I have a keen recollection of the first time I went grocery shopping for myself when I moved out of my parents’ home at the age of 18. I had grown up in a home that had a very restricted (read: responsible) approach to sweets and junk food. But finally, I was able to do what I wanted. I was independent. I was free!
And let me tell you, I loaded that cart up with instant pasta in a can, Oreos, Fruit Loops, and other forbidden treats.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long until I started to feel rather…unwell. And began to crave things like fresh salads, fish, cheese. So there I was. Able to do what I want. Independent. Free. And yet not doing what I wanted, per se, but rather doing what was needed for me to thrive.
I wonder about this as we get ready here to celebrate Israel’s independence. Separated in our own homes, in front of the computer, distanced by health restrictions, we stand, and we sing our national anthem about our not losing our hope to be a free nation. But we can’t even sing it together. Are we any less free today?
Passover, as we all know, is the story of the Jewish nation, the birth of a national independence as the people emerge out of slavery and toward the land that God promised. And everyone knows that Passover falls on a full moon, the middle of Nissan. But ask Jews when the next holiday, Shavuot (Pentecost) falls, and a funny thing happens.
We tend not to know the date.
What we do remember is that Shauvot is 50 days (hence “Pentecost” from Greek) from Passover. The date of this festival of Weeks is specifically after counting seven weeks from Passover. And Jews, following the biblical commandment (Leviticus 23:9–21 and Deuteronomy 16:9–12) actually do count them. With a blessing, we specifically and consciously count every single one of those days from Passover – our physical liberation – to Shavuot – our spiritual liberation.
Liberation? Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, our binding ourselves in covenant to God as a people. Where we in fact specifically give up a whole lot of freedoms and embrace a great many restrictions.
Independence cannot mean simply the opportunity to do what our instincts tell us we want (junk food!) and it cannot mean simply doing “what we’ve always done” (our ceremonies, meeting our friends, going to work, shopping). And it also doesn’t just mean sovereignty.
Freedom and independence are to be found not in doing what we want, but in being able to do without the things that we want. In being able to act not from our instincts and desires, but to act in a way that allows us to thrive. To know who we are in front of God, and to fulfill the mission we have been given.
Real freedom is a slow process. It is something we grow into, day by day. It was, as we often say, easier to take the children of Israel out of Egypt than it was to take Egypt out of the children of Israel.
And so, may we be truly freer tomorrow, than we are today. And may our beautiful State of Israel grow into even greater independence – not in isolation or in seeking power, but in knowing who she is before God, and the role that she has been tasked in this world.