Authentic Freedom Gittin 13
Authentic freedom is a complex concept that has been debated by philosophers and theologians for centuries. Authentic freedom includes the ability to make one’s own choices, the absence of coercion or oppression, and the pursuit of one’s own values and goals.
Our gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the psychological and halakhic concept of עַבְדָּא בְּהֶפְקֵירָא נִיחָא לֵיהּ for a slave. Becoming free is not necessarily considered an absolute benefit. The halakhic significance of this is that one cannot necessarily automatically acquire a bill of freedom on behalf of the servant because it may not be something that he wants. We cannot therefore presume his consent. The Gemara states that the reason why it is not a benefit for the slave is because though he will obtain freedom and autonomy, he will lose freedom to pursue a less moral lifestyle. First, as a slave he is not bound by certain mitzvos, and secondly, he also has access to other female slaves, who tended to be sexually promiscuous.
The Ishbitzer works with this idea of subjective freedom and slavery to describe two paradoxical trends in the human spirit (Tiferes Yosef, Pesachim 8). He goes as far as to say that the slavery in Egypt was more about the bondage of the soul and the inability to appreciate freedom as being free from desires. After all, the Jews declared that they had access to all the pleasures in Egypt?
זָכַ֙רְנוּ֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נֹאכַ֥ל בְּמִצְרַ֖יִם חִנָּ֑ם אֵ֣ת הַקִּשֻּׁאִ֗ים וְאֵת֙ הָֽאֲבַטִּחִ֔ים וְאֶת־הֶחָצִ֥יר וְאֶת־הַבְּצָלִ֖ים וְאֶת־הַשּׁוּמִֽים׃
We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. (Numbers.11.5)
The Ishbitzer maintains that the advanced refined soul can settle for nothing other than true emotional and spiritual freedom, while the lustful person is a slave to his or her desires, and happily chooses this form of slavery over actual freedom.
As our sages teach us in Pirke Avos (6:2)
וְהַלֻּחֹת מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלֹקְים הֵמָּה וְהַמִּכְתָּב מִכְתַּב אֱלֹקְים הוּא חָרוּת עַל הַלֻּחֹת, אַל תִּקְרָא חָרוּת אֶלָּא חֵרוּת, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ בֶן חוֹרִין אֶלָּא מִי שֶׁעוֹסֵק בְּתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה.
And it says, “And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tablets” (Exodus 32:16). Read not haruth [‘graven’] but heruth [‘freedom’]. For there is no free man but one that occupies himself with the study of the Torah.
Great people throughout history who had giant souls knew what real freedom was. Socrates has similar thoughts about freedom as he rebuked his accusers who sentenced him to death, and even his friends who try to arrange to break him free from prison, which he refuses to do. Socrates accepts his unjust punishment (Plato’s apology of Socrates) more concerned about abiding by the law and his own personal values than his safety:
And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that immediately after my death punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will not be as you suppose: far otherwise. For I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom hitherto I have restrained: and as they are younger they will be more severe with you, and you will be more offended at them. For if you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser censuring your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophecy which I utter before my departure, to the judges who have condemned me.
And, we find similar sentiment in a modern day hero, Anatoly Sharansky (In his autobiographical account of his years in Soviet prison for the crime of merely requesting to live in Israel “Fear, No Evil”)
My arrest changed everything. When the prison gates closed behind me, the huge world that had opened before me in recent years as the arena of an all encompassing struggle between good and evil was suddenly narrowed down to the dimensions of a prison cell and my interrogator’s office. I had to take everything that was dear to me, everything that had meaning in my life, with me to prison. The world I recreated in my head turned out to be more powerful and more real than the Lefortovo Prison; my bond with Avital was stronger than my isolation, and my inner freedom more powerful than the external bondage…Yes we were bound to each other not merely by memories of the past, or by photographs or a few letters, but precisely by that elevated feeling of freedom from human evil and bondage to God’s covenant that lifted us above earthly reality.
Upon finally being set free after a decade, Sharansky reflects:
In one respect prison was easier: In the punishment cell I was inwardly a free man, and I knew I was doing everything I could. Here things are far more complicated: There are thousands of opportunities to act, and who’s to say what constitutes enough? In a sense I am no longer free, for I can become free only together with those I left behind.
In freedom, I am lost in a myriad of choices. When I walk on the street, dozens of cheeses, fruits, and juices stare at me from store windows. There are vegetables here I’d never seen or heard of, and an endless series of decisions that must be made: What to drink in the morning, coffee or tea? What newspaper to read? What to do in the evening? Where to go for the Sabbath? Which friends to visit? In the punishment cell, life was much simpler. Every day brought only once choice: good or evil, white or black, saying yes or no to the KGB. Moreover, I had all the time I needed to think about these choices, to concentrate on the most fundamental problems of existence, to test myself in fear, in hope, in belief, in love. And now, lost in thousands of mundane choices, I suddenly realize that there’s no time to reflect on the bigger questions. How to enjoy the vivid colors of freedom without losing the existential depth I felt in prison? How to absorb the many sounds of freedom without allowing them to jam the stirring call of the shofar that I heard so clearly in the punishment cell? And, most important, how, in all these thousands of meetings, handshakes, interviews, and speeches, to retain that unique feeling of the interconnection of human souls which I discovered in the Gulag? These are the questions I must answer in my new life, which is only beginning.
How can we actualize authentic freedom in our lives?
Freedom requires the ability to pursue one’s own values and goals. In the modern world, the abundance of choices and the constant bombardment of information can make it difficult to focus on what is truly important. We must first understand the nature of freedom and then make choices that are consistent with our values.
Intuitive Truth Versus Logical Truth Gittin 14
Our gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a certain law as “a halakha without a reason”. The Aramaic word used is, “Hilkhesa”, which is also used to mean a Halakha LeMoshe Misinai, an oral legal tradition that is part of an ancient chain of teachings, even stemming back to Moshe. It is notable that Rashi understands this use of the word “Hilkhesa” to literally mean Halakha LeMoshe Misinai. Rashi’s explanation is that these particular laws also are seemingly without logical reason, just as the traditions from Moshe were also seemingly without logical reasons.
Rav Tzaddok (Pri Tzaddik, Sukkos 46.1) explains this on a deeper level. He understands that Moshe’s depth of self diminishment and humility allowed him to take a shortcut for a full “download“ of God‘s will represented in the Torah that he gave to the Jewish people. Actually, Moshe did not have a full understanding of the reasons for the derashos because his comprehension was on a meta-level. By way of metaphor, consider that any person, even one with learning disabilities, is able to cross the street gauging the speed that a car is approaching with how fast he or she needs to walk. This is advanced mathematical calculus, determining the rate of change. Yet, I assure you, especially as someone who has great difficulty with mathematical computation, though the math is being done somehow in the brain, there is no access to the computations. So too, Moshe‘s understanding of the absolute truth and necessity of various Torah commands, went beyond the earth-level reasoning. Yet, Rav Tzaddok says, this is only one aspect of torah. There also is the logical, analytical, pilpulistic aspect of Torah study. (Indeed, we have a tradition that 1,700 laws were forgotten during the mourning period of Moshe. Yet, Ansniel Ben Kenaz was able to recover these lost rulings via his own analysis and deduction, see Temurah 16a.)
Pri Tzaddik uses this idea to better understand a most interesting Aggadah regarding Moshe traveling in time and attending. Rabbi Akiva’s shiur (Menachos 29b):
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב בשעה שעלה משה למרום מצאו להקב”ה שיושב וקושר כתרים לאותיות אמר לפניו רבש”ע מי מעכב על ידך אמר לו אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות בסוף כמה דורות ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילין תילין של הלכות
Rav Yehuda says that Rav says: When Moses ascended on High, he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, sitting and tying crowns on the letters of the Torah. Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, who is preventing You from giving the Torah without these additions? God said to him: There is a man who is destined to be born after several generations, and Akiva ben Yosef is his name; he is destined to derive from each and every thorn of these crowns mounds upon mounds of halakhos. It is for his sake that the crowns must be added to the letters of the Torah.
אמר לפניו רבש”ע הראהו לי אמר לו חזור לאחורך הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים תשש כחו כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי מנין לך אמר להן הלכה למשה מסיני נתיישבה דעתו
Moses said before God: Master of the Universe, show him to me. God said to him: Return behind you. Moses went and sat at the end of the eighth row in Rabbi Akiva’s study hall and did not understand what they were saying. Moses’ strength waned, as he thought his Torah knowledge was deficient. When Rabbi Akiva arrived at the discussion of one matter, his students said to him: My teacher, from where do you derive this? Rabbi Akiva said to them: It is a halakha transmitted to Moses from Sinai. When Moses heard this, his mind was put at ease, as this too was part of the Torah that he was to receive.
This Gemara is difficult to understand. If it is true that Moshe was distressed at not understanding an aspect of the Torah, and then God took him forward in time to help him see that his descendants would be able to eventually understand it, that story alone is fascinating, but still comprehensible. The ironic twist is that Rabbi Akiva claims to be teaching Moshe’s own tradition! That is incomprehensible.
The Rabbis were tapping into the irony of Moshe not understanding Rabbi Akiva’s shiur to show how the core ideas in the Torah are like seeds and developed further through study, and so it can be authentically said as coming from Moshe. But Rav Tzaddok goes further than that explanation. His point is that Moshe comprehended it in such an essential way that he did not understand the step-by-step logic of how it made sense; he just knew intuitively it was true. That is why when he attended Rabbi Akiva‘s shiur and heard that it was his own teachings that were being transmitted, he felt a sense of peace. Moshe realized that his children would be able to work with what he gave them, and deepen and broaden their understanding, and how to apply it in everyday physical life.
Indeed, there are some people that are linear analytical thinkers, and their decisions are based on step-by-step analysis. Then there are others who think, symbolically, emotionally and intuitively. Oftentimes they are able to arrive at conclusions that prove to be correct, despite the fact that they are unable to explain how they know that to be true. These are patterns of human behavior that we must respect.