I am relatively new to Judaism. You see, I never really had any formal education or family upbringing in it. Lately, I have picked up some books on the subject and find that the Torah is profound and rich with noble ideas. I am starting to make small efforts to put some of these ideas into practice in my personal life. Yet, I am somewhat reluctant for I value my freedom and my personal identity. What does the Torah say about freedom?
The Torah was given to free man. Any effort that one makes towards putting it into practice will only increase the freedom one has and will not in anyway decrease it. The quotation written on the Liberty Bell in the U.S. comes from our Torah.
Let’s start by analyzing what freedom is. A common belief of our society is that freedom is doing what you want when you want without any restraints. However, according to this definition, we find that the freest person in the world is he who is dependent on alcohol. The alcoholic does what he wants, when he wants without any restraint. I ask you: Is an alcoholic really free?
The Torah defines freedom as the ability to be presented by a choice and to select the better course of action. For instance, I love ice cream. It is my birthday, and a good friend offers me a pistachio banana split in honor of my celebration. Now, I am posed by a dilemma. I know my wife prepared a special meal for my birthday. If I eat the banana split, I know my stomach will not be able to also contain my wife’s meal made with much heart and love. I can give in to my natural desire to empty the ice cream dish as fast as humanly possible and risk vexing my wife. Or I can desist from eating the delicious split and please my wife by enjoying her home cooked meal.
Giving in to eating the split will demonstrate my subjugation to my desires. Desisting from eating it, will show that my mind rules my body and not the other way around. I am in essence a free man for that moment.
In today’s society, subjugation comes in many flavors – subjugation to work / creativity, to the ideals of society, to what the “Jones” are doing, to time, to ones passions. To all of these the Torah sounds its liberty bell – ringing “Free Yourself!” To these the Torah provides the keys to freedom. It prescribes Shabbat – allowing one to free themselves from the shackles of a 7-day work week. It offers the Brit Milah – to free oneself from one’s own desires. The sanctification of the month allows us to even be free from the limitation of time.
Freeing oneself ultimately allows one to be oneself. Sounds nice, but is it true? Let’s ask what defines a person? Is it his possessions? If so, should we consider one who drives a Lexus better than one who drives a Ford. What about one’s diplomas? One’s physique? What about one’s relatives? It eventually becomes apparent that the person is really their value system and the way they act. You are what you do.
When a person frees themself from the “chains” of being in style, with it, in fashion, a la mode, or just in – they begin expressing their own self to the world. They begin to open their horizons to being a thinking individual. Their own person, their own goodness. Expressing their real identity, not one that is slapped upon them because they wear nice clothes or drive a nice car.
For lack of a better example, let’s take a person who does his daily chore of watching seven-and-a-half hours of television a day. If you are particularly observant, you will notice that many times such a person’s life is centered around the events, programs and happenings of the television. His opinions will be those of the Ten o’clock news. His personality may even mimic the characters of popular sitcoms. So, who is this guy? A clone of his favorite TV character, or a .
Did you ever ask yourself who am I?
So, as one lives the values of the Torah, the more freedom one will have.