Lazer Gurkow

Do You Have The Courage To Be Free?

Do we have the courage to be free? As we read about our ancestors leaving Egypt, we realize that they took a huge leap of faith. In retrospect it seems simple. They left a land of suffering and bondage and embarked on an idyllic journey through the desert where food rained down from heaven and their every need was provided. What could be simpler?

Yet, in real time this was a huge gamble and G-d acknowledged it as such. “You followed me into a desert, into an untilled land” (Heremiah 2:2). They put their trust in G-d and took a flying leap off the ledge of civilization. They entrusted themselves and the lives of their children. And what security did they have? Only G-d’s word.

In Our Times
Reb Shmuel, the third Rebbe of Lubavitch, often said that our era is similar to the generation nourished on Manna in the desert. Our sustenance comes to us from above in a supernatural manner. In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthuse predicted that the earth would run out of food to feed the growing population. The same concern has been echoed many times since and continues to be raised today.

Yet despite the exponential expansion of the human population, nature and human ingenuity found remarkable ways to produce an excess of food. To the extent that farmers often complain of surplus which enabled governments to institute social programs that transfer agricultural surplus to poor urban centers.

Despite these happy tidings, many are still concerned about the viability of the planet and a human population expected to reach ten billion by 2050. Where will the food come from? They worried about it then, we worry about it now, and incredibly the planet continues to produce. This is no less a miracle than manna falling from heaven to feed our ancestors in the desert.

We have a precedent for G-d finding a way so forgive me if I refuse to join the latest wave of handwringing. Our ancestors did not have a precedent for this level of trust. Yet, they stepped out of their comfort zone and placed their trust in G-d. That is incredible. They had the courage to be free. Free of their fears. Free of their worries about tomorrow. Free to do as G-d asked of them.

The question is, do we? Do we have the courage to be free? How many of us are enslaved to jobs we don’t like, employers that take advantage of us, or habits that destroy us? How many of us live in stress because we allow others to manipulate us and are afraid to break free? We don’t speak up to the abusive client or the blackmailing boss because we are afraid of losing our sense of stability and comfort.

We feel that we are standing on a stable platform, but in reality it is a narrow ledge. We pay the price of remaining in our toxic workplace environment. It is a price we don’t deserve to pay. Our families deserve to have peace. We deserve some peace. Why do we allow the customer to push us so hard? Why do we allow the boss to cause us so much tension? It is the fear of going without.

This brings us back to our question; do we have the courage to be free? Yes, if I turn down this order because the client is abusive and causes me so much stress, I might lose several thousand dollars. Money, I bank on to pay my bills, to pay for my children’s tuition, to pay for our upcoming holiday. If I stand up to my boss and get fired, how will I move forward? If I don’t stay late at work to finish this project for a demanding client, I might lose him. What a price my family will pay.

But my family is already paying a price. Their husband and father isn’t at home when he should be. When he is home, he isn’t present and available. He is brooding and stressed. Every so often he lashes out as he releases his tension on those around him. What keeps us in this prison? It is only the fear of stepping out.

Jewish tradition has it that ever since G-d took us out of Egypt, He made us inherently free. No one can control us. We are beholden only to G-d. Nothing else. No one can take our freedom from us. Only we can take it from ourselves. If we step away from abusive clients or a bullying boss, we are not alone. G-d is at our side. The same G-d Who stood by our ancestors when they dragged their children into a desert.

We think our support and income comes from our job, that our fate hangs in the hands of our employers, and that our sustenance depends on the goodwill of our clients. The truth is that these are merely mediums through which G-d supports us. Our support doesn’t come from those who pay us. Our support comes from G-d. The same G-d who found us this job, can find us another. The same G-d that supported us through a job, can support us when we take a leap and go out on our own.

It doesn’t take much for G-d to make us successful. Our fortune can come from the least expected sources. Small endeavors that we think might earn us a few hundred dollars can become a main source of revenue. Huge undertakings that we expect will support our families can go bust. We are not in our own hands; we are in G-d’s hands. All we do is make a vessel. He fills it with money.

If the vessel is abusive, or drains our time, or saps our good will and energy, we need only replace it with a different vessel. We are not giving up our source of income, we are just giving up a vessel. The G-d Who feeds billions of insects, animals, beasts, birds, fish, and humans daily, has enough to feed  us too. All it takes is the courage to be free. We need to repeat this to ourselves like a mantra. I have the courage to be free. I am inherently free. All I need to do is take the step. I have the courage to be free.

Broken Vessels
Of course, if G-d is the source of my income it is important that my vessel complies with G-d’s standards. It might seem that cutting a corner here or withholding some charity there might leave us with more money in our pocket. But it breaks the vessel. A vessel with holes in it drains money. Yes, we might end up with more money today, but tomorrow a deal that was meant to come our way, might get diverted to someone else.

If not that, an unexpected expense might come up. Whatever method G-d uses, the reality is that if our destiny is in G-d’s hands, the safe stable path forward is to do it G-d’s way. It just boils down to the same question: do we have the courage to free ourselves of fear and do it G-d’s way?

G-s wants us to begin each morning with prayer and Torah study. This means that we wake up early, put in some time with G-d and only then go to work. The competition sleeps in, gets to work before me, and is more restful than I. I can’t afford to open my shop so late. I can’t afford to cut back on my sleep. I need to cut down on my morning prayer and study.

By the time the day comes to an end, I am depleted. I have endured so much stress, taken so much abuse, run myself so ragged that I have no energy to study Torah. Forget the study hall, I am headed home. No, I don’t have patience for the kids today. All I want is to plop down on the couch and lose myself in my smartphone. I want some peace and some blessed relief.

Yes, to make the daily commitment to shave time off of work to study Torah and pray takes courage. To make the daily commitment not to let abusive clients or bosses take over our lives, takes courage. But that is the price of freedom. Do we have the courage to be free?

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at