Freedom is most pronounced when we can impose our own limitations on our own selves not due to inhibitions but due to our own choosing.
Are you willing to make yourself free? I try to every day and I find it to be one of the most difficult challenges in my life. Yes, I live in the United State of America, the cradle of democracy and freedom. Yet, it still does not make me free. It only clarifies that my lack of freedom cannot be blamed on the environment I live in because I live in a free country. It’s the undesired blessing we receive when we no longer have anyone to blame and we are forced to take responsibility. In this case, the gift of democracy isn’t that it gives us freedom. It’s that it forces us to take responsibility for it.
Let me explain. Freedom is the ability for one to freely express their inner spirit, their soul. Freedom is living true to one’s inner self without letting external controls or inner inhibitions to limit them. Freedom is most pronounced when we can impose our own limitations on our own selves not due to inhibitions but due to our own choosing. Through our value system directing us, we harness our power in a focused manner, through choosing to discipline and focus ourselves in a particular direction that only a free person has the ability to choose. We don’t do this because of other people’s expectations or because we’re seeking their acceptance, prestige, money or power. We do it because it is true to our inner core.
On February 11th, 1986, in a historic event, the refusenik Natan Sharansky was finally given his freedom by communist Russia. The KGB brought him to the Glienicke Bridge in East Berlin, which he was to cross to reach the American KGB counterparts. When they finally took their hands off him, he was given his last instructions. He was to walk across the bridge to the CIA in a straight line. So what did Natan Sharansky do? What he always did. He demonstrated that no one owns him. He zig-zagged deliberately across that bridge, defying orders, risking everything.
This act by Natan Sharansky powerfully symbolizes the two forms of freedom, which we often confuse. One is freedom from, and the other is freedom to. Usually, when we speak about freedom, we imply freedom from. When Natan Sharansky was being let go by the KGB, he was attaining freedom from a people who were suppressing him. Yet, simply leaving their clutches did not determine that he would live freely. There are many constraints that limit us.
It is only when we know what we are living for and we dedicate ourselves to it, that we are experiencing true independence. And that is what we call freedom to. I am not free simply because no one controls me. I am free when I define the purpose for my living.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks uses this differentiation in translating two Hebrew words that loosely mean freedom. The word Chofesh is very often used for vacation. Well, what is a vacation? It’s getting away from work. We call that freedom from. Cheirut, mentioned in the Exodus from Egypt, is freedom to.
The association between the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah is also about two freedoms. In the Torah G-d explicitly tells Moses, I am liberating the Jewish people so that they shall serve me at Mount Sinai. It was at Mount Sinai that the Jewish people received Torah. This statement from G-d sounds quite contradictory. If the Jews left the slavery of Egypt to serve G-d, did they really experience liberation or did they go from one servitude to another? They got out of Egypt only to find themselves enslaved to G-d.
Yet, that is what true freedom is. G-d is taking us out of the external clutches of Egypt, but that doesn’t suffice. He’s then giving us a purpose for living with the choice to commit to it, finding true inner liberty. This is ultimately the conflict of our soul, which is exiled within our body. It longs to be liberated, so it can override the body’s material and physical indulgence, to let us experience true freedom. What do we really mean when we describe a person as open, free-spirited? That is actually someone who had the guts to ask, “What has G-d made me to be,” to find the answer within and to pledge their life to it.
The eight-day workshop of Passover is for discovering not only how to leave external restraints, but more importantly, how to find out who we truly are, how to dedicate ourselves to the mission that G-d outlined for our path in life. Identify one constraint that is holding you back from dedicating yourself to your G-d given purpose. I bless you and myself to find the strength to break out and to break free.