Real Freedom

One of the names for the holiday of Passover is “ZEMAN CHEIRUTEINU”, or Time of Freedom. The idea in reciting the Passover Hagadda is to tell the story of how we were slaves in Egypt and how G-d took us out and gave us our freedom. We use this holiday to celebrate our freedom and acknowledge that had G-d not taken us out of Egypt, we would still be slaves.

There are two areas discussed by the Rabbis that are indicators as to whether we are indeed free. The first area is related to our Sabbath observance. The Torah tells us in the Ten Commandments that we were given the gift of Shabbat because we were taken out of Egypt to be free men. What is the connection between freedom and the Sabbath?

There is a book titled “The Sabbath” written by Dayan Isidore Grunfeld, who was a rabbinic judge in London. Dayan Grunfeld, passed away in 1975 and wrote a short book primarily trying to define what it means that we are not to do “work” on the Sabbath day. He leads us to a definition that states, “any act that shows man’s mastery over the universe, is considered Melacha, or work”.

Rabbi Grunfeld went on to explain that refraining from participating in such creative acts shows that man is truly free. His example back when the book was written was the ability to refrain from answering the telephone when it rang on Saturday. He described how people are prisoners of the technological world and having one day a week where we were independent of technology shows real freedom.

The good rabbi would no doubt be shocked if he were aware of just how dependent we are on technology today. Perhaps it is a bigger challenge not to send text messages or e-mail one day a week. But the reality is that if we cannot refrain from such activities, we are not free and we have become slaves to technology.

The other area that shows real freedom is another statement made by the rabbis. “An individual is not truly free unless he immerses himself in Torah study.” The rabbis understood that it is very easy to become preoccupied with numerous activities in the course of one’s weekly schedule. It is very easy to justify how one really doesn’t have the time to be involved in Torah study. I have learned that if one learns how to properly allocate his time, he can find room for all that is important to him.

I have been teaching a Talmud class at the Shtieblach in Old Katamon, Jerusalem for more than twelve years. A group of gentlemen mostly retired, while some  work in the afternoons, diligently attend five mornings a week. The Talmudic discussions are lively and for that hour or so that we attempt to tackle a difficult problem in Jewish law, we are focused. Regardless of the problems that no doubt each of the attendees have, during that period of study the only thing that matters is how to become partners with other Talmudic scholars in trying to understand how they dealt with the issues under discussion.

This is a perfect example of showing how Torah study shows real freedom. The combination of the Sabbath and Torah study helps give the Jew a little perspective. We are all here on this earth for a limited time. We need to know what is truly important and what is not. And what is temporary and what is permanent.

Perhaps the Passover message of freedom is teaching us that there is a spiritual world that we are meant to be a part of. If we cannot detach ourselves and connect with our souls and its desire to strive for holiness, we are really not free. May the coming Passover holiday bring us freedom from our enemies and allow us to experience our own personal freedom as we connect to the sanctity of the Sabbath and the Torah and we rise higher and higher in our devotion and commitment as Jews.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.
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