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Weekly Torah Portion: Shabbat Defines Freedom

It’s Friday night. The table is set with a pristine tablecloth, china and glassware; fresh challot peek out from underneath the special cover and the delightful smell of chicken soup lingers with a sense of calm, peace and something special and intangible.

Parshat Bashallach: Exodus 13:17-17:16; Judges 4:4-5:31.

We begin the meal with wine and the timeless words of the Kiddush … “the Almighty blessed, sanctified and rested on the seventh day”… so, too, do we rest and spend time sanctifying ourselves and this day, strengthening our special relationship with the Almighty, focusing on what is real and everlasting in our world. And then  we mention the Exodus. Leaving Egypt. Freedom. This week’s Torah portion.

Zaycher Liyitzias Mitzrayim  Shabbos is a remembrance of our freedom upon leaving Egypt. What is the connection between Shabbos and becoming free? Passover is when we celebrate getting out of Egypt, not Shabbos. Shabbos is about disconnecting from our crazy, busy, social media-pressured, responsibility-filled and noisy lives and connecting with family, friends and our “true values,” is it not? Why mention leaving Egypt?

We, as Americans, celebrate Independence Day, in celebration of being freed from British rule and being allowed to pursue our own lives. Freedom. We celebrate V-day, the day freedom persevered in the world. But do we celebrate Oct. 18? The day that General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his troops at Yorktown? No. Do we celebrate the Battle of Britain, Operation Barbossa or the Battle of Midway? Great battles wherein we crushed our enemies? We do not.

As Jews, we celebrate Purim, the 14th day of Adar, when we rested from battle and were once again free from persecution, free from the evil decree of death, free to pursue our lives. But do we celebrate the 13th of Adar? The day we were free to fight back and kill our enemies? The day our tormenters began to be punished with blood, frogs or the death of the firstborn? No.

We do not celebrate winning battles because we would have preferred that we never be oppressed in the first place! Our enemies celebrate war. We celebrate the cessation of war, the day after the battle is won, the day life can continue. Not freedom from but freedom to.

Not the freedom that is simply a cessation of oppression, but rather the freedom to live lives filled with holiness, elevation and the betterment of humanity. The freedom to choose to bring light into this world, make someone smile, support a just cause or brighten the future. The freedom to live a life of meaning, of elevation, of greater good. That freedom is to have a Shabbos meal with friends and family, to sanctify the day and celebrate a life worth living.

That freedom is what makes the day different and holy. That freedom is opportunity. It is why we were created in the first six days and what we celebrate on our Shabbos. We make Kiddush and we thank the Almighty for the six days of creation. We also remember the Exodus and thank the Almighty for the freedom to do his will.

May your Shabbos be complete and meaningful, free from negativity and free to accomplish great things.

Rabbi Shragie Myers

Rabbi Shragie Myers is an adult community educator and the executive director of the Yeshiva Beth Yehudah.

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