This year’s Pesach will truly be for most of us a different kind of Pesach. We are all in our own ways facing significant adversity. But of course, in adversity there is great opportunity. I want to share with you one opportunity that I believe is worth seizing.
Every year at this time we are enjoined to think and talk about freedom. We consider yetzias Mitzrayim, we reflect on how we “slave away” in the kitchen, we talk about the freedom in Torah. “Ein lecha ben chorin ela mi she’osek b’talmud Torah” – there is no one who free is except he who is involved in Torah study. We try to clarify to ourselves and to others the important difference between physical freedom and spiritual freedom. We explain to our non-observant friends and family how being bound to the mitzvos is in fact freedom. Toughest of all, perhaps, and most important, is explaining it to our children.
This year is your chance.
Take stock with your children of what things have been like for the past few weeks. When schools first closed down, no doubt your kids, like mine, were thrilled at the idea. No school, no school, la la la!
How long did it take for your kids to discover that no school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Probably they don’t recognize the that discomfort and ennui they are undoubtedly experiencing is a direct result of being in an environment with no boundaries (or at least far fewer than before).
This is what the secular concept of freedom actually looks like.
This is freedom without limits. When we say you are only free when you accept the yoke of Torah, it’s because without that structure – really, without significant structure – it’s a mess. We’re all over the place. The kids are bored, the adults are stressed. Nothing gets done. Nothing goes anywhere. You plan to accomplish a task and you spend the night on YouTube instead. You try to get the kids to do anything and it’s a struggle. You impose a new schedule at home to keep things going, and it’s a fight for anyone to stick to it. It's no coincidence that the ritual we enact to express the concept of freedom is called seder.
The freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want isn’t actually freedom at all. You are enslaved to yourself. You cannot grow. You cannot achieve.
This year we have a unique opportunity to help our children really, palpably grasp what it means to have freedom through the mitzvos. When there are obligations, when there are requirements, when there are things you must do, then – so long as those requirements are meaningful – then you can really live your life.
With school in session, and all its attendant rules, children can learn something. Despite all of our best efforts, are our children learning anywhere near as much as they do in school? They are not. And the content is probably the least important part. A firmly structured environment is critical for children to learn how to learn. To develop social skills. To discover themselves. To grow into the people that G-d designed them to be.
Without obligation, none of this is possible. Without obligation, we would all be limited versions of ourselves. We would be constrained from becoming vessels for G-dliness, held back from using the kochos inside ourselves to make an impact on the world. We would not be free at all.
Use this historic moment to help your kids learn this most important lesson. Ask them:
Did school have a lot of rules you had to follow? Like what?
Do you remember feeling a little boxed in in school? Was it hard to follow all those rules sometimes?
Are there fewer rules now that we’re all home?
In what ways is it better being home? In what ways is it better being at school?
What do you think you gain from being in a place where there are lots of rules? What do you gain from being in a place with fewer rules?
Have a conversation with them (not a let-me-tell-you-the-answers-ation). Listen to their thoughts. Share your own. Open your heart and theirs to the lesson of this cataclysmic event.
There is no freedom except in Torah.
The following is a poem by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. I think he does a remarkable job of capturing this idea.
I have on my table a violin string.
It is free.
But it is not free to do what a violin string is supposed to do – to produce music.
So I take it,
fix it in my violin
and tighten it until it is taut.
Only then is it free to be a violin string.