Driving to work today, I saw a sight that upset me, but sadly did not surprise me: a well-dressed man, driving a fairly new-looking luxury sedan, rolled down his window and threw a wadded-up fast food bag onto the median as he turned off the highway exit ramp onto a major street.
I was stopped at a traffic light opposite the scene, so I wasn't sure what I had really witnessed. Giving the man the benefit of the doubt, I thought that perhaps he was attempting to give his leftover breakfast to the homeless man standing there. As my light changed and I drew closer, however, I discovered the truth: the man was merely a lazy litterbug.
Much has been written about trying to understand slavery in a modern context. Some argue that we are slaves to social media and/or electronic devices, others that we are slaves to popular culture and the mass media. I think, however, that the above example illustrates that in addition to all these things, we are becoming slaves to the cult of the self.
The environmental impact of the trash he discarded had no effect on the litterbug; he was just thinking about getting to his destination and having an uncluttered car. In a similar vein much of our societal interactions nowadays are transactional-- you want me to support this cause, buy this product, vote for this candidate, join this committee? Well, what's in it for me?
When we fall victim to this form of slavery, we run the risk of becoming like the rasha, the "wicked" son of the Passover seder. He asks, "What does all this mean to you?" In his self-absorption, he separates himself from the community, making himself unworthy of redemption in the eyes of the rabbis.
Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh, we are taught: all Jews are responsible for one another; our fates are intertwined. Only by putting the needs of the community before our own personal needs and desires can we remain strong, standing up to oppressors, and avoiding any future slavery--spiritual or literal--that others might seek to impose upon us.