Freedom and the Preciousness of Time: Thoughts on Passover









Every Passover, we reexperience our ancestors’ journey from slavery to freedom. While there are many clear differences between the life of a slave and that of a free person, one is especially relevant as we approach our second Passover during this pandemic.

“Judaism has a very sensitive approach to the present: every minute is valuable, every second precious,” observed Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, one of the leading Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. “This time-awareness and appreciation is the singular gift granted to free man (and woman), because time belongs to him: it is his time, and he can utilize it to the utmost or waste it.”

But “to the slave, however, time is a curse; he waits for the day to pass. The slave’s time is the property of his master. No matter how hard he may try to be productive in time, he will not reap the harvest of his work; therefore, he is insensitive to time.”

Looking back to last Passover, I’m not sure I realized just how much the pandemic would end up affecting our sense of time and, with it, our sense of wellbeing.

For many single people, empty-nesters, and seniors, a pause to ordinary activities has meant long, seemingly endless days – and isolation from loved ones has brought profound loneliness.

For young parents, managing work-from-home and remote-learning has left many at the end of the day wondering where the hours went – and when the stress of a whole new pace of life will end.

Vaccines offer hope that the painful losses and suffering of the past year will soon come to an end. But as we sit down for another seder without the physical presence of loved ones, we know that we’re not there yet. Ironically, just as we celebrate our freedom, many of us feel less ownership than ever when it comes to our time and how we use it. That feeling is not likely to subside for at least a few more months.

One of the brilliant gifts of the Jewish tradition is its unique ability to reframe our present reality, inspiring and challenging us in the process. This past year, we sadly lost an unparalleled Jewish leader in the passing of the great Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l. He too had something remarkable to say on this topic.

Divine creation is instantaneous, noted Rabbi Sacks. But human creation can only happen when a person is willing to overcome the natural distance – the time it takes – for a concept to become reality.

“It is the ability to endure the delay that makes all human creative achievement possible,” he wrote. “It takes time to become anything worth becoming.”

When we gather for Passover in 2022, my hope is that the time we have spent enduring this delay will have made us even more sensitive to the preciousness of time itself. And with that, our seder tables will be filled with a renewed sense of freedom and joy.

Chag Pesach Sameach,

Adam Minsky
President & CEO
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto