Parshat Va’era: Becoming Truly Free

Breaking chains (Pixabay)

Chains and cages constrain so many people, in the literal and metaphorical sense; freedom is limited, dreams are destroyed, and life is muted. We learn in Masechet Berachot (5b) that, generally, “A prisoner cannot free himself from prison,” and this could be discouraging, framing our lives and experiences as objects affected by and dependent on others. However, this is not always the case, and while at times prisoners literally cannot free themselves, we all have the power to free the inner life of ourselves, to attain true freedom.

In the beginning of Parshat Va’era, Hashem continues with His directions for Moshe Rabbeinu to free Bnei Yisrael (Israelites/Jewish People) from Egyptian rule. He directs Moshe to relay one seemingly innocuous message: “Say, therefore, to the Bnei Yisrael: ‘I am YHVH, and I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from slavery. I will liberate you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you will know that I am YHVH your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians’” (Shemot 6: 6-7).

In this message, Hashem relays the four stages relevant to Bnei Yisrael in Egypt: freedom, rescue, liberation, and taking; Hashem will free Bnei Yisrael from their backbreaking labor, rescue them from Egypt’s clutches, liberating them by wiping out their oppressors, and take them as His people, ultimately to enter into the Promised Land, the Land of Israel. This described progression, known as the “Four Expressions of Redemption, is a beautiful account of the foundation of our peoplehood, but it can also speak to an inner, deeper redemption that is accessible to each person and, thus, the world.

Speaking on the topic of redemption in Likutei Moharan, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes, “[I]n the future [redemption], people will live an eternal life, because then, knowledge will be revealed and they will be encompassed in the One” (21:13:4-5). He further explains that when Hashem said, “You will know that I am YHVH who brings you out…,” it was because, essentially, our redemption comes through knowing, having a renewed outlook on our relationship with ourselves and Hashem. What Rebbe Nachman seems to suggest is that our redemption — the freedom and liberation from the chains that keep us personally and nationally exiled — comes from something revolutionary: a shift in our perspective.

“True freedom is when a person or nation is driven by an exalted spirit to stay true to the inner essence and divine image within,” Rav Kook writes. “One then feels that one’s life is motivated by a greater purpose that is aligned to one’s true self … Nevertheless, we must journey toward the inner light of personal freedom” (“Olat Hare’iyah” 2, p. 245).[1] These words are immensely powerful and re-frame freedom as something much deeper than merely a physical liberation.

True freedom, as Rav Kook describes, is getting in touch with who we truly are, divine souls intrinsically connected to Hashem in an unconditional and unbreakable bond. When we live our lives through this reality, no chains or cages can contain us. Once we channel our deepest desires — to bring love, peace, and godliness into the world — into our lives, we will feel our inhibitions dissipate. It’s time to live our lives by our own dreams and ideals, not anyone else’s. Then, and only then, we will experience the truest and sweetest freedom we all deserve.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 78

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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