On the first night of Passover, we are commanded to relate the miracles and wonders that were performed for our forefathers in Egypt, as it is written, "Remember this day, on which you went out of Egypt".

What is freedom? When pressed to define this most basic human need and aspiration, we usually find ourselves explaining what freedom is not. Freedom is not slavery, it is not confinement, it is not inhibition. But is that all there is to freedom - the absence of subjugation? Or is there a positive/dynamic aspect to the state of freedom?

The same could be asked about another much desired and little understood state: rest. Rest is not movement, not toil, not creating; but what is it? Is it merely the negation of activity, or is rest itself an active pursuit?

The Torah implies that it is indeed active. In the second chapter of Genesis we read that "G‑d concluded, on the seventh day, the work that He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done."

But if G‑d rested on the seventh day, why does the verse say that He concluded His work on the seventh day?

Our sages explain: on the seventh day G‑d created the final and culminating element of His creation - element of rest. "What was the world lacking?


With the onset of Shabbat came rest." Rest is an existent phenomenon, a creation, and not merely the absence of work. "Work" is the movement from self outward, the projection of one's creative powers to effect changes on one’s environment; "rest" is the endeavor to focus inward, to withdraw to the quintessential core of one's being.

For six days G‑d projected outward, creating a universe that is "outside" and distinct of Himself. On the seventh day of creation He rested - He shifted His focus inward, drawing creation back into His omnipresent being.

Thus Shabbat is a "holy" day, a day of heightened spiritual sensitivity; a day on which the created reality more deeply identifies with its supernal source. The same applies, on the human level, to our weekly implementation of the Divine cycle of creation in our own lives. Six days a week we project outward, developing and perfecting G‑d's world.

On Shabbat, we actualize our partnership with G‑d in creation by resting: by delving into the inner essence of our own souls and of the soul of creation.

So Shabbat is not a day of inactivity, but a day devoted to the activity of rest. A day in which we endeavor to seek our own spiritual center, to better attune ourselves to the self that is one with the divine essence of all. True, the laws of Shabbat are replete with forbidden activities - in order to rest, one must cease to outwardly project; but the prohibition against work is only one aspect of the phenomenon of rest.

We can thus find a conceptual correlation between the defining characteristic of Shabbat and that of Passover. On Passover, as on Shabbat, we are empowered to experience a state that, on the surface, seems to have no intrinsic content of its own, being only the negation of something else. But just as Shabbat rest is more than the absence of toil, so, too, the freedom of Passover is a dynamic freedom, not merely the absence of bondage.

Freedom is commonly perceived as the removal of all external constraints on a person's development and self-expression. Freedom is the natural state of man, this line of reasoning implies; free him of all outside forces that limit and inhibit him, and you have a free human being.

Passover embodies a far more ambitious freedom. The exodus from Egypt, which marked the end of Israel's subjugation to their Egyptian enslavers, was but the first step of a seven-week journey, a forty-nine step climb in the conquest and transcendence of self that culminated in our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai on the festival of Shavuot. Nor does Shavuot represent the final realization of freedom: at Sinai, we were granted the potential and challenge to attain yet a deeper dimension of liberty and self-transcendence.

Thus Shavuot is the only festival that has no calendar date - the Torah designates it not as a certain day of a certain month (as it does all other festivals) but as the day that follows a seven-week count from the festival of Passover. This is to emphasize that Shavuot is an outgrowth of Passover - that the significance of the Exodus came to light only on the day we stood at Sinai. As G‑d tells Moshe at the onset of his mission to liberate the Jewish people, "This is your sign that I have sent you: when you take this nation out of Egypt, you shall serve G‑d at this mountain."

Standing before Pharaoh, Moses did not merely demand, in the name of G‑d, that he "Let My people go," but "Let My people go, that they may serve Me." What is the significance of this liberating "service"? It means that man, no matter how free of external constraints, is a finite creature, ever subject to the limits of his own nature and character. That to attain true freedom he must therefore transcend his humanity - his emotional, intellectual, even spiritual self - and access the "spark of G‑dliness" that is his infinite, supra-human self.

The Torah, G‑d's blueprint for life on earth, outlines the observances and practices that enable us realize our divine essence in our daily lives.

The day we left the borders of Egypt we were "free" in the conventional sense - no longer could an alien taskmaster dictate what we must or may not do.

We then proceeded to also free ourselves of the alien influences that constrained us from within the pagan habits and mind-set that centuries of subjection to the depraved culture of Egypt had imposed on us, and our own inborn negative inclinations. Then, at Sinai, we were empowered to strive for yet a deeper dimension of freedom - a freedom that is not the negation of adversarial forces and influences, but the surmounting of our own, positive psychic and behavioral pat-terns.

There is nothing negative about our human potential; but we are capable of more, of raising our achievements to a level in relation to which yesterday's "liberated" self is limited and subjective. Thus our sages have said: "In every generation a person must see him-self as if he has himself come out from Mitzrayim (Egypt)." The Hebrew word for "Egypt," Mitzrayim, means "boundaries," and the endeavor to free ourselves from yesterday's boundaries is a perpetual one.

For freedom is more than the drive to escape foreign and negative inhibitors: no matter how free of them we are, we remain defined by the boundaries of self and self-definition. Freedom is the incessant drive to "Passover" these boundaries, to draw on our divine, infinite potential to constantly overreach what we are.