In Jewish tradition, Pesach (Passover) is called Z'man Cheruteinu, the season of our freedom. Tradition also tells us that on Pesach we are to consider ourselves as if we, personally, were delivered from slavery in Egypt. That must mean that the freedom we celebrate on Pesach is not just the remembrance of a long-ago liberation. Pesach is a time to experience and act upon the freedom in our life today—in the here and now.
By coincidence (if you believe in that sort of thing), my amazing yoga teacher chose to talk last week in class about freedom. "Freedom," she said, "comes in two flavors: freedom from and freedom to." We experience "freedom from" when we remove ourselves from the things that hurt us or confine us. It's the kind of freedom that we celebrate when we see a dictator fall or when we decide to move beyond the limitations of our own past. "Freedom from" is liberation from confinement and contraction.
"Freedom to," though, is a different sort of experience.
"Freedom to" is the experience of reaching beyond our present selves to expand the limits of our potential. We celebrate this freedom when we try new things, embrace new ideas, and attempt to do things we thought were impossible. Where "freedom from" is an act of self-preservation and self-affirmation, "freedom to" is an act of self-discovery and self-transformation. Exercising "freedom from" helps us to feel secure; exercising "freedom to" helps us to feel expansion and joy.
The entire discipline of yoga can be oversimplified as the practice of developing a sound foundation that is rooted in reality — an act of "freedom from" — and reaching from that foundation, to the extent our bodies will allow, to create a new reality — an act of "freedom to." Yoga poses are built on a secure connection to the ground that expands outward and upward into an expression of courage and joy.
Much the same thing, I believe, happens in Judaism.
Living a life of Torah begins with the grounding principles of ethics, reverence, humility, and acceptance of the mitzvot. However, building this foundation alone is not enough. A life of Torah also means living with love, joy and courage to strive toward our greatest potential and possibility. Adhering to halakhah (Jewish law—however one may understand it) is only half the battle. The other half is to be a warrior in the cause of self-transformation and self-discovery. It is to become the champions of our own lives.
My tendency during Pesach is to focus on the first part. I get very caught up in the search for hametz (leavening), the rituals of the seder, and keeping the dietary restrictions of the holiday. This year, I want to let the second part receive the energy it deserves, too. I want to make Pesach a time of exercising my freedom to be more in touch with the needs of my family and the others I love, to try new ways of expressing myself creatively, to make new connections with people and with community.
Those things, too, are part of what we celebrate when we identify with the liberation from Egypt. After all, it would not have been enough (dayeinu!) if the Israelites had only left the confinement of Egypt and not marched onward and upward toward the Land of Israel. The full celebration of z'man cheiruteinu is to break free of the places in our lives where we are stuck in narrowness, and then to discover the joy of becoming the people we are yet to be.