There is a great line in Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” that I always think about around Passover:
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.”
One of the major themes of Passover is redemption (Ge’ulah) from slavery in Egypt, and this weighty experience and concept echo throughout all the layers of post-biblical commentary, liturgy, and philosophy that make up Judaism. The experiences of slavery and redemption are rooted deeply in the core of Jewish identity throughout our history.
Spring is the time during which the world wakes up from the long slumber of winter, and we see evidence of new and renewed life all around us. In the biblical era Pesach marked the first harvest, as grains and fruits ripened and our ancestors moved from a time of food scarcity to abundance. For those of us in the modern West, it is very easy to forget that most of the world still experiences these cycles of plenty and paucity – our own access to food relies on money, and is only related to the seasons and the weather indirectly.
The Pesach story mirrors this natural cycle, as the Jewish people transition from the hard winter of slavery to the redemptive and revelatory springtime experience of receiving the Torah (the Tree of Life) and entering the land of Israel. We refrain from eating, owning, or benefiting from leavened food for 8 days in order to remember, and recreate in a limited sense, the experience of moving from slavery to freedom, and from scarcity to abundance. Instead of eating a nice, sugary Challah made from dough, we eat Lechem Oni (the bread of the poor, or the afflicted), in order to taste a single instant of poverty.
During the ritual meal we are expected to relive the experience of moving from slavery through redemption into freedom. While it is not easy to truly imagine the experience of being literally enslaved, most of us can relate in some way to the figurative idea of slavery that Marley sings about in “Redemption Song”. If we take the narrative of Egypt as an allegory for “mental slavery,” what insights might be gained about human nature?
I challenge you to think about the following during Passover:
What mental slavery do you subject yourself to? As your own Pharaoh, what unnecessarily cruel “labor” do you refuse to release yourself from?
What would it take for you to emancipate your own mind from that self-imposed oppression? What signs, miracles, or plagues would convince you to release yourself, or “let my people go”?
Can you think of a way to talk about this at your own seder? To make it clear enough for a child to understand?