This week is the Jewish holiday of Passover. It’s a festival that’s been celebrated for thousands of years and every year we read the same story of how Moses took the Israelites from oppression into freedom. It’s a powerful story of how one man can change the lives of many and continue to influence people for hundreds of generations.

Whether we believe the story is true or not is irrelevant. The powerful metaphor contained within it has been a beacon for many oppressed peoples throughout the world. Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and many, many others, took the story of the Exodus and made it their own.

Many of you already know the story of Moses and how he parted the waters to lead his people across the Red Sea. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to the Red Sea, and it’s pretty big. It was a long walk across with the chariots of the Pharaoh bearing down on them. But the idea that we can overcome the limitations of what other people place upon us is a powerful idea.

Enslavement was and is the darkest part of humanity. The idea that we can control the destiny of others with our will, with our beliefs and with our iron fist, is anathema to how we want to be as humans. To deny the lives of others to further our own power or control is a bitter pill no one should be forced to swallow.

But it’s not only the physical act of holding someone in bondage or keeping them oppressed that stands out for me in the Passover story. It is the way we hold this metaphor for how we live our own lives.

We are all in bondage to something.

In my own life, I grew up in a family where chaos ruled. My father was a serious alcoholic who physically abused both his wife and his children for many years. Now, I could have gone one of two ways. I could have been kicked into the gutter of life and reverted to alcohol myself, or I could take the higher road and find my salvation in other things. Well, it was a bit of both in reality.

I loved drugs and alcohol from an early age. I was thirteen when I started drinking and I was fifteen when I got hooked on amphetamines. My self-esteem was lower than a gnat, but that didn’t seem to stop me. As you can see, I’m here now talking about it. But the long road out of bondage to this place I stand in today, being a Fearless Fifty, took me into some very dark and scary places. It is not a road I would recommend anyone going down, but for me there was no option. It was that or perish.

Along the way, people close to me were hurt but I couldn’t help myself, and as I continued to struggle with drug and alcohol dependency it would eventually push me into Alcoholics Anonymous. I am not a Bill W story, although I was in AA for five years. During that time I was also undergoing some very intensive therapy and I confronted a lot of the demons, including being a victim of sexual abuse, which I had locked away.

But getting healthy was far more important to me than holding onto my dark secrets, and gradually I began to unearth the real me beneath the garbage. I began to realize that I was a victim of alcoholic thinking. I was an obsessive compulsive who needed to know exactly where everything was in order to feel safe. I wanted order in my life, but my behavior was anything but. When I drank too much I was convinced I was an alcoholic. But as you know, a real alcoholic cannot live without a drink, and I have always been able to do that. Controlling how much I drank in one sitting and then feeling bad that I’d overdone it again, was my biggest problem.

It took me 5 years to see that my enslavement was the way I think about myself when I drink. I was not my father, or my mother, or anyone else for that matter. It was key to the whole issue. It had to change. And it did. I changed my relationship to alcohol and to behavior that occasionally is not good for me. I like a glass of wine or two and on occasion three or four, but I know how to stop nowadays and what’s better, I chalk it up to having had a really good time and I’ll recover the next day. I’m a Fearless Fifty now because I can face the demons and give them a name. I choose not to allow the demons to enslave me anymore. I choose to live life on my own terms.

But there are always things in our lives that we are enslaved to.

We find it in our work, our relationship to money, to debt, a style of life we can’t afford, a relationship that’s not working, health that isn’t perfect, too much sex, not enough sex, endlessly trying to please, too much eating, drinking, obsessing about things that are out of our control, habits that are destructive.

In the Passover story we speak of the ten plagues that afflicted the Egyptians as a punishment for their oppression of the Israelites. They include the Nile being turned into blood, frogs, massive hail stones, cow disease, lice and locusts, and the death of the first born child.

What are some of the plagues that afflict us today? I can think of a few. Aids, SARS, Mad Cow disease, wars ravaging Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Sudan, Sierra Leone and many others. The distrust and conflict that separates Israel and Palestine. The economic oppression in Russia. All of these are conflicts of the soul and of the heart. All are a source of oppression.

We would like to think that we have moved on from the dark days of slavery, but that’s not true. Think of the young women from Eastern Europe who are forced into slavery as sex slaves throughout the world. The children in Asia who are forced into child labor and sex. Even here in New York today there is are hundreds of sweat shops and underpaid workers. At the restaurant Saigon Grill on the Upper West Side the food is good, the prices reasonable. But they pay their workers $1.61 an hour to work there. Most are illegal immigrants with no way to retaliate. Now that’s slave labor. It’s a small thing, but I will not return to that restaurant.

We don’t need to support oppression for our own satisfaction. By ignoring the plight of others, we ignore the basic needs of man. We ignore the message that we are intrinsically saying they don’t count. We all count.

That means we are all responsible for the choices we make when interacting with others. It is said at Passover, ‘if even one person is enslaved, we all are.’

Martin Luther King spent his entire life trying to free his people from the oppression of white supremacy and the suffocating laws and expectations that kept people down. The Dalai Lama works tirelessly for the Tibetan people and for mankind to be free of oppression, both physically and spiritually. Repression around the globe is endemic and we must all do our small part to stop the pain. We all have a responsibility to do something about it. Your pain is my pain because we live in the lives of others.

Passover in the Jewish tradition is our yearly reminder. We sit at our Seder table and recite the story of the Exodus. We talk about the present day and we talk about our enslavements. Too much TV, too much work, too much alcohol, too much eating, too much negative thinking. These are just some of the ways we are enslaved.

Think of something you’d like to break free from, and when you’re done, write it down and make a promise to yourself that you will make an effort this year to change it. You see we all have them. I’m enslaved to my work right now. I can’t let it go for a day, or if I do, I feel guilty that I should be doing something. I’m exhausted a lot of the time building my business, making the connections, getting exposure for what I’m doing. No one is cracking the whip except me. Do I need to break that habit? Probably. The world will keep turning no matter what I do.

Freedom is a choice many do not have. Whether it is self-imposed or imposed by others, freedom is a gift and a natural-born right. We all have the right to be free from bondage.

When Paul Robeson sang Let My People Go, you could feel the entire weight of that request. It was a cry for release. A cry for humanity.

Humanity. The words compassion, generosity, acceptance, tolerance and diversity come up for me when I consider that word. We are ALL entitled to our humanity. Our right to be whatever it is we want to be, however we want to be, as long as we generate respect for the rights of others to have the same privilege. We should all have the freedom to live without someone else telling us how it should be.

The holiday of Passover is a Jewish holiday, but it’s a world holiday. It’s a time to consider if we truly are free, and if not, we have the opportunity to change it today. We end our Seder with a statement “Next Year in Jerusalem.” It is a saying that encompasses the idea that we can all live in harmony. We can all find peace in this world.

I wish you Hag Sameach. A good year.

Be the best you can be for yourself and you will be the best you can be for others.
Let us live in peace and harmony NOW.