By: Ari Clark, Southern NCSY
Ah, Spring! Everything just feels more open and inviting! Whether it’s the buds of spring finally sprouting or the Spring Break that is happening/just happened, this time of year invites all to run free, to be reborn and rejuvenated in heart and spirit! In many ways, the holiday of Passover is meant to correlate with these feelings; the Jews receive their freedom from the slavery of Egypt at a time where the world is also being reborn and sprouting anew.
As a result, the definition of freedom deserves a closer inspection on the holiday of Pesach. What does it mean to be free? Is it not having anything to hold you down? Is it not having anyone to tell you what to do? Is it being able to theoretically make any decision possible?
In Judaism, a statement of the Sages about freedom can provide an interesting perspective on this discussion:
שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתורה
The free man is one who is involved in Torah
Undoubtedly, the phrase seems ridiculous and self-gratifying. Where is the freedom in 613 additional requirements? How can a person be open to doing whatever he wants if he’s being told what to do at every second of every day?
To understand freedom, therefore, let us look at the actual definition of the word. Merriam-Webster defines free as:
The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
For most individuals, obtaining such liberty requires releasing the shackles of external influences. Man seeks to cut the cords of constraint that hinder his heart from unbridled desires. If I can choose whatever I feel like choosing, I am free, correct? Such is the logic of today’s society.
Judaism, however, doesn’t discuss freedom from others; Judaism seeks to define a freedom from oneself. In a society driven by self-gratification, the ultimate determinant of freedom is to choose what I want, what I feel at this moment. But in an interconnected world, in a society whose goal is to create harmony and happiness, the determinant of freedom is the ability to choose what is best for all mankind. Our basic instincts and natural drives can aid us in achieving these goals, but they are not the ultimate determinants. In the journey to achieve freedom, we seek the ability to choose what is right, moral, and pure. We build a society founded on the right of individual choice but oriented around goals that compel us to think beyond ourselves.
On Pesach, the holiday of our freedom, the Sages teach that true freedom is more than just being able to do whatever one pleases; freedom is being part of a system that allows a person to choose a path that is not only good for himself or herself, but for society as a whole. There is no freedom to steal, to hurt others, or to forget about the poor or sick. There is no freedom to hate, to slander, to cause division or degradation of others. Instead, there is freedom to build healthy and happy lives, with the ability to choose different careers, disciplines, and interests. There are different mediums and conduits designed to bring spirituality and G-dliness into daily life, with each appealing more personally to different types of people. Ultimately, Judaism creates a freedom to build castles of life, with strong foundations in the earth, doors and windows that are open our worlds to the people around us, and towers that allow our souls to reach towards our Father in Heaven.
I wish everyone a Chag Kasher V’Sameach – a healthy and happy holiday.