Creating a Free Environment

This paragraph of the Haggadah seems to be structured out of order. It should first deal with attaining freedom, and then take care of moving to Israel! First one becomes able, then he acts. (Or... first one becomes rich, then he retires!)

In fact, the Haggadah is pointing out the first stages of freedom – Israel – is not just a physical plot of land, but rather an environment where Jews can fully express their Judaism. To be truly free, the place we live has to be conducive to genuine self-expression.

Our environment affects and manipulates us in ways we cannot even imagine. Take something as simple as clothing. True, you make the final choice. But all clothing design is really someone else's taste and even the designer is building upon last year's fashions.

Morality and life goals are much the same. We basically choose from a list of options prevalent in society.

Beyond this, our environment even affects the way we think. Society subtly pushes us in directions we are not even aware of. If you want to know what a Russian thinks, pick up "Pravda." If a Russian wants to know what an American thinks, he reads "Newsweek." In many ways, the media doesn't report national opinions; it creates them. The editors of "Newsweek" may know better what you'll be thinking than you do – because right now they're writing it!

To be free, you have to create the environment that will guide you toward that goal. Freedom of speech and freedom of action may be "license," but they don't necessarily create guidance. Letting people say or do whatever they want is not "freedom" – it's merely personal (and potentially social) anarchy.

Society has to guide through its respective institutions such as schools. But if society has chosen not to guide consciously, then it will guide subtly. The media will guide, rock groups will guide, TV sitcoms will guide, and the one with the loudest voice will guide. Society cannot prevent guidance; it can only choose who shall be the mouthpiece.

Guidance is not brainwashing, which is the tool of the totalitarian. Guidance is showing and suggesting. Guidance is about helping others find fulfillment.

We like to think of Western society as free because people have the "freedom" to find their own fulfillment. In practice, however, few find their meaningful path of purposeful living. This indicates that slavery, in one form or another, is alive and well in the 21st century.

Western society has a real fear of teaching values. That may be justified, or not. But the result is that instead of learning values from the wise, children (and later as adults) have to find out for themselves. It's reinventing the wheel of purposeful living! Withholding from children the best values of society, is a lot like keeping them ignorant of the best scientific maxims.

Values are not restrictions on a person's nature; they are its building blocks. By consciously not telling a growing child what are good values, you are raising him in a bland environment that will leave him morally inept to eventually choose.

Good values are a lot like good paintings. You don't teach people art by hiding them from the great works – but rather by exposing them to the best, so they may learn to do better. Can you imagine where science would be today if each new student had to rediscover everything?

The first step in freedom is to create a free environment – with all that Israel is supposed to stand for. We do that not by removing all values, but only by removing the bad values. Within that environment, we can perfect ourselves to be truly free. /p>

Free in Israel

Rabbi Tom Meyer

Now, we are here; next year we should be in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves; next year – free people.

Next year in Israel?! But we have Israel now, and many of us are living in Israel!

Actually, the rabbis who wrote the Haggadah were also living in Israel! But still they said "next year in Israel." Because this is not referring to a geographic location, it's referring to a spiritual ideal. It's the reality of a nation of Jews working together and taking care of each other.

This year we are slaves – we've fallen short of the ideal. But if we really work on fixing this, then when next Passover rolls around, we can be free in the Land of Israel.

Still Enslaved

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; And the Lord our God brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And if the Holy One, blessed be He, had not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, then we (and our children and our grandchildren) would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.

Is it true that if God had not brought us out of Egypt, we'd still be enslaved?

In a sense, yes. Because if Pharaoh had agreed to let the Jewish people go – rather than because God took us out with His outstretched arm – then even today we would still look back at that moment in Jewish history and thank Pharaoh for his benevolence. We'd have remained emotionally indebted to Pharaoh. To avoid that, God showed clearly it was Him Alone.

I was in Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Time and again, Saddam shot missiles at Israel, and time and again no Jews were hurt. Either the people were miraculously spared injury, or the missiles simply landed in empty fields.

This continued for a few weeks, and then the Americans delivered their anti-missile system, the "Patriots." This was to save us all! Over the next few weeks, the Patriots may have caused more damage than they prevented. In the end, there was no doubt that it was God and God Alone Who protected the Jewish people!