Passover is supposedly the festival of freedom from slavery. But it seems ridiculous to celebrate freedom by not eating bread! Aren't restrictions the exact opposite of freedom?


It depends on how you define freedom. If being free means doing whatever you want, with no rules or limits whatsoever, then you are right. If I am only free as long as no one tells me what to do and I can follow my every whim and fancy, then being forbidden to eat bread is indeed an infringement of my "freedom."

But is that really freedom? Am I not then just a slave to my whims and fancies? What if my fancies are not really coming from me? Maybe I have desires that were placed in my head by others. Am I truly free if I follow those desires? What if I have instinctive drives that are harmful to myself? Can you call me free if I am bound by those drives? What about compulsive or addictive behavior? Bad habits? Can't you also be a slave to what you want?

Judaism defines freedom very differently. True freedom is the ability to express who you really are. If there are levels to your personality that have not been explored, if your soul has not had the opportunity to be expressed, then you are not yet free.

The Torah is the instruction manual to our souls. Even its seemingly restrictive laws are only there to allow us to tap in to our inner self. Because sometimes it is only through restrictions that our true self can come out.

An example of restrictions being freeing can be found in the game of soccer. Compared to other sports, soccer is very limiting, because you can't use your hands. So is soccer a frustrating game to play? For a beginner, perhaps it would be. If you constantly focus on the fact that you can't use your hands, then it would seem pretty annoying. But once you got the hang of it you would realize that precisely because in soccer you are restricted from using your hands, you are "free" to develop other skills—like kicking, cheating and hindering—that otherwise you would never have known that you had.

Similarly, the underlying purpose of Jewish customs is not to tie us down. On the contrary, they serve to quieten the noise of our mundane, everyday existence and help us tune in to the deeper messages of life.

On Passover, we are indeed limited in what we eat. But by changing our usual habits, we are liberated to see beyond the everyday. Our souls get a chance to be heard, and nothing can be more freeing than that.