Ask the rabbi

March 23, 2020 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple

The world has often been written off as an incurable invalid but somehow it has come through the crisis.

Early in B’reshit the Creator promises not to destroy His Creation. I am sure He will keep His word.

Our problem is that we are uncertain of His timetable. The Tehillim ask, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

Whenever human beings were in agony they feared that He had removed His presence.

Every time, however, He showed us that He only seems to be absent; in the long run His mills grind the challenge into small pieces and He affirms that He is in charge.

We must never lose our faith.

Some places, some people might pay a heavier price than others – but the prophets assure us, “Netzach Yisra’el lo yeshakker” – “The Eternal One of Israel does not deceive.”

The Hallel says, “Gavar alenu chasdo” – “His lovingkindness prevails eternally.”


On Pesach, “z’man cherutenu”, “our time of freedom”, we not only celebrate freedom but try to define it.

The following idea might be relevant and useful.

There was a 19th century German novelist, Berthold Auerbach, who wrote, “Only he is free who cultivates his own thoughts”.

What a remarkable definition!

Freedom has an outer shape – freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from fear, freedom from want.

Auerbach tells us that it also has an inner shape – the independence of heart and mind that allows one to think his own thoughts.

Sometimes that private freedom has to be kept private: when others deny a person their outer freedom, the freedom to think one’s own thoughts retains a specially precious value.

How many people over the course of history have known what it was to defy the forces of evil by determining that nothing would prevent their thoughts from soaring upwards.

The ability to cherishing the inner thinking of one’s own thoughts eventually, hopefully helps towards gaining outer freedom too.

In a sense, it is what was said by another German author, Ludwig Boerne, who wrote, “To want to be free is to be free”.


Why are there four questions on Seder night and not some other number?

A. There is a version with five and one with three, but four prevailed because it is the characteristic Pesach number.

Four also allows us to divide the questions into two groups – two about slavery (the matzah and maror questions) and two about freedom (the “dipping” and “leaning” questions).

It is typical of the Seder to oscillate between the sour and the sweet, the agony and the ecstasy. When the child asks the four questions, he or she probably fails to notice the paradox of a people that is free and still carries the scars of suffering.

There should be a question somewhere that says, “So are we free, or aren’t we?”

If there were such a question, we could answer it in two ways: 1. “Freedom can be celebrated only when we recall what life was like without it”, and 2. “Suffering can be borne only when we have faith that one day it will end”.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.


One Response to “Ask the rabbi”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    What a perfect discussion with Pesach in mind is Inner and Outer Freedom. Thank you, Rabbi Apple.

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