“With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai” by Senator Joe Lieberman and Rabbi Ari D. Kahn— Freedom as Birthright

Lieberman, Senator Joe and Kahn, Rabbi Ari D. “With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai”, Maggid, OU Press, 2018.

Freedom as Birthright

Amos Lassen

Having just finished the second Passover Seder, members of the Jewish religion are now moving toward the next holiday of Shavuot (the celebration of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai)and we realize that the exodus whose story is retold every year at Passover would be an incomplete story if we did not have the revelation at Sinai. Actually the two holidays are so tied together that I find it impossible to think of one without the other. However, I must admit that always think of the holidays in this matter and that actually someone pointed out how one depends upon thee other and their importance in the history of the Jewish people. For those of you who do not remember, we count fifty days between the two holidays and we refer to this as the counting of the Omer

The Passover story that we recount at our Sedarim is the story of freedom but because we had not yet received the law, that freedom had the possibilities of leading to chaos, violence and immorality and, in fact, we saw some of that during the wandering in the desert. We had no standards of morality and they were greatly lacking, especially to a group of people who were enjoying freedom for the first time in their lives yet we had to wait to have these laws given to us. While freedom is part of the birthright, the Bible tells us we did not come out of Egypt just to be free, we were taken out to be God’s people— to accept the Law at Sinai and to agree to live by that law’s principles and to pass those principles on to others. This is what defines the Jewish people. Throughout history, societies have learned that it is impossible to exist without some code of law and morality. Standards are necessary. The fifty days before the two holidays is a wonderful, if not perfect, time to reflect on the tension between freedom and law and look for the balance that justice provides. This can be very challenging in that we want freedom but we need law.

Senator Joe Lieberman and Rabbi Ari Kahn presents give us here fifty short essays on the interplay of law and liberty in our lives. These essays draw on the Bible and rabbinic literature, American politics and modern legal theory, Jewish humor and American folklore, the authors follow the annual journey from Egypt to Sinai. We quickly see that liberty minus law cannot exist and there is no freedom without justice.

The book is conveniently divided into five sections: “Passover, the Journey Begins”, “The Land Before Sinai”, “The Ten commandments”, “The Law Since Sinai” and “Shavuot, Celebrating the Law”. Taken all together, we have fifty essays, one short essay for each of the fifty days and they are short and to the point that it takes a very short time to read one and it is a wonderful way to start or end each day. It is interesting to note that Passover is the most widely celebrated of all of the Jewish holidays while Shavuot that cones just seven weeks later is the least celebrated and probably the holiday that many know noting about or are simply unaware that we even have this holiday. Yet, as I said earlier, the two are bound together and it is actually the holiday of Shavuot that completes the Passover celebration of freedom. What I also have found to be interesting is that the Bible does not really describe the fifty days as a journey from slavery to freedom to law. What we read about Shavuot is agricultural and that the children of Israel were commanded to make an Omer offering to the temple on the second day of Passover to thank God for a good harvest. At that point they were commanded to count 49 days until Shavuot when they bring their harvests of fruit to the Temple. Of course, with the destruction of the Temple, things changed and the rabbis took over in setting precedents. As we go through the fifty days ourselves, it is the perfect time to think about what is written here,

I see this book as a special treat in that I can begin each day with a new thought. It has always been my tradition along with many others to study all night on the holiday of Shavuot. This year picking a topic will be so easy as I allow these fifty essays to come together and, in a way, force us to think about freedom and law and I can promise you that you will find many new ideas. I must also admit that I have cheated a bit and already read some of the essays (I actually read them all to write this review) and I am amazed at what there is here to think about.

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