Freedom to Live

Freedom to Live

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

(Reprinted by request)

What is freedom? Passover teaches us that freedom is liberation from bondage and then revelation at Sinai. There is no freedom without liberation and there is no life without revelation. Torah teaches, “For [Torah] is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). Today, liberation from bondage takes on many forms. Bondage is personal. We feel bound by internal handicaps. Emotional and spiritual limitations can prevent us from accomplishing more. Liberation frees our spirit to be at our best. Bondage is also physical. We feel bound by real barriers to participation. Though issues of inclusion are improving, there are still boundaries that cannot be easily overcome. We have to persist to destroy them. Bondage is around us. We’re commanded not to remain indifferent (Deut. 22) to the bondage of others and their struggles to be free. We cannot hide ourselves from what we are uniquely obligated to do.

Freedom can mean using available resources to help us overcome the limitations we place on ourselves. Talmud teaches, “The prisoner cannot free himself from prison” (Berakhot 5b). He sees the keys hanging on the wall outside the cellblock doors, but someone has to come and turn the key and open the door. We need to ask for help and accept it when it’s offered.

Freedom can mean access to resources for physically handicapped individuals to overcome barriers in front of them. In Leviticus (19:14), we learn, “Do not put a stumbling before the blind.” It’s about real physical barriers, but it’s also about tearing down perceived obstacles that prevent the unknowing or unfamiliar from stumbling unnecessarily.

Freedom can mean seeing something far from home and even farther from our own concerns and knowing that something can still be done. Access on TV and the internet enables us to be not just voyeurs, but far-away helpers who can make a difference with helping hands, new understanding, or financial support.

But freedom is just a start. Living is next. At Sinai, our people gathered and spoke in a unified voice to God, saying, “Na’aseh V’nishma,” we will faithfully do all that You commanded. In this way their future was bound to an unconditionally loving God in Whose ways and deeds our people would flourish. God gave us Torah that we should “live by Torah, not die by Torah.” In its words we find all that we need to live a life of purpose, meaning, and benefit.

As Passover ends, we’ll turn to Exodus 15, which contains the Song of the Sea. It’s the victory song sung by the Israelites and led by Miriam with timbrels in her hand. They sing the familiar words, “Who is like You, Adonai, among all the gods that are worshiped?” Then we’ll continue our counting of the Omer, 50 days to Shavuot, the “Season of the Giving of Torah.” As we make our way, ask yourself, what freedom do you seek? Whose help will you summon to unlock your proverbial shackles? How will you lower barriers for others? Who will you help even if they live far from where you are? How does Torah empower and urge you to live a life of meaning every day? The answers are yours. May they reflect freedom and revelation; both access to life’s gifts and an obligation to use them well.


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