our intention to achieve a world of authentic freedoms starting with our own freedoms and always with our children close by. Because when they are close, that is when the questions arise, and by asking is how we learn. Giving our children the possibility and the freedom to ask is how we teach them to be free.

The key to Jewish exegesis is to assume that nothing is obvious. Questions are the great cultural paradox. They destabilize as well as secure social norms. Nikita Khrushchev, who was the leader of the Soviet Union, once explained why he hated Jews. He said: "They always ask why!"

Questions tend to democratize. Not being afraid to ask demonstrates a fundamental trust in the good sense of others. Autocrats hate questions. We teach children to ask "why?" in the Passover Seder, because tyrants are destroyed, and freedom is won with a good question.

That is why God loves us to ask "why?"

Consequently, we celebrate those who challenge the Torah to explain its meaning and above all to make it a defensible expression of Divine goodness. When we ask good questions, the Torah is given again at that very moment at Sinai.

Iraqi Jews tell the story that in a certain country, the king was chosen in a special way. When the old king died, a bird called "the bird of good fortune" was released. The person on whose head the bird landed would receive the crown that would make him the next monarch. On one occasion, "the bird of good fortune" landed on the head of a slave. That slave had been nothing more than a simple musician who entertained at his master's parties. His attire consisted of a hat with feathers and a belt made of sheep's skulls. When the slave became king, he moved to the palace and wore royal garments.

However, he ordered a hut (a kind of sukkah) to be built next to the palace and for his old hat, belt, and drum to be stored there along with a huge mirror. The new king was recognized for his kindness and love for all his people, rich and poor, free and enslaved. He often disappeared into his own hut.

On one occasion, he left his door open, and the cabinet ministers saw him putting on his feathered hat, his old belt, dancing, and playing the drum in front of the mirror. They found this situation very strange and asked the king: "After all, you are the

king. You must maintain your dignity!" The king replied: "Once I was a slave and now, have become a king. From time to time, I like to remember that I was once a slave to avoid becoming arrogant and treating my people and you, my ministers, with disdain."

One of the principles of freedom is to have the humility to recognize one's own vulnerability to lose it and therefore to respect the same vulnerability that each of those around us also has in turn.

We must bear in mind not only that we were slaves and God liberated us, but that in every generation, Bechol dor vador, some evil person has risen to celebrate his hatred towards the People of Israel. For that reason, we are responsible for ensuring that the long chain of Judaism is not interrupted in our small and essential link.

I wish for you to have a beautiful and meaningful table with your family or be together at the JCC celebrating the liberation from Egypt and our commitment to the future of the People of Israel. I suggest that at every Seder, in every home, we leave an empty place setting, with dishes and cutlery arranged, commemorating those who cannot be at their Passover tables with their loved ones because they are deprived of their freedom during the festival of freedom par excellence.

Am Israel Chai. May we all have a Pesach kasher vesameach and soon may all those who remain captive as hostages be able to return to their homes, in real freedom.

Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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