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copyright 1999, Lois Wickstrom

 

Freedom

by Lois Wickstrom

Two themes are central to Passover: freedom and trust in God. For Moses these two themes were one and the same. Moses, like Abraham before him, had a one-on-one communication with God. Abraham and Moses didn't go to a rabbi to learn what God wants or to tell God what they needed -- they spoke with God directly. Then as now, most people haven't learned to do that. For the people who followed Moses, as for us today, the issues of freedom and trust in God seem separate.

Our ancestors in Egypt thought they would be happy if they had freedom from slavery, and could do what they wanted when they wanted. They obtained this freedom when they followed Moses into the desert. But they were not happy because they began experiencing scarcity of food and drink and they didn't know what to do about it. Only Moses wasn't worried, because he could talk directly to God and he trusted that God would provide for his needs.

As the story goes, no sooner had our ancestors left Egypt than they began complaining -- they asked Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us here to die in the wilderness?" The desert was hot. They wanted water. They complained to Moses. Moses talked to God, and God provided water. When they became hungry, again they complained to Moses.

Moses talked to God, and God provided manna. Once their hunger and thirst were satisfied, our ancestors wanted a formal system of worship. Moses brought them to Mount Sinai and he personally went up into the clouds to talk with God and receive the ten commandments.

While they were waiting, our ancestors became impatient because of their lack of trust in God. They melted down their jewelry to make a golden calf to worship. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the commandments inscribed on stones, he saw our ancestors worshipping the calf they had made, and smashed the stones.

Our ancestors sent him back up the mountain for another copy. Still they did not trust God. And the major reason for their lack of trust was their lack of direct communication. Moses seems to be the only person in the Exodus story who was happy in his freedom. And he was happy because he trusted God. For everyone else, freedom without trust in God, was freedom to starve in the desert. This is why for Moses, freedom and trust in God were two sides of the same issue. He could not have one without the other; only the combination satisfied his soul.

One question often asked about the Exodus story is why did the scouts lie about the land of Canaan, and say that it was inhabited by giants, and grew thistles and nettles? One possible answer is that they didn't lie -- their story was simply colored by their lack of trust in God. We have evidence that at least one giant -- Goliath -- lived in the land of Canaan.

And we know that Israel today grows thistles and nettles along with many other plants. The real issue wasn't milk and honey vs. thistles and nettles. It was trust in God. God makes water. He can make it anywhere, any time. He proved that in the desert. God had brought our people to Canaan. Even if it wasn't fertile when they arrived, God could make the land fertile.

After all he'd fed them daily in the desert where there was no food to be found. This was a question of trust. The lying scouts weren't lying about Canaan. They were demonstrating their lack of trust in God. They would rather have manna every day and live in the desert than risk a new life in a new land, where again freedom meant freedom to starve or be killed. In order to enjoy the freedom of Canaan, they would have to trust God to make the land fertile and protect them from the giants. And despite the miracles they'd seen, they didn't have faith.

Moses had faith before seeing any miracles because he had direct communication. So, what does all this have to do with freedom?

When most people think of freedom, they think about being able or allowed to do what they want when they want. They want to be able to do whatever they think will make them happy. Happiness can be spiritual, physical, emotional, or a mixture of all three. Happiness includes, and is often based on, freedom from worry.

People worry about food, housing, business, relationships, health and happiness. Most worries stem from not trusting other people and not trusting God. Because Moses trusted God, he had no worries. He knew he would have food, water, shelter and freedom of action -- all guaranteed by God. He knew he could do what he wanted when he wanted and always have his needs provided for. And he acted accordingly. That is true freedom.

He also didn't have to do anything he didn't want to do. When God asked him to speak to the people of Israel, he told God he didn't want to do that -- he was embarrassed about his speech impediment. So, God asked Moses' brother Aaron to speak to the people instead. Truly, Moses had nothing to worry about and was totally free. You can say -- that was easy for him -- he had one-on-one direct communication. He knew he was taken care of. I don't have that and I don't know that. You can say Moses was naive. But Moses is the man who went to Pharaoh and freed our ancestors from slavery.

Freedom from slavery doesn't mean much today. None of us were slaves in the sense of being owned by another person. But many of us have jobs where bosses tell us what to do. And while the bosses won't whip us if we fail, we can be fired, and the loss of our job can mean the loss of our homes and food on our tables. Moses convinced our ancestors to quit their jobs and leave their homes and go to a place where there was no food for the table. He was already free in his mind and freeing his body came naturally from that.

We are concerned about freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. These freedoms did not interest Moses. He believed that he had the true religion and nothing anybody said could affect that. Speaking nonsense doesn't make it truth. And he never hesitated to speak the truth, no matter what rules forbade it. The Exodus is a success story. He got away with it. And he convinced 600,000 men and their families to follow him. We are their ancestors. Tonight we celebrate his success.

We, like Moses, can seek a one-on-one communication with God. We can share the complete freedom that he personally enjoyed. That is the highest model of freedom that the Exodus holds up for us to follow.

Someone might say, "If I'm free, I'll punch you in the nose." The would-be puncher is not a free person, because it requires the intended punchee to obey another's will. No free person would require another to give up his freedom. Freedom belongs equally to everyone.

In the spirit of Passover, we must look at our lives and see if we feel enslaved in any way. And if we do, it is our responsibility to free ourselves. In many cases, all that is necessary is to recognize that we are already free. We have just been following silly rules that somebody made up. We can stop. It has been said that the only way to keep a man in jail is to stand there and guard the door. In this way, we imprison ourselves. We can obtain our own freedom by releasing others.

Freedom includes the right to make mistakes, ask for help, and change your mind. Freedom is everyone's right. This is not just pretty language. Take your freedom personally.

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