This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Baruch Dopelt, Yossi Bilus,Yissachar Frand, Yaakov Menken Dr. Abba Goldman.
Freedom is beloved!! Freedom is exhilarating!! Freedom is reassuring!! Freedom is what this great big country is based on. Freedom is the Democratic philosophy in which Israel is so strategically beloved in Middle East region by the United States. That’s the conman thread between Israel and countries practicing democracy.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In today’s world, we are rightfully very preoccupied with obtaining our rights and freedoms. We want to be free to pursue our priorities, live according to our convictions, and pursue what makes us happy. We don’t want anyone limiting us or imposing on us his concept of how we should live. These are our entitlements as human beings, and no one should have the right to take them from us. We have rights. This is the first thing we learn in grade school.
Unfortunately when our rights as humans are violated it can change how these victims perceive the world and act toward each other. We learn a very important lesson from this week’s parsha. When Moshe wanted to plant the seeds of freedom, the Israelites did not even pay attention to Moshe’s second speech of “I’m taking you out” because of “KOTZER RUACH’ – shortness of spirit. Dr. Abba Goldman – Psychologist at Yeshiva Chaffetz Chaim explains their reaction is the result of the effects of slavery. Pharaoh carefully designed a full proof system to reassure them to always be subordinate. Always be afraid and never answer back. He implanted the roots of a slave mentality. “What is the “slave mentality”?
One aspect of “slave mentality” is to be afraid of the people on top.
“Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny(Arbitrary
or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority)
has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!”
Fearing authority is the direct result of being persecuted by governments. Egypt was the prototype of such authority. Today, any migration from an oppressed government proves those people being fearful of authority as opposed to people who grew up in democracy where people are not afraid to voice their opinion.
Furthermore, ever wonder why the Jews complained that they had it so good in Egypt. They were persecuted and harassed and often, annoyingly, they would praise their way of life in that oppressed country.
Slaves are provided with rations so that they can work. The Egyptians made sure that they had food. What do the Israelites remember? They remember only that they were cared for there and provided for. The fact that they were getting slave rations is for some reason overlooked. But when they find themselves hungry with no means of provision, they are immediately lost. Like a child without his mother, they simply cry. A simple need unfulfilled is a crisis for the slave.
It would seem that the mind of the slave is limited to these narrow horizons of immediate material fulfillment. The slave lives for the moment. He does not have the luxury of planning the future; his role is simply to survive the present. The hallmarks of the slave generation which is leaving Egypt can be felt throughout the next few parshiot. G-d does not lead the Israelites “by way of the Land of the Pelishtim although it was nearer, for G-d said, ‘If they encounter war, the people may have a change of heart and return to Egypt'” (13:17-18). The people still see Egypt as a protective secure environment. They need the security; they need its order and comforting predictability. Egypt is an environment where decisions are made for them, where they know the rules of life. In the outside world, they are lacking in confidence.
They are slaves in other senses too. The Ibn Ezra (14:13) asks: why did the Israelites not fight the Egyptians when they were attacked at the Red Sea? After all, the Israelites numbered six hundred thousand fighting men, a considerable force. He answers:
“The Egyptians were masters to the Israelites. Exodus generation was accustomed from the youngest age to suffer under the yoke of Egyptian oppression. Their spirit was broken. How could they stand up and fight their masters… after all they were inexperienced in the art of war…”
The result of this slave mentality will be certain instability within the national mood of the people. They are fickle. One moment they can be uplifted by the soaring euphoria of the miracle at the Red Sea and the next minute, all has been forgotten; they might as well be back in Egypt.
When crisis hits, the people panic and all the theological truths disappear as if into thin air.
Why did G-d decide that the Israelites face the Egyptians head on?
G-d’s intention was not to save Israel from war and undue fear but precisely the opposite: To drag them into an immediate confrontation with their former masters, and to achieve final, total independence at the Red Sea. The Jews had already been physically liberated from Egypt; now the time had come to free them spiritually and emotionally.
This liberation would come through witnessing the final downfall of the power that had until now made an almost lasting mark upon their souls as the nation before whom all nations trembled. Two hundred and ten years of slavery to a nation so dominant that until now no slave had ever escaped had to leave its mark. Even if the Jews were permitted to leave, they would do so with a great regard for Egypt’s power. They would look up to the Egyptians, not perhaps for their “kind treatment” of their slaves, but for their world-dominance as a military power.
BOOM, SPLASH!! Egypt has been defeated. Dead soldiers floating in the sea…
Now, since the Jews have witnessed G-d’s hand and the Egyptian demise, what’s now? It’s their task, their mission to revolutionize their way of thinking. How do they undo their “slave mentality’? It’s a tremendous undertaking to change one’s Philosophy of life. This is their test, both as a nation and on a personal level. However, it’s an enormous and difficult task.
Regardless of the psychological difficult road of changing one’s way of thinking, they are free!! They have tasted the sweetness of not having a master…… But wait!!
BUT WAIT!! ARE WE FREE?!!! In parshat [Vayera 7:26]
“And G-d said to Moshe, ‘go to Pharoah, and say to him, “thus says G-d ‘LET MY PEOPLE GO…….and they will serve Me.”
What are we free to do? To serve G-d! That’s freedom?
The commandments of the Torah, with 613 mandatory and prohibited acts, with countless restrictions and sub-restrictions upon behavior, consumption of foods, sexual activity — “you name it, Judaism wants to control it” — is repressive, restrictive, limiting. And this is the vision of Judaism which many of us have.
The Torah itself is uncompromising. Pesach is called “the time of our liberation,” not “the time of exchanging one master for Another”.
When the Jews stood at Mount Sinai and Moshe came down with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The verse is described in an interesting way “And the tablets were made by G-d, and the writing was G-d’s writing, engraved (Heb. Chorut) on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:16). Our sages (Chapters of the fathers 6:2) comment on this “do not read ‘chorut’ ‘engraved,’ but rather ‘chairut,’ ‘freedom,’ for no one else is free but he who occupies himself in Torah learning.” The words ‘Chorut’ and ‘Chairut’ are spelled the same way with different vocalization.
Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Levi says in the Chapters of the Fathers 62, “there is no free man like the one who is involved with the study of Torah.”
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that we have rights, such as the famous “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
If Liberty is supposed to make it possible for us to be happy, than the Torah’s “freedom” seems to serve the purpose very well. Those who visit an active observant Jewish community do not find a restricted, shackled people, but one where sharing, generosity, and happiness are the order of the day. There was actually a Los Angeles Times survey that discovered that residents of religious communities were significantly more likely to describe themselves as “happy.” How can this be? What is the vision of “freedom” that the Torah gives us?
In the Chapters of the Fathers 428, Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says “jealousy, lust and honor remove a person from the world.” What does this mean? One explanation is that these things color a person’s vision. Instead of dealing with the “real world,” he or she instead sees the world from a distorted perspective. And, of course, this unrealistic perspective limits the person, preventing him or her from doing things which otherwise would be entirely possible and appropriate. The victim is shackled, regardless of his or her self-perception. He’s a slave to society.
In other words, it is very easy to be a slave to our desires, and emotions. How many people in the free world are drowning in debt because they are literally slaves to their desires for material things? How many people are slaves to anger and other emotions, which cause them to act in destructive and regrettable ways? How many people have a gambling, sexual or any addiction? At the end of the day that person, briefly, wakes up and cries “Oh! What did I do?! Another day wasted. It is even possible to be a slave to an ideal that leads a person to ruination.
Rabbi Oelbaum says that the fundamental importance of the Torah is to enable us to overcome and do the opposite of our nature, to break the one aspect of our personality that we have a tough time overcoming. This is the primary goal of life.
Perhaps this is what G-d intended when approaching the nations and asking, are you ready to accept for real, and therefore you would have to eradicate stealing or murder or whatever weakness one has.
Rav Eliyahu Lopian teaches an important awareness of freedom of choice. This is an important aspect of man. However, one should know the definition of freedom of choice is not that one can do whatever he wants. If that was so, what is man’s superiority over animals? They too can do whatever they want. The definition of freedom of choice is that he’s able to choose himself and go against his nature, against his natural instincts and animals cannot do this.
The Torah, if studied correctly enables us to be free “Cherut”. It enables us to break away from slavery of the natural animal instinct. The Torah prepares us for proper freedom, the way man, not animal, is supposed to be free.