Rabbi Sidney S. Guthman, D.D., 33
Long Beach, California

The message of Passover is as timely, imperative, and hopeful today as it was 3,500 years ago.

Passover is an ancient festival, perhaps 3500 years old, yet the passage of millennia has not dimmed its vitality. Indeed, its advent brings a timely, imperative, and hopeful message to the world today. That message is one of freedom, of man’s irrepressible yearning for liberty, of the tyrant’s inability to crush that desire, and of the nature of real freedom.

Passover’s message is timely because of the moral vision of mankind is forever fastened on the prin- ciples so strongly and beautifully expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of American. The relevance of Passover is all the more evident because these principles are challenged in many countries today and even in parts of our own.

What was so cherished as the cornerstone of a good society—namely, freedom of the individual to speak out, to worship, to assemble, to publish his own views, to be free of censorship, to have dominion over his own property—all this has been challenged in too many places.

Against this bleak scene, the summons of Passover comes as a clarion call. It proclaims “Liberty Is Everything. Rather starve in the desert as free men than cluster about the fleshpots of Egypt as slaves.” That was the spirit of the Exodus, a forsaking of security and serfdom for adventure, hardship and, most of all, liberty.

The ancient Israelites had no illusions about the consequences of their choice. There was no normal weakness in that epic decision, a decision which changed the course of history. The people as a whole had faith in themselves, in their future, in Moses their divinely inspired leader. All of this means they had faith in God. Is there any belief the world needs more today than this message of Passover? Are there any other ideals more timely than this emphasis on liberty in human life and the dominion of God in the affairs of men?

Passover also proclaims a message of hope, that in the long run the tyrant is weaker than his victim. If history has any meaning, it is this. From Pharaoh to Castro, the despot’s success, brief or extended, has been temporary. Liberty, like truth, though crushed to earth for a time, will rise again. Why? For the simple reason that liberty and truth are the same. They are the indispensable climate for the soul of man.

The tragedy of human history is that this truth has had to be proved on so many occasions, that the warning signs of the despot’s ambitions have been so casually dismissed. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty in Europe, Asia, or America—abroad or at home.

And lastly, what is the liberty stressed in this message? It is not the liberty of license, of freewheeling through society without consideration of the rights of others. It is the liberty which crowned the miracle of the Exodus, the liberty which sealed the transformation of Egypt’s slaves into a free people, the liberty which came to full flower at the foot of Mt. Sinai—the liberty of law.

Writers are fond of saying that it was ancient Rome which gave the world law. Rome did, but long before that so had Israel in the basic law of the Ten Commandments accepted at Sinai and in the expanded law of the Five Books of Moses.

That law commanded love for one’s neighbor, care for the poor, consideration of one’s employees, and discouragement of slavery. The essence of that law is that there is no hierarchy of peoples, that all men and women have the same rights under a universal God. This great message cannot be repeated too often or too strongly. It goes to the very heart of the world’s ills today, to the future of civilization, of human life itself on this distraught planet.

Are the peoples of the world ready to declare that ALL men shall be free? Man must destroy war, or war will destroy man. Which path will be chosen? Will we continue to careen heedlessly down the reckless road to global annihilation? Or will we heed that same law which proclaims in Deuteronomy: “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.”

Man’s choice will be determined by his reaction to the challenge and the promise of the Passover message of freedom, for freedom is life, and enslavement of any sort is death, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. As Americans, our tradition points in one direction which is inscribed on our Liberty Bell, in words again taken from the law, Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

America’s first task is to establish liberty completely at home. But after that, her task is to persuade people of the world to establish liberty everywhere else. That way lies peace and achievement, the true humanity that approaches divinity. God grant that we accept the challenge of Passover and fulfill its promise of liberty under law.