“The easiest thing is to hide from the world and its follies, seclude oneself in a room and be a holy hermit. What the Torah desires, however, is that a person should be part and parcel of ‘all the congregation of the children of Israel’ – and be holy.”
- Rabbi Moshe Alshich
There is a difference between being “free” and having a “free-for-all.” Having left Egypt, the Jews were slaves no longer and by definition, were “free.” But what does freedom look like?
The Egyptian Pharaoh was considered to be a “god.” He could enslave a nation, decree genocide, act outside of all reason, and he answered to no one. In being “free” to act with impunity, Pharaoh nevertheless brought widespread death and destruction to his country. So, is that what “freedom” looks like? If so, then really, what’s the point? Surely, it must mean something else.
A New Paradigm of Freedom
In liberating the Jewish people from slavery, God had to teach us what freedom – true freedom – looks like. Without a paradigm or model to go on, God had to teach us from the ground up. The kind of freedom God wanted us to embrace was a certain kind of freedom, the freedom of being “congruent.”
Being congruent means that the actions of your external self are consistent with the values of your internal being. Essentially, it means being authentic and true to yourself. The question however, as we can see from the example of Pharaoh who was evil inside and out, is which self are we, and what kind of person do we want to authentically express?
Having been slaves in Egypt for over two hundred years, how could the newly- liberated Jew know what his or her real self was? How could a recently freed slave understand his or her potential, much less how to actualize it?
The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim,” which means “narrowness” or “constraint.” Leaving Egypt for the desert was going from a place of constricted boundaries to a place of no boundaries. To avoid the external chaos of a “free-for- all,” as well as the internal panic of being in a state of “free-fall,” God had to teach us what being a truly free human being looks like, and how to create our internal controls. So the Jews had to learn both “how” to be as well as “what” to be.
One of the main themes of the Torah portion, “Kedoshim,” deals with the laws of prohibited relationships. Previously, it was the laws of proper speech - what comes out of your mouth. Before that, it was the laws of kosher animals - what goes into your mouth. Laws, laws and more laws. It seems that there is no part of our lives, our relationships, our behaviors, even our bodies, which is not governed by Torah law. That is because Judaism is an inside/outside religion.
Is This a New Version of the Same Old?
So is this just a new form of slavery? After all, when we were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh certainly controlled us. In so doing, however, Pharaoh wanted to crush us, to break us down utterly. In total contrast, God wants to build us up, to cultivate our character so that we understand who we truly are – a holy people.
The Freedom to Be Holy
For us to be holy, however, we must be “whole.” We must be congruent. We must be holy both inside and out. In governing all of the myriad aspects of our lives, God is teaching us that Judaism is not compartmentalized, but is a seamless integrated holistic way of being.
Therefore, we can’t say – “This is for God, but that is not.” We can’t say, “Before, I was on God’s time, but now I am on my time.” We can’t say, “What I do or say over here matters, but over there it does not.” And we certainly can’t say, “Well, this is just business…”
And so whether it’s governing what we eat, how we speak, how we conduct business, how we treat others, how we conduct our intimate relationships, etc. etc. etc.… it all matters. In an integrated seamless holistic life, everything has to matter. And therefore, we can look at each law that God gives us as another nuance and refinement, another pathway and connection, to help us close the gap between the external being and the internal selves that represent our true Godly essence.
Being Freed Versus Staying Free
When we were delivered from Egypt, we were given the gift of freedom. To stay, free, however, is another story. Staying free means embracing freedom as a responsibility to be earned, integrated and owned – in other words, being congruent. When we can do that, no one and nothing can ever enslave us again. And that is what freedom – true freedom - really looks like.
Things To Ponder:
1. Can you think of a time in your life where under the guise of using your freedom, you were really just escaping responsibility and having a free-for-all? In hindsight, was it healthy for you? What lessons did you learn and did you find that you ended up creating more boundaries from this sense of freedom?
2. What in your life could use some holiness? Think through your thought, speech, action and relationships and write down five things you can implement in those areas to uplift them and yourself.
3. In what ways do you feel enslaved and what are you a slave to in your life? How can you break free from this and how will your life look when you are no longer under its control?