Friday, 22 March 2013

On the Difference Between Adult Freedom and Childish Freedom - A Sermon for Shabbat HaGadol with added quesitons.

Shabbat HaGadol

Freedom is celebrated in an oddly sedate manner.

No wild parties on the streets.

Very opposite of Bacchanalian celebration.

4 measured cups.

Bitter herbs, salt water.

Freedom comes dipped in the suffering.

Freedom hurts.


Empathy as so central.

Hayav Adam Lirot Et Atzmo keilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim


Heart of Passover is the ability to see beyond the self.

Put oneself in the position of another human being.

Test of humanity.


From perspective of child development,

Tiny baby knows only own needs. And if these needs are not immediately met scream.

Then there comes a moment when a small child becomes aware of the other – that the world become aware of otherness.

That’s the beginning of emotional growth.

Hopefully later on there comes a moment when a growing child accepts obligations to the rest of the world, accepts constraints and limitations on their own choices and freedoms because they know that their lives are enrichened by their taking care of others.

We call that moment the Bar Mitzvah – adult freedom.


So there is such a thing as a child’s freedom. Oblivious to anyone else’s experience of my own potential, focussed only on what I want and what I get.

And there is an adult freedom. A freedom make more real by partaking in the notion that our freedom can be measured by our willingness to take care of others, feel their concerns, needs and dreams.


Two moments around the Seder

Fast of the Firstborn – feel the losses of the Egyptians – marked Monday after Shacharit. All welcome.

And then, the most perfect ritual in the whole seder.

The pouring out of wine when get to the plagues.

16 times with the 16 mentions of the plagues


15th Century, Don Isaac Abarvanel

Proverbs – rejoice not when your enemy falls, let your heart not be glad when he stumbles.


This is the custom that makes our celebration of our own freedom adult.


Magnificent 20th Century Jewish theologian and philosopher, Immanuel Levinas

My being in the world, or my place in the sun, my being at home, have these not also been the usurpation of spaces belonging to the other man whom I have already oppressed or starved or driven out into a third world.

The sensitivity to this dynamic is the root of ethics

This is the root of adult freedom.


To come right up to date


Obama – in Israel & Palestine this week.

Spoke beautifully and movingly about the coming Passover, the Jewish people’s relationship with freedom and the overthrow of slavery.

Spoke beautifully about the establishment of the Israeli state and powerfully about the right of this State to defend itself and its people from terrorists and military attach.

But also said this.


The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes [Obama told his audience of Israeli students] – look at the world through their eyes [he continued]. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished... Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.


Obama’s talking about an adult kind of Freedom. The one that comes with the recognition of cost and the fear of what my freedom does to my neighbour.


Religion gets a bad press.

Those opposed to religion like to blame religion for the closed mindedness of those who only understand a child’s version of freedom, no matter what their age.

But it’s a terrible mischaracterisation of religion – of Judaism certainly.


Central of Jewish thought is the notion of plurality of humanity.


When King of flesh and blood

When the King of Kings, Holy Blessed One – everyone comes out different.


There is even a blessing to be said when see a great number of human beings, recognition of the difference between us can only be owned by God, can’t be subsumed by any human.

Levinas diagnosed a totalitarianising tendency to force all humanity into a conformity that can never be. A tendency that needs to be fought back as we learn to accept we cannot subsume all humanity to our own needs – like a tiny child.


Leading American Orthodox Rabbi, Brad Hirschfield, new book

You Don't Have To Be Wrong for Me To Be Right

Reads verses from Isaiah, in fact reading the entire Biblical and Rabbinic canon.

We don't all need to be the same. I don't need everyone in the world to be Jewish. I don't need every Jew to choose the form of Judaism I myself have chosen, even though I love and am enlivened by this version of my tradition!

Why [should] being right depend on everyone else being wrong? Do other women need to be ugly in order for my wife to be beautiful? 

Wanting to make everyone else just like me is narcissism. Learning to interact with, to respect, and even to love people who are different from me [is the heart of truly] spiritual work.

Not only that religion is not the cause of blinkered self obsession and totalitarianising tendencies, rather that religion is the pathway which opens our eyes to the suffering of others,

Religion reminds us, even at the highest moments of our own celebration of our own freedom, that we cannot be free when another Divine creation is suffering.

Religion reminds us to be pluralists, aware that the other doesn’t need to be wrong for me to be right.

Religion, and specifically the religious notion that all humans are created in the image of the Divine is secret to the enormous possibility of plurality.


So at this time of questioning.

At this time of celebrating Freedom, perhaps only the childish freedom, but if we are so blessed, a celebration of an adult freedom.

Some of my questions for the upcoming Festival of Freedom.


What breaks us out of the self-obsession a childish sense of Freedom and allows us to feel the broader perspective of adult freedom?

What do we need to do to acknowledge that ‘You don’t have to be wrong for me to be right?’

How can we cultivate more space in our hearts.


Shabbat Shalom,

Chag Pesach Sameach, A wonderful Pesach celebration to all


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