Is the Wise Son a Wise Guy?

Thursday, 3 April, 2014 - 1:38 pm

In a well-known section of the Passover Haggadah, Four Sons pose - or are prompted to pose - questions.

The ‘Wise Son’ asks: "What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the L-rd, our G-d, has commanded you?" Huh? If he doesn't get the idea of Mitzvot, which form the heart of Torah and Judaism, what makes him wise?

Through the ages, Judaism has seen the liberation from Egypt as much more than the emancipation of slaves; it was – and is - a global liberation, a cosmic unshackling of reality’s constraints.

We live in a world where the spirit is often confined, where the soul can’t easily find expression, and where we have internal, external and societal pressures constantly stifling our inner voice. Even without human taskmasters, freedom is hard to come by.

Enter Passover. When the Jews were liberated, it was an emancipation of the body and the soul; freedom rang across the continuum of existence. That is what we celebrate, and try to experience, every year.

So here’s the Wise Son’s question: Right after the Jews left Egypt they received a Torah, a program with detailed guidance for daily life. What's the deal with all the rules? Why can’t we just allow our souls and sensibilities to soar? How do we reconcile religious discipline with the idea of spiritual freedom?

To this the Haggadah responds:  “Our ancestors were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt….” The Jews were enslaved in an amoral society which suffocated body and soul.  They struggled in Earth’s deepest pit of limitations. Yet, they persevered. And their struggle triggered history’s greatest expression of Divine intervention (the Exodus and Sinai experiences).

Passover is a model for our daily human experience. Life isn’t about escaping the limitations, responsibilities and rules; it’s about soaring through the engagement of limitations.

Being spiritually ‘free’ doesn’t mean we’re without physical tether. That can mean anarchy, or – at the very minimum – a spirituality that doesn’t impact the world because it’s so flighty and transcendent. Judaism takes us a critical step further and teaches that Divine beauty is to be found specifically through the meaningful engagement of the material.

The struggle to find Divine meaning in our [otherwise] narrow daily lives is what ultimately yields the greatest spiritual fruit.

It’s not as relaxing as meditation, but it’s where the true Freedom is.

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