The Definition of Slavery – Pesach 5775


Avadim Hayinu, Atah B’nei Chorin – Once we were slaves, strangers in a strange land, building pyramids, answering to a Pharaoh, oppressed, tired, hot. Now we are free.

Every year at the Passover seder, we sing this upbeat song.

Avadim Hayinu, Hayinu, atah benei chorin, bnei chorin.

(Slaves, we were, now, we are free people.)

But are we really free? And how do we know for sure?

As typically defined, a slave is “a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another, or a person entirely under the domination of some influence or person.” And freedom is “exemption from external control, interference, and regulation.”

So based on these definitions, are you free? Are you free from external controls, from the influence and interference of others?

Passover is the holiday of freedom, the holiday during which we remember the exodus from Egypt.  Passover is the time when we remember our past, but on a personal level it’s a time for us to recognize who we are, and how far we have come from last year.  Here we are, halfway through another year. What does that mean?

Passover begins a period of counting.  We begin with the 8 days of the holiday, 8 days of matzah, 8 days of celebration.  Then we move on and continue counting 49 days until we arrive at Shavuot and the gift of the Torah.  And then we stop.  The rest of the year it’s so easy to lose track of time. I forget what day of the week it is, and before I know it, Shabbat is here again and I’m running around all over again the next week.  We often remark that a week “flew by,” but in reality, the week went by at the same pace it always does; it was still the same 7 individual 24-hour days. The week didn’t fly by; rather, we were too busy to take time and realize what was going on in the world around us. Why is it that for the next 50 days we are so aware of ourselves and the days?

We say in the Haggadah “This year we are still slaves; next year, may we all be free.”  And I have often wondered what am I a slave to?  How am I in bondage?  What makes us slaves?  Perhaps one answer is time. As much as I try to live each week fully, they fly by and the months are over so quickly. Sometimes I can barely remember as far back as two days ago.

Part of the challenge of Passover is knowing that next year we will reach the same point, but not knowing what will come in between, and worse yet, how we’ll fit it all in.  All we can do is strive to be more aware of every day, not just those that we count after Passover.  This year, as we count the days, weeks and months, may it be with anticipation of what is to come in the world. And may this year bring with it more freedom to enjoy those in-between moments that go uncounted. This year, we are still slaves to ourselves, to our work, to time; next year may we be free.

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