One of the primary forces at play in recent history, beginning with the French Revolution and continuing to the stormy events in the Arab world today, is freedom. The chant of freedom has echoed in the halls of every major political movement and the thirst for it has driven many to give up their lives in its search. The voice of freedom is not only heard in the political arena, it penetrates to our most secret chambers. It calls out in our homes and offices – from the bedroom to the boardroom its cry can be heard.
So what is the illusive freedom we seek in our public and private lives?
The common perception seems to be that freedom implies the unrestricted ability to act, speak and think as I choose. Any restriction which inhibits my capacity to do as I want is looked upon as an infringement of a fundamental right that I possess. In other words, freedom is the means whereby I can be me. But is the freedom to do as I choose really that?
Well it really depends on who we see as the I? If we view the “I” as being governed by our natural desires and instincts and conditioned by our society to live in a particular way, then freedom must allow us to act out our desires and play the role society has cast us. However this concept of self suggests that my being has no specific purpose rather it is purely a product of environment and instinct. I becoming me is meaningless and hedonistic.
But were I to see myself as a being with a specific purpose, goal and mission. Were I to see myself as having an intrinsic nature beyond instinct and socialisation. Were I to appreciate the individuality and the uniqueness of who I am, then my expression of self would have to link in to that mission and any deviation would be abuse of self. I becoming me would be a process of actualisation of self. Unlimited “freedom” could ironically restrict my true expression of self and an environment which imposed severe restrictions on my actions could be the place where I would be the most free; provided those restrictions assisted my expression of self.
For example, a sportsman, whose mission is to win a gold medal in the Olympics, will place himself in an environment where he can only eat foods which build his athletic capacity. His sleep and exercise schedule will be strictly controlled. His social engagements will be very limited but he will not feel deprived as he understands that the limitations of the environment bring him closer to freeing his inner potential.
This is the freedom that we experience on Pesach. The Jewish nation was born and we were given a mission, a mission that requires supreme focus and constant caution. This mission which will reveal the great inner potential of the Jew imposes limitations and restrictions – not to curtail his freedom but to access it. Through adhering to the guidelines that the Torah provides, my I can truly become me, in the deepest possible sense.