Back to Back Issues Page
E-Newsletter - Spiritual Housecleaning
March 22, 2013

A Zissen Pesach!

Welcome to our Passover E-Newsletter with tips and inspiration for doing a real spiritual housecleaning. Rid both your house and your spirit of the puffed up leaven that, if left unchecked, can spoil. Join us in celebrating the true power of freedom!

The Passover Page - Come visit and let friends know about this resource.

The Insecurity of Freedom - a column by Rabbi Debra

How Cleaning for Passover Can Help You Live An Extraordinary Life: The Five R’s of Chametz - Free audio, from a sermon delivered on March 15.

Request for Reviews - Tell us (and the world) how we're doing.

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

Upcoming Appearances

Gifts for the Seder - or Anytime

Thank you - our appreciation for your support

The Passover Page

The website now has a dedicated Passover page with tips, insights, and exercises to help make your seder and the whole Passover experience more meaningful and accessible. There is new audio from Rabbi Debra along with materials aimed at including children in the festivities.

The Insecurity of Freedom - a column by Rabbi Debra reprinted from The Menorah, a publication of Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, NJ.

I love the title of this column. I borrowed it from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In the essay “Religion in a Free Society,” which appears in his collection The Insecurity of Freedom, Heschel wrote:

“Freedom is a challenge and a burden against which we often rebel. [We are] ready to abandon it, since it is full of contradiction and continually under attack…. As a free being, the Jew must accept an enormous responsibility. The first thing a Jew is told is: you can’t let yourself go; get into the harness, carry the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Freedom is not license. It does not mean liberation from every concern except your own whim or self-interest. In fact, Heschel argues quite the opposite:

“Freedom’s true essence lies in the human ability to surpass oneself, even to act against one’s own inclinations and in defiance of one’s own needs and desires… Freedom is liberation from the tyranny of the self-centered ego.”

The Children of Israel felt the insecurity of freedom. Within three days of having miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry land, they wanted to go back to the familiarity of Egypt, to eat onions there, and be satisfied with that. Better slavery than uncertainty. Better slavery than the responsibility to choose. Better slavery than the humiliation of sometimes choosing wrongly. They traded the oppression of Pharaoh for that of a petty inner tyrant.

Passover asks us to be vulnerable. We stand with the band of newly-freed slaves, who didn’t quite believe in themselves or in God, either. They were utterly dependent on God for water and food. They complained a lot. They wanted all the lightness of freedom – the lifting of oppression and hunger and want, but none of its yoke – the demand to use freedom well and make it count for something. In other words, they were a lot like us.

In terms of our political situation and economic opportunities, we are objectively more free than the vast majority of people around the world and across time. Yet, we sometimes feel ourselves completely constrained. And, because of our mindset, we are.

The Passover seders are an ongoing annual Jewish conversation (begun in the 13th century BCE and still going) about what it truly means to be free. That persistent focus prompts us toward social action and freeing captives. Equally, it prompts us to turn inward, to free ourselves from faulty assumptions and false pride.

On Passover, we liberate ourselves from habit and entitlement long enough to remember that freedom is a gift. In Heschel’s words, “it is a gift that may be taken from us.”

“[Freedom] is not an absolute but a relative possession, an opportunity. …It is dangerous to take human freedom for granted, to regard it is a prerogative rather than as an obligation, as an ultimate fact rather than as an ultimate goal. It is the beginning of wisdom to be amazed at the fact of our being free.”

This Passover, may freedom amaze us. A kosher and zissen Pesach to all!

- Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Click on the CD above for more information.

How Cleaning for Passover Can Help You Live An Extraordinary Life: The Five R’s of Chametz - Free Audio
This audio selection was edited from the live recording of a talk delivered on March 15. The original talk included about four additional minutes of a more personal address to a Bar Mitzvah boy, applying the “five r’s” to that rite of passage in general and to him and his family in particular. Thanks go to the deeply humble and impressively proactive Joshua Kaufman for inspiring this sermon!
Click here to go to the Passover page and play the selection.

Request for Reviews - Tell us (and the world) how we're doing!

If you have purchased one of Rabbi Debra's CD's, downloaded audio from iTunes, or purchased one of her books, we would appreciate so much if you would post a review of your thoughts and insights gained from the materials. We are hoping to collect 100 reviews before Elul.

To review the audio, go to Rabbi Debra's iTunes page , click on any "View in iTunes" button, and then click on the "Ratings and Reviews" button for that item. There you will find a button to "Write a Review."

To review a book, please go to Rabbi Debra's Amazon Author page, click on the "customer reviews" link, and then click the "Create a Review" button.

You may also leave reviews or insights for books, CD's, and any of the website material on our website Messages page. We so appreciate the time and thought you might take on our behalf. Every review helps to communicate and share Debra's work.

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

I was lugging a heavy backpack through the Sierra Nevada mountains one year, and, even though it was summer, my friends and I crossed the snow line as we rose in elevation. The trail disappeared. Our topographical map was not totally useless because, along with a compass, we could assess the broader terrain profile, but I was sure happy for my training in Boy Scouts. Clouds were obscuring the sky. There was no downed wood to be had for a fire, and the lake we planned to sleep by was still frozen. As nightfall arrived and we selected a camping spot, I was especially appreciative for some of the gear I had packed in: a good tent, mini-gas stove, a big pot, a folding shovel, long underwear. We shoveled snow into the pot on the stove, quickly made tea and freeze-dried stew, sat back on a boulder and watched an amazing sunset before hunkering down in our tent, protected from the gathering wind.

It was a truly spectacular landscape, fresh smells and heavenly views. I’ve rarely felt so alive and empowered. But if we had not chosen to be disciplined about our extra provisions or studied the rules of mountaineering, our little jaunt into the woods could have become unpleasant, painful, and even deadly. We would have been at the mercy of very unforgiving forces, suffering and running for cover. Instead, because of our choices, preparation, and work, we had the luxury of feeling safe and amazingly, powerfully free.

Don’t get me wrong; I like a day hike too: sneakers and a T-shirt, zipping up the trail for a taste of harmony with nature. But all too soon I’ve got to get back to the car and home again. Nice and easy, casual and fun . . . but without nearly as much of that inspiring sense of freedom as I had on that mountaintop.

My kids are often crying for “free time” – and then, when they get it, they ask me what they should do. Freedom is deceptive like that. Its power and rewards are not just in being unbound – but in the discipline and the goals that you choose. As Passover approaches and we celebrate this gift of freedom given to our people, it behooves us to recognize that the sweetest taste of freedom, and the safety it allows, actually takes preparation, work, consideration, and constant, active choice. Make this year’s seder a basecamp for reaching your own mountaintop.

Upcoming Appearances

Rabbi Debra will be a featured keynote speaker this summer at the Chautauqua Institution's conference on Religion and Spirituality in Chautauqua, New York. Rabbi Debra will be in attendance for several days during the conference. Her speech is scheduled for Wednesday, July 3, at 2 PM. We would love for you to join us in this legendary setting for learning and growth.

Check in with our Calendar page for more upcoming appearances we expect to be adding soon.

If you would like Debra to visit and speak in your community, please contact us, and she will be happy to be in touch with you. Please check out the Scholar-In-Residence page for more information about speaking engagements.

Gifts for the Seder - or Anytime

The week of Passover is a great time to give an inspiring gift like one of Rabbi Debra or Reb Zalman’s CD's, one of Debra's books, or a find from our used book collection.

For those more technology-savvy, the audio teachings are available for gifted download instantly on iTunes. Share Debra's wisdom now.


Your feedback, appreciation, and participation always give us joy. We so appreciate your continued support. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments.

Have a kosher and happy Pesach! We look forward to being in touch again soon.

Back to Back Issues Page