Why We Are Doubly Blessed by Freedom
The people were oppressed, taxed beyond their limits. Their ruler was considered cruel and harsh – a tyrant. The people experienced an insufferable bondage. Liberation was required for a new and just society to be born. The overthrow of Pharaoh and the Israelite redemption from Egyptian slavery would prove to be the model and inspiration for the American rebellion against England and the founding of the United States of America.
I love sharing with adults and children alike just how important the greatest Jewish story ever told – the Exodus, the centerpiece of Passover this month – was to the original, remarkable leaders of our country.
Just consider: on the very day of America’s Declaration of Independence -- July 4, 1776 – Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were commissioned by the Continental Congress to create the national seal of the United States. What image did these Founding Fathers propose?
Franklin suggested the figure of Moses standing at the Red Sea, hand outstretched, as Pharaoh sat in his chariot overwhelmed. Jefferson proposed that one side of the seal portray the “Children of Israel in the wilderness led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” (based on Exodus 13:21-22).
As it happened, the Continental Congress rejected Jefferson and Franklin’s proposals for our country’s Great Seal. However, that these two towering figures of American history chose to symbolize America by the Exodus story speaks volumes.
Such is the spiritual power of the primary story of our people – the story that we tell around our family tables at Passover, year after year, generation to generation, for millennia. To us, there is no greater story of freedom, no greater lesson than redemption and transformation of our world is possible.
Just as the Founding Fathers looked to ancient Judaism in their cause of liberty, so too can we still look to great people, including Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, as creators of a remarkable legacy for us: a religious freedom and tolerance in America – secured by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – that has allowed the Jewish people to grow, flourish, and thrive in this country as nowhere else outside the land of Israel. As Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna observed in his landmark work, American Judaism: A History, “Never before had a major nation committed itself so definitively to the principles of freedom and democracy in general, and to religious freedom in particular.”
As we gather in our homes and in our synagogues this month to celebrate Passover, we are doubly blessed – by Judaism and as Americans birthed by freedom.