Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Slave To The Grind

Steg sings his second Passover Hymn, ”No More AuctionBlock For Me” at the Seder. Although feeling other peoples’ suffering is noble and praiseworthy, I believe that celebrating other peoples’ freedoms on Pessach is inappropriate. There are 358 days in the year to do that, but during Passover we celebrate our own independence and our own formation as a nation – nobody else’s.

There is, however, a far, far deeper aspect to the differences between our freedom and the blacks’ emancipation.

Redemption from physical slavery is a central theme on Pessach, but it isn’t the only one - certainly not the main one.

G-d tells Moishe Rabeinu: “Sanctify to me each firstborn in Israel”. Moishe Rabeinu goes and starts tormenting Israel with halachic minutia: for seven days now, no bread, no bagels, no pizza. Then, when you will be in the land of Israel, on this day, you will have to slay a lamb in this and this manner, and keep this holiday, and teach it to your children, and even strap these laws on your arms and your foreheads with leather strings. The parshes must be written in such and such manner, on such and such kind of parchment etc. etc. etc. Poor Jewboyz! They’ve just heard the good news that they’re finally leaving Egyptian servitude, and here comes Moshe showering them with halochos, without letting them breathe even for a second! Heck, not even a muffin before setting out to the desert? Nope. Stale hand matzos. Bada”tz shmura, with Brisker chumrahs. But how does this sanctify the Jewish firstborn (who were originally meant to serve in the Mishkan with the Leviim)?

Until then, in order to become a true ‘עבד ה one had to truly, completely and absolutely devote his entire being, inside and out, mind body and soul to G-d’s servitude to a degree of perfection, – in other words, become an Avrohom, Yitzhcok, Yaakov or Moshe. At יציאת מצרים the people united to obey one G-d, one Law – a Law that shall encompass their entire life and being, from cradle to crypt, with G-d’s hot breath in their necks forever: when they sin, they’ll incur supernatural retribution – plague, defeat and exile. When they’ll do His will, they’ll be tempted by their neighbors, and will have to withstand the arrogance and decadence that comes with power and prosperity. Every moment and passing breath will have to be dedicated to Him – what they eat, how they eat, how to sleep, to tie shoes, how to wage war and how to make peace, how and when to bring קרבנות… That’s how we became a people. That really meant that from now on, one belonging to this nation would be able to live G-d and His Law despite his sins and shortcomings.

That’s how our בכורות became קדוש we all became קדוש, and they became more קדוש. They were singled out on the day that sanctified us all, and their קדושה depends on our acceptance and observance of קדושה.

The problems begin when we lose focus, and start following Pharaoh's command: תכבד העבודה על האנשים ואל ישעו בדברי שקר. When we start enslaving ourselves to materialism, that's when our Torah becomes a שקר, and we become slaves again... Yet even so, even when mincha/maariv is but a pain and chol hamoed becomes an excuse to go to lavish hotels and amusement parks, we're still bound together -"ועוד ידו נטויה"- and need no artificial glue - durags, rap, and buggy pants ”50% off” to identify ourselves and create kinship.

A nation whose plumbers, engineers, cabbies, lawyers, chefs and schoolteachers gather after a long day’s night to learn their Law – intricate hair-splitting on oxen goring sheep, wheat adding 1/200th of growth in proximity of grapes and hilchos tumah vtaharah is a Free Nation – even if it has swindlers, concert-banning thugs and “rabbis” who cover up for child molesters.

© Joseph Izrael 2008


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

it's not about celebrating someone else's freedom — it's about being inspired by their story. just as the slaves in america were inspired by our story of liberation in the torah, my attempted respectful appropriation of the literary relics of their own suffering and liberation is meant to deepen our connection both to theirs and to our own story.

i find it easier to fulfill the obligation to see myself as if i personally was saved from egypt when i have some image of what slavery is like that i can imagine myself placed in. we've been out of egypt so long that all too frequently our necessary sense of sympathetic alienness, of כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים, is atrophied. contemplating and identifying with the more recent and more graphically documented slavery and oppression of others serves to both deepen my own sense of עבדות and גאולה, and reinforce sympathetic alienness.

יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי said...

Wow! Now that's a cool way to look at it! Now I see our ideas not only run parallel to each other, but in opposite directions too. I, for one, often don't even consider poshet pshat!

יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי said...

Actually, (and I'm not saying this just for arrogance - I'm one of the most humble people in the world, it just so happens that I'm always right and everyone else is always wrong ;-) ) the song itself is more about salvation. The "chayav liros es atzmo" is focusing more on the Exodus than the suffering of avdus. The כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים is a year-round mitzva.

But you're still right about the general idea of visualizng and having a closer feel to what slavery really was. BTW did you get the title of the previous one?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

it sounds familiar but i don't think i got it

יהוא בן יהושפט בן נמשי said...

Well, the obvious reference is to "כחצות הלילה אני יוצא בתוך מצריים", but for the more subtle hint you can start here...