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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Passover message
Asking what makes a free society
By Rabbi Sholom Stern
Rabbi Sholom Stern, Temple Beth-El, Cedarhurst.

In order to appreciate the festival of Passover that is designated as the holiday of freedom, one must look at the struggle for freedom that is being waged in Middle East and African countries. The yearning to tear off the yoke of oppression that enslaves many is a universal one.

When the Egyptian people ridded themselves of Hosni Mubarak who was viewed by them as a tyrannical leader, there was hope that a democratic government would be formed. But history has taught us that overthrowing one tyrannical ruler often becomes a prelude for a new tyranny and a new oppression. The faces change, but not the script. The jury is still out in Egypt, but the hope for the formation of democracy to gain a foothold in Egypt has yet to be realized.

Freedom from oppression is only the first phase in the process of freedom. What made the Exodus from Egypt unique is that it was followed by the Israelites standing seven weeks later at Mt. Sinai in the wilderness and obligating themselves to build a society that was the very antithesis of the Egyptian society from which they had been liberated.

It was to be a society based primarily on laws. The laws found in the document called the Torah were to mirror justice, charity, kindness and compassion. At Sinai the Israelites pledged allegiance to laws, many of which demonstrated concern for the rights and welfare of the stranger. According to one rabbinic interpretation, 36 times does the Torah remind us that we were once slaves in Egypt. Flowing from that is the idea that everything must be done to protect the dignity of those who are marginalized, the weak, the poor and the downtrodden.

Thirty-three centuries have elapsed since the Exodus took place. Collective freedom that honors the dignity of all citizens requires constant vigilance. The greatness of democratic countries like America and Israel is that they are constantly engaged in a self-critique. They are constantly asking the hard question: Are we moving closer or further away from being in a free society? The morally alert will never stop asking this question.

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