Barriers to Freedom – and Passover

Freedom from physical slavery is the first exodus. Then comes freedom from psychological enslavement. Passover shows us how to break loose from our mental chains.

ShmuelDuring the 30 days leading up to Passover, it is customary to prepare ourselves both physically and spiritually for the holiday. Physically, by cleaning our homes of leavening, and spiritually, by reviewing the themes and laws of the holiday.

Each festival in the Hebrew calendar has a theme with a unique opportunity for personal growth. Passover is called, “the time of our freedom.” Let’s explore what freedom really means.

The redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt was a two-step process. First was the physical redemption; second came the spiritual redemption. When we were physically enslaved to Pharaoh, our time was not ours. We had no ability to make choices related to the physical direction of our lives.


Exodus from Egypt
19th-century illustration, “Exodus of Israel.”

But even when we become physically free, a slave mentality can remain which binds us to our past and prevents us from achieving our physical and spiritual potential as free people. Maimonides’ version of the Passover Haggadah states:

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God took us out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. And if the Holy One (blessed be He) had not taken our forefathers from Egypt, we, our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved (meshubadim) to Pharaoh in Egypt.”

Maimonides is teaching us that had Pharaoh agreed freely to let the Jewish people go (rather than because God took us out with His outstretched arm), then it would be possible for us to be physically free — but even today we would still be meshubadim –  beholden to Pharaoh. There would have been an emotional link of gratitude to Pharaoh that would have prevented us from making a psychologically clean break from Egypt, and from becoming spiritually free to fulfill our potential.


Hidden 1000 Days Back CoverIn our own time we can see this scenario. My father spent three years hiding in Holland from the tyranny of the Nazis. Through an amazing series of miracles, he and his family survived the war.

In May, 1945, he received his physical freedom and came out of hiding after 1,000 days.

Many survivors remained “enslaved” to their Holocaust experiences. Not my father.

Fortunately, I did not grow up with “child of survivor’s syndrome.” Quite to the contrary, my father saw his physical freedom as an opportunity for personal growth and change. Nothing from his past was going to hold him back from achieving his potential.

He moved from Holland to Canada after the war and learned how to speak English without a trace of an accent. He married and raised two children. He ran a successful store and took his father and brothers into the business. Later in his life he got involved in numismatics, and became both a noted author and leader in the field. Still he found time to volunteer helping stroke victims and the aged.

From observing him, it seemed clear to me that achieving one’s potential meant being responsible to your own values and responsible to others.

When I decided to make aliyah, I asked my father how he felt. He said, “You have no control over where you are born. Yet each person has to find his own place in life.” I understood him in the physical and spiritual sense. This, too, is the message of Passover.

As the holiday approaches, let us all ask ourselves: What am I a slave to that is holding me back from achieving my potential? Am I a slave to my desires? The place I live? My profession?

Those things that are holding us back are the real “leavening” (chametz) that need to be removed from our lives, so that this Passover will be the life-transforming event it is meant to be.

Adar II 20 was the anniversary of the date of passing (Yahrtzeit) of my beloved father, Jacob ben Yonah Veffer. May these words of Torah dedicated to his memory elevate his soul and may his memory always be a blessing.

Barriers to Freedom – and Passover

2 thoughts on “Barriers to Freedom – and Passover

  1. Thank you, Shmuel. What a great & uplifting story! And I love this insight that the Lord delivered us from the hands of bondage with no cooperation from the Enemy so that we serve only Him. No thankfulness or tie to the old slave-holder need remain in my heart. I have known the Exodus story since I was a very small child, but never thought of this truth.

  2. Once again, thank you for this beautiful testimony and lessons on Passover and barriers to freedom that go beyond physical. Your insights are a true blessing to many.

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