Friday, March 30, 2007

Exodus and Time

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Festivals of Freedom:

Maimonides says that as we start the recital of Maggid over the second cup, we say, Bi-vehilu yatzanu mi-Mitzrayim, "We departed from Egypt in a hurry." Does it make much difference whether the Jews departed from Egypt slowly or in a hurry? Yet it is so important that Maimonides apparently made it the symbol of the great freedom of the exodus. (p. 42)

Time is of critical importance--not years or months, but seconds and split seconds. This time-awareness and appreciation is the singular gift granted to the free man, because time belongs to him: it is his time, and he can utilize it to the utmost or waste it. A free man does not want time to pass; he wants time to slow down, because to him time is a treasure. To the slave, however, time is a curse; he waits for the day to pass. The slave's time is the property of his mast. 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. His sense of the movement of time, the passing of hours, days, weeks, is very dull. Life, to the slave personality, is motionless. (p. 41)

[Bi-vehilu] refers to our acquisition of time consciousness--the exodus can happen now, and may not happen later. This sense of time was the shibboleth of our ancestors when they left Egypt. The first commandment they were given in Egypt, marking the commencement of their liberation, was to mark time: "This month shall be to you the beginning of months" (Ex. 12:2). Bi-vehilu yatzanu mi-Mitzrayim--we have gained the consciousness of time, and therefore we are free. (p. 42)

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