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Home » Events in the News, Military, Passover

Passover: The Freedom To Commit

Submitted by on April 17, 2011 – 2:56 amNo Comment | 1,558 views

The Burden of Freedom

What does freedom mean to you? Thousands of people dream every day of wealth, fame and freedom from life’s drudgery. They are tired of poverty and penny counting, tired of overworking and constantly answering to employers. They want wealth and power; they want to be free.

InnerStream.ca Torah Insights into Life and Jewish ObservanceThose who reach their goal and become famous discover they are hardly free. Prince William, heir apparent to London’s throne, is a perfect example. He is famous and poised to become powerful, but is he free? He cannot walk out his front door without carrying the weight of Great Britain’s royal image on his shoulders. He is not free to come and go as he pleases, but he is free to make a difference.

So What Is freedom?

In a pithy comment the Talmud observes that liberty can be a liability to a slave that prefers lawlessness. (1) Allow me to explain. In Jewish law it is possible to acquire something on behalf of another so long as it is to that other’s benefit. If I, for example, acquire a hundred dollars on behalf of a friend, the money immediately transfers to his ownership even before he takes possession. I cannot, however, accept a loan on his behalf without first consulting him. This is because a loan might not be to his benefit.

Laboring under the assumption that all slaves prefer to be free, the Talmud suggests that a slave would immediately gain his liberty if a third party accepted documents of emancipation on his behalf. The Talmud ultimately rejects this assumption, arguing that many slaves actually prefer slavery. This is because a non Jewish slave in a Jewish home is not subject to all the Torah’s laws. However, upon liberation he automatically attains the status of a full Jew, which obliges him to comply with all the Torah’s restrictions. Many slaves view this as a hindrance and prefer their lawlessness.

A slave is indentured to his owner; he must be available to his owner’s beck and call, but with this comes a perk, namely that the slave need not take responsibility for his own life; he need not make difficult choices nor shoulder the burden of decision making. His master does it all for him. In his professional life he is answerable to his master, but in his personal life he is free to do as he pleases.

With his liberation everything changes. Suddenly the slave becomes his own person; obliged to chart his own path, choose his own direction and take responsibility for his decisions. He is suddenly expected to observe the etiquette and rules of free men. This burden bestows dignity, but not every slave wants it. Before accepting it on his behalf we must ascertain that he would view it as an asset.

Out of Egypt

When our ancestors were enslaved in Egypt they labored for foreign masters and were mercilessly driven, but in some ways they were completely free. They were not expected to pray, keep kosher, observe Shabbat, guard against ritual defilement, be charitable, humble or kind. They were free to choose their own path in life.

With liberation came responsibility. The road from Egypt led through Sinai and there was no avoiding this destination. (2) Some Jews did not like this and complained bitterly, “we remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for Free.” (3) They were not free in Egypt, in fact, they were slaves, but they meant to say that they were free of Mitzvot and they resented this forced intrusion into their lives. (4)

Fortunately this was a small minority. The majority of Jews embraced their liberty and the commitment that came with it. They understood that a life of lawlessness and licentiousness can stimulate only those who live for the present; it achieves no long term purpose or goal. The personal satisfaction of achievement can come only with concentrated focus and commitment. It is not achieved through the thrills of merry making; the charms of which grow old quickly. It is achieved only when we devote our lives to causes greater than us; causes that serve others, not only us.

Indeed, the Jews exchanged one form of slavery for another, but the two cannot be compared. The first is a bone jarring drudgery that drains the soul. The other is a commitment borne of purpose that fulfills the soul. This freedom is worthy of aspiration. This is true freedom.

On A Personal Level

In our own lives we also experience these two pulls. On the one hand we resent the obligation to wake each morning and go to work; we aspire to freedom and leisure. On the other hand, as soon as we retire or vacation for several days we feel the emptiness of life and yearn for structure and commitment.

Both desires are real. The first is a desire to be free of others so that we can serve ourselves. The second is much deeper. It is a desire to be needed. We cannot be needed without serving another’s needs and we cannot serve another’s needs without sacrificing some of our leisure in order to help others.

The desire to be needed is fundamental to the human experience. Without it the soul feels empty; drained of all significance. If I serve no one, I am important to no one. Gripped by the imprisoning vise of isolation, I am left utterly and completely alone. Ironically, true freedom comes with commitment.

The Middle East

As the world watches, the Middle East engages in an epic battle for freedom. Nations are being transformed in this historic quest; dictators and despots across the world worry they might be next, democracies and free nations across the world applaud as they nudge this wave onward.

In the moment we are overtaken by the marvel and charm of freedom. We rejoice with long suppressed peoples and we celebrate the human spirit. But during the holiday of Passover we must also look forward. We must encourage these nations to realize the responsibility augured by freedom.

It is a pure joy to remove the manacles of despotism, but it is a real achievement to join the community of responsible nations. The product of rebellion cannot be lawlessness and continued rebellion.(5)

Freedom is a harbinger of growth and with growth comes maturity. Mature nations seek life, peace and cooperation with others. Mature nations eschew radicalism and war. Mature nations protect freedom of speech and reign in hate mongering. Mature nations respect the rights of other nations.

Passover is the perfect time to allow our freedom to mature.

Footnotes

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 13a.
  2. When G-d spoke to Moses at the burning bush (which
    occurred on Mount Sinai) He said, “When you take the nation out
    of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain.”
  3. Numbers 11:5.
  4. See Rashi’s commentary ibid. To be sure, many
    mitzvot given to the patriarchs, but these were not obligatory for Jews
    in Egypt. At Sinai they became obligatory.
  5. Let us remember that many of these deposed
    dictators came to power in a sweep of rebellion. Only they never settled
    down to write a constitution and enshrine their country with freedom. Instead they continued the rebellion and repressed
    their people.
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