o·pin·ion (e-pin`yen) n.— Belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.
Once every four years we run into an election year Pesach. At first glance, they may seem completely disconnected; however, one just may have some relevance for the other. Recently I was having lunch with friends and the conversation turned to politics. It started off innocently enough, with plenty of good will and interest in the air. But within minutes the intensity meter started going into the red. Partisan lines were drawn and instead of a discussion, the exchange became the predictable political parley: heated exchanges made up of people talking over each other and making pronouncements about their candidate’s merits and the other candidate’s faults, made with unremitting certainty.
If we asked the people in the debate afterward: “Did this discussion change your political views even a little bit,” what do you think their answer would be? The response might be the only point that each of the parties involved would actually agree on, a resounding “Nope!”
Ever think about how seriously we take our own opinions at times? It’s easy to see other people stridently defending their views at what seems like all costs, especially when it comes to politics, but the humbling truth is that most of us have had this experience ourselves. The question is, if it’s only an opinion and by definition not “truth,” why do we sometimes find ourselves so closed in around them and so uninterested in considering any other views? Secondly, what does the Torah have to say about all of this, and what does it possibly have to do with Pesach?
What Judaism has to say about highly opinionated people is not pretty: They are considered to be like a psychological slave to their own beliefs and innocently circumscribed by the limited thinking of the ego. A highly opinionated person is consummately predictable in how he will respond to any question regarding his beliefs. You know what he will say on the topic before he begins to speak. For many people, talking to this person is like talking to a tape recorder — ask a question and just press “Play.”
On Passover, each of us is asked to feel as if we ourselves are leaving our own personal Egypt, as if from slavery to freedom. But freedom from what? From the confines of our egotistical thinking; not from having opinions, but from being locked into our opinions of life or politics that are nothing more than our personal views, based upon what we have understood so far.
When we begin to notice the self-righteousness and the seriousness with which we take our own opinions and open ourselves to look in a new direction, we free ourselves to evolve in our understanding and gain something truly precious, beyond what any opinion could ever bring. We become open to gain insight and wisdom, a more profound and perspective-filled way of seeing life and everything within it. We may find ourselves more resolved in what we thought before, but we will have a deeper grasp and a broader view.
We may also find that we have a different understanding of the issue altogether. When we bring this openness to any form of study, specifically the study of Torah, we find pearls of understanding that allow us to live life with more and more perspective and innovation.
In Judaism, freedom is the ability to go beyond where we are right now — beyond the mental habits that gridlock us into reacting to the same situations in the same predictable ways, to a new level of understanding that allows us to respond to the people and issues most dear to us, but in a way that is actually helpful and leaves both parties enriched.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim,” coming from the word “metzar” — narrow or locked in. The word “daas,” or wisdom, is related to a capacity of understanding that is unlimited in its potential and comes to us as a gift. According to Jewish sources, this wisdom comes in the form of simplicity and perspective, but is sourced in something spiritual and nothing short of enlightening.
Imagine if, 30 years from now, we held exactly the same opinions about life — if 30 years from now we had exactly the same political opinions. No gaining of wisdom, no shifts in our understanding, no broadening and deepening of our perspective on life. Just enslaved to the same opinions for 30 years, trapped in the thinking of the ego.
That is not why we are here. We are here to go from being enslaved to freedom, and freedom begins with understanding that what we know of life today can broaden in an instant if we choose to learn more than our opinions. But it will never change if we only look only to prove our opinions.
It doesn’t mean our opinions aren’t valid. It simply means that those opinions are held with a sense of humility and openness that allows for more understanding and wisdom to come in. This Passover, may we find “harchavas hadaas,” a more profound understanding that takes us beyond where we are right now to a new level of wisdom. And may the same happen for our politicians.