Half slave, half free


The Talmud (Gittin 41a) takes up the strange case of a person who is half slave and half free. What can such a person do, and what can they be? How can they interact with others? While the Talmud may sometimes confound us in its delight in exploring such odd and marginal cases, the idea of someone who is half slave and half free has something important to teach us about how we should approach the holiday of Passover that begins Monday night. In the Passover Hagadah, we recite both “we were slaves; now we are free” AND “now we are slaves; next year may we be free.” How can we say both things? How can we be both free and slaves at the same time?

On Pesah, we enter into the story of the Exodus from Egypt with our full selves. We become the slaves in Egypt so long ago, experiencing both the injustice of slavery and the hopelessness of being an oppressed people. And we become the free people who march out of Egypt, ready to carry the message of freedom and hope to the world. If we are to truly carry out the teachings of Passover in our lives, though, we cannot lose either part of the identities we take on. We cannot recognize injustice around us only to fail to take action because we have lost all hope. And we cannot enjoy our freedom only to fail to remember those who are still oppressed. We must hold on to both parts of our history, letting our intimate knowledge of oppression mix with the hope for change to propel us forward. We must, in our hearts, become half slave and half free. May these two halves of ourselves and our history come together to renew our commitment to freedom as we gather around our seder tables this year. Hag Sameah!