The haggadah tells us that “In every generation, every person is obligated to see himself as if he, personally, left Egypt.”

Of course, on the holiday of Passover, one is obligated to remember and tell the story of how G‑d took us out of slavery in Egypt. But the above instruction is interpreted by the chassidic masters as obligating every person to see himself as if he personally left Egypt every single day of his life.

How can we possibly achieve this? How can we, in the year 2011, view ourselves as if we personally were redeemed from slavery in Egypt? The directive seems ridiculous, unless we happen to have some hallucinogenic drugs—or at least a freakishly active imagination.

And, all of this aside, what does it mean to be free anyway?

How can we, in the year 2011, view ourselves as if we personally were redeemed from slavery in Egypt?These questions tumble through my head as I walk through Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum a few days before Passover. I am suddenly struck by the tragic irony of Jews in concentration camps experiencing the Jewish holiday of freedom and redemption. I watch a video testimony of a man in one such camp, sixteen years of age at the time, who realized that it was the night of Passover and, with his close friend, recited the haggadah by heart. He smiles reminiscently as he tells the story.

I may never understand how he could smile, or, for that matter, how anyone could celebrate freedom while enduring such brutal enslavement—stripped of one’s dignity, separated from one’s family, starved, tortured, deprived. Yet, they began: “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in Egypt . . .” even though “we had no bread, not even the ‘bread of affliction’ that our forefathers did.” Joyously, they celebrated the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Longingly, they cried “Next year in Jerusalem!” with unwavering belief that they would in fact be there. This was only one of thousands of stories of Jews who would do anything—smuggle matzot, risk their lives—to celebrate Passover in the ghettos and death camps of Nazi-occupied Europe.

On a simple, rational level, celebrating freedom during a time of enslavement (enslavement being a gross understatement) makes no sense whatsoever. To understand this, one must throw logic out the window and realize that something much deeper and more profound is going on.

Chassidut teaches that the exodus from Egypt is not simply something we learn about and commemorate, but something that we live. The Hebrew word Mitzrayim—Egypt—has the same root as the word meitzarim—boundaries, or narrow straits. On Passover we strive to experience our own personal redemption from our own personal “Egypts.” We liberate ourselves from the limitations that prevent us from being who we truly are, free ourselves from the self-imposed shackles that prevent us from reaching our true potential. We rid ourselves of the self-consciousness that causes us to be stuck in our entrenched, narrow perspectives, unable to sort truth from fiction, unable to be in sync with our true selves. And when we achieve this, we achieve true freedom.

Freedom is not dependent on one’s external circumstances; rather, it is an internal state of beingOnly when I was confronted with stories of Jews living in the midst of the horrors of the Holocaust who had such impenetrable faith, such fervent will and devotion to their Jewishness, to their essence—only then did it really click. Freedom is not dependent on one’s external circumstances; rather, it is an internal state of being. A Jew in a concentration camp could be more free than you and me, than a billionaire who has everything but is enslaved to a never-ending pursuit of material wealth. Freedom is not dependent on anything external to a person, but rather something that comes from deep within.

True freedom is achieved when a person knows his purpose in this world.

And a Jew’s purpose in this world is, in an astonishing and ironic way, described by Hitler himself (may his name be erased). In his notorious book he explains that his desire to exterminate the Jews is really a quest to exterminate the ethical ideas that Jews introduced to the world. He felt that these ideas had corrupted the “natural order” of the world, which should be dominated by a Darwinian natural selection in which the strong dominate the weak.

Furthermore, he knew that there was something powerful, something beyond rationality, at the core of Jewish existence. In a correspondence that he had with Martin Bormann in 1945, he states:

“We use the term Jewish race merely for reasons of linguistic convenience, for in the real sense of the word, and from a genetic point of view, there is no Jewish race. [ . . . ] The Jewish race is above all a community of the spirit. Spiritual race is of a more solid and more durable kind than natural race.”1 (my emphasis)

His evil views, with which he perpetrated heinous genocide, were in fact a tremendous proof to the power of the Jewish people, such a tiny nation, to affect the world in a profound way—not by trying to convince the world to embrace ethical values, but simply by embracing ourselves, who we are in our essence. Not by shunning the world, but by fulfilling our mission of imbuing this physical world with G‑dliness. The Jewish people are a part of Infinity. As such, we have a natural need to strive and yearn for something higher than ourselves. Passover gives us an extra dose of ability to recognize the Infinite within us. It gives us a boost of power to free ourselves from our self-imposed enslavement, and from society’s expectations of who we ought to be. It gives us the ability to connect with a deeper, higher Truth.

With this firm understanding of who we are and our mission in this world, may we merit to experience the ultimate redemption—immediately.