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Are We Still Slaves?

“Slavery takes many forms,” says Neil Goldstein-Glick in a special Passover column for A Wider Bridge. Chemical dependency, alcoholism or even those who are enslaved by not being honest with themselves

Near the start of the Passover Seder we read “…in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt…”

To Jews everywhere, through every generation, Mitzrayim, Egypt, represents an incredible period in our collective history when we were enslaved, witness to miracles, and freed from bondage.

These days, it is hard to imagine, with our smart phones, and wi-fi, that we were enslaved in a foreign nation. We were forbidden to honor our beliefs and to be ourselves.

But how far removed are we from slavery? Slavery takes many forms.

There are some enslaved by not being honest with themselves. Maybe they surreptitiously have sex with people of their gender, yet feel guilt, and have a self-loathing. They are unable to accept their own same sex attraction. Maybe they get married, have children, and only give their heterosexual spouse a fraction of the love they deserve, because they are unable to fully accept and love themselves. This not only is slavery of their mind, but a slavery of their entire family.

We know people who are often down in the dumps – the glass-half-empty crowd. The Debbie or Danny Downers. It seems they become a slave to negative emotions.* They surround themselves with others who are equally negative and feed their feelings of darkness. That feeling can become addictive if that is the only feeling that is heard. They are enslaved to gloom.

A serious issue in the LGBT community is slavery to chemical dependency and alcoholism. People cannot function during the day without drinking or getting high, and honestly, they do not really function. They cannot maintain relationships, a job, or anything. Often this behavior is a mask for something deeper. These people need help using a 12 step program, and or counseling.

There are others who are enslaved in negative relationships. Maybe they have a family that is not supportive, or a partner who stifles their creativity and opportunities. Maybe they are victims of domestic violence and fear running away from the situation. If this is all the person knows, we can show them that there are alternatives and offer a helping hand.

Then there are those that are enslaved by their desires, and a lack of self control. This manifests itself sometimes through food – they see something sweet and without a thought, it goes right into their mouth. Other times it is seen in rampant consumerism. People run to buy the latest accessory or article of clothing seen via corporate product placement in a TV or film. It’s a new year, and I need a new car, because my three-year-old car is just not good enough to get me from point A to point B.

Others are slaves to the status quo – the slavery of ‘comfort.’ ‘I am just one person, one voice, what can I do?’ Rosa Parks was one person, and we know what her act of saying NO because her legs were tired accomplished.

The slavery of ignoring is dangerous. A medical provider will tell a person they need to make changes in their life – exercise, eat healthy, stop smoking, etc. Yet, they continue on their unhealthy path and tacitly accept that they are the cause and effect of their own health issues.

Do you feel enslaved? Do you feel hopeless?

No matter what you might believe, you are cut from the strongest cloth in the universe. You are no different than our prophets Moses and Miriam, Mark Sptiz, Sandy Koufax, or Rosa Parks. Each one has different strengths that they found, and utilized.

In the first chapter of Genesis (Beresheit), we read that we are all created in G-d’s own image. We have every power to create our own reality. Our slavery is in our mind. If we choose to step back, and look at our personal slavery, if we tap into our inner strength, the same strength of G-d, we can overcome even the most difficult situation.

We have the tools for positive change all around us. We need to pick them up and utilize them. We have friends willing to help. We have programs to help break the cycles of our slavery. There are medicines to help out. We have community.

We need to be open and ask for assistance. The great 11th century Rabbi, Rashi, in his commentary on Genesis/Beresheit, writes that when G-d created man, he consulted with the angels. We are all like G-d and we can all consult and seek help from our most trusted friends and confidants – the living ‘angels’ in our lives. We do not live in a vacuum. We live in community.

It takes the courage of a lion to look at our chains of bondage and work for freedom. Some slavery is more difficult to overcome than others. But we must never give up trying.

“Not a single effort, thought, word or deed or even the slightest gesture is ever wasted when trying to accomplish a holy goal.” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Sichot Haran #11. Freeing ourselves from personal slavery is a holy goal, since we all embody G-d and the universe.

When a person can overcome and break their yoke of servitude, they become powerful. In fact, they become the most powerful person around, since they are free. With self-freedom and self-realization comes strength and power.

I wish for all of us to have a joyous Passover of celebration and hope. I wish that we can all look within and use this week of humility and freedom to know we can overcome any obstacle that lies within ourselves.


The Author inspecting the work of his ancestors

* Please note this does not refer to clinical depression, which is a very real, and crippling disease. If you think you have depression please seek professional help and counseling. There is hope and there is help!