March 8, 2013
Rabbi Yisroel Harpaz in #872, Viewpoint

Freedom, therefore, is not a static state of being, but rather a cyclical state of flux: The freer you become, the more of yourself you discover; the more you discover, the more of yourself you need to express in order to become free… and so on.


We live in perhaps one of the freest societies in the history of the world. But are we truly free? If we define freedom as the absence of restriction, then perhaps we can say that we are indeed free. With enough cash and free time, we can pretty much pursue any fantasy we want.

But isn’t this type of freedom merely slavery of a different kind? If we are governed by what we wan, are we not enslaved by our self-determination? Are we not then just slaves to our own egos? Are we not held captive by our desires? Do our negative drives not restrict us from living a meaningful life and experiencing spiritual growth? Are we not coerced into making certain decisions by destructive impulses that rule over us? Is this state of being really the pinnacle of freedom, or is it a slavery that is even more subversive by virtue of its veneer of freedom?

Obviously, this is not freedom. And the failure to acknowledge our enslavement, especially our self-enslavement, is the ultimate obstacle to freedom.

Freedom is the potential to be true who you really are. The more you tap into it, the freer you are. Freedom, therefore, is not a static state of being, but rather a cyclical state of flux: The freer you become, the more of yourself you discover; the more you discover, the more of yourself you need to express in order to become free; the freer you become, the more of yourself you discover, and so on.

Repression is a form of self-enslavement. Because freedom is the discovery of the true self, when we don’t allow our entire beings to flow forth, then we negate the potential for freedom. Even worse, however, is the declaration that freedom has been attained, which is the ultimate form of enslavement, since you have now trapped yourself in a one-dimensional experience of freedom and stifled the potential for future growth and discovery.

The key to being free, then, is to live in a way that enables you to get to know yourself – your true self. G-d, in his kindness, provided us with the tools we need for this constant process of discovery. He made us stubborn, instilling within us an innate drive to overcome comfortably blind worldviews that lead to complacency, regardless of how much friction we have to deal with as a result. And He gave us the Torah, a body of wisdom that is a manual for how to discover the human soul.


What is the ultimate state of existence that we could comfortably describe as being just for all humanity? This question is at the root of all systems of ethical philosophy. The answers they provide are predicated on presupposed norms that differ depending on how one views another elusive aspect of the human quest: Freedom. Justice will be best served when all people, without exception, are free – the question is what does it mean to be free?

An honest and true definition of freedom is hard to come by. Like inquiring about the meaning of life, each respondent thinks that his or her path is the one. So the literature on freedom is skewed by a complex set of factors; history, experience, ego and religious ideology make an objective assessment of the facts almost impossible.

Freedom is generally perceived as the absence of limitations – the ability to do what one wants when one wants to, unencumbered by any obstacle, whether internal or external.

But is it fitting to define something as important as freedom in such a passive, self-negating sense?

Human beings are complex. In order to simplify this quandary, let us first examine how the question of freedom applies to simpler species. A plant, for example, is not free when it can do whatever it wants. One might think that a plant would be truly free if it could be suspended in mid-air and float around as it pleases. However, the ultimate purpose of a plant is to grow. In order to have the potential to embody and express this purpose, the plant requires earth, water and sunlight, without which the plant cannot live. A plant, therefore, is only free when it is free to grow.

Freedom thus begins with the active ability to satisfy the one’s ultimate purpose.

Like a plant, part of a human being’s purpose is to sustain physical life and growth, a purpose that can only be attained if one’s basic material necessities are met. Thus, on a material level, a person is free if his or her basic physical necessities are met. But a person is not made of a body alone. For a person to be truly free, the freedom must permeate all aspects of his or her existence – not merely the physical realm. For example, a person has a rational mind that must be satisfied by the attainment of knowledge and intellectual growth, and a person’s emotions must be fed positive energy in order to develop.

The faculty that is the essence of a person is the Soul. Just as the body, mind and heart each need to be fed what they need to satisfy their respective purpose to grow and develop, so too the Soul needs spiritual nourishment to be free. For the Jew, this spiritual nourishment comes in the form of the Torah and its teachings. It follows that since the Soul is the essence of the person, then the Torah is our “essence food”, the ultimate source of nourishment that provides us with the path to freedom and the fulfillment of purpose.

Unfortunately, we still live in a world where people are starving. May we work together toward the day when a just freedom will be realized, when all bodies will satiated with bread, all minds will be full of knowledge, all hearts overflowing with love and all Souls permeated with an awareness of the spirituality within it all.

Reprinted with permission from Exodus Magazine


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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