Judaism Your Way


rabbi caryn with religious leaders at capital

Religious Freedom Day

Religious Freedom Day Remarks
Rabbi Caryn Aviv
Thursday, April 21 at the Colorado State Capital

Good morning, thank you for being here, and thank you to the organizers of this event.

This week, Jews and our loved ones are celebrating Passover around the world, where we retell the dramatic Exodus narrative from the Torah, also known as the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament.

In this foundational story, Moses and his brother Aaron confront the oppressive Pharoah of Egypt, on behalf of the enslaved Israelites. They cry out “Let my people go.” Only after 10 terrible plagues that destroy crops and create intense suffering and grief, does Pharoah finally relent. The enslaved Israelites scramble to pack their belongings, and they, along with a ‘mixed multitude’ of many Egyptians who do not support Pharoah’s regime, run for their lives.

But even after the Israelites flee into the desert, they are still not fully free. Throughout the rest of their journey to the Promised Land, when confronted with challenges, they express fear and anxiety. They forget how far they’ve come in their spiritual journey. They wonder whether it would have been better to go back to enslavement. They complain, they question the capability of their leaders, and they cry out to the Divine.

It takes forty years of wandering on an epic road trip through the desert to understand the relationship between becoming free and healing from the trauma of enslavement. What the Israelites also learn along the way is that freedom and healing means responsibility to one another. Freedom also comes with responsibility to be in right relationship with the Divine Source, and responsibility for being in right relationship with the earth and its many inhabitants. Indeed, when the Israelites receive 10 teachings at Mount Sinai, in Hebrew called Aseret HaDibrot, these teachings are largely all about how to be in right relationship with each other to create a compassionate and just society.

I think this Passover narrative resonates deeply with the historical moment in which we find ourselves today. During Passover, it’s customary to ask four questions about why these eight nights are different from all other nights. So I’d like to offer four questions to all of us today that speak to this moment in our country’s evolving relationship with freedom and responsibility to one another:

  1. How might the past two years of living through the terrible plague of COVID help us remember that we are all connected? COVID has taught us that we all have the responsibility to do our part with wearing masks when necessary and vaccinations so that everyone can experience the freedom to breathe safely and easily.
  2. How might we create a more just and compassionate society where people of all spiritual traditions can feel fully free to live and pray with safety and security, without fear of being gunned down in our homes, schools, and houses of worship?
  3. How might we create a more just and compassionate society where people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds earn a just and equitable living wage, and have access to the resources we all need to live a full and fulfilling life?
  4. How might we balance our desire for unfettered freedom of expression with a sense of responsibility and care for one another that protects, strengthens, and heals our fragile democracy?

I don’t have pat answers for any of these difficult questions. I pray that we can develop the skills of empathy, compassion, and deep listening to care enough to seek answers together. May we cultivate the ability to sit with our discomfort in hard conversations. May we expand our vision and consciousness in asking important questions across our differences. And most importantly, may we stay in right relationship with each other, especially when we have difficult conversations or when we reach different conclusions about how to address our country’s most pressing questions.

Thank you.

By Rabbi Caryn Aviv
Rabbinic and Program Director