Passover teaches that is possible to free ourselves from the pressures of modern society.
Pharaoh is seen as the evil enslaver of others. But he was bound by his own ego, which led him to ruin everything he valued, including himself. Even his officials recognized the catastrophe his attitude brought. "Let the men go," they advised. "Don't you realize that Egypt is being destroyed?" (Exodus 10:7). His arrogance simply got in the way.
In order to take the necessary action, we need to believe that things must change for our own good. When we do, we, like Pharaoh, make vows to change. But often, once an immediate need has passed, we, like Pharaoh, who gave and then retracted his permission for the Israelites to leave, revert to old habits. It may be easy, but in the long run, we only hurt ourselves. (Remember the ancient Israelites who, not a week out of Egypt, were ready to forego liberty and return to their miserable lives, yearning for the comfort of the familiar evil over fear of the unknown.)
Slavery does offer a certain freedom that can be attractive: the freedom from responsibility for yourself and others, the freedom from having to establish goals, figure out how to reach them, or think beyond the moment. It takes strength and guts to walk out of a known situation, which for all its pain, is predictable. It is human nature to want to stay put within the stability of the status quo. The danger is that often in those situations you don't even know that you are mired in a negative situation, one you don't realize until too late.
You tell yourself you will look for a better job, sign up for community service, be much nicer to your kids, get out of an abusive relationship, go back to school, pay off your contributions… tomorrow. Jacob did not intend to stay in Egypt more than a short time--and look what his sojourning cost. At Passover, we should at least recognize inertia for what it is and not kid ourselves into complacency about our own situation or that of others.
Passover, with its message of hope, tells us that like the Egyptian slaves, we can escape from our straits. Once they had tasted freedom with the paschal lamb, the Israelites gave up the comfort of the familiar, without concern for provisions or how they would get to or exist at their destination. They left Egypt because they believed a better life awaited them e1sewhere. As Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (18th-century Hasidic leader) counseled, when you are about to leave "mitzrayim" you should not worry about how you will manage in a new "place." Anyone who does or who stops to get everything in order for the journey will never pick himself or herself up.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.