Freedom is such a great gift. But shockingly, there are some who are afraid of it. There are prisoners who prefer to remain in prison, and abused spouses or employees who are more afraid to leave than to stay. And though most of us can’t understand why people would make such choices — convinced that we would choose otherwise — the truth is that we too are prisoners. We are captives of our limiting thoughts and mindsets which keep us locked in the past, locked in anger, fear, insecurities, hate, self–doubt or the blame game. The list of things controlling our thoughts is long – long enough to weave a noose to hang all our potential. But the Torah tells us to choose life.
Yet, how can we really choose life when our beliefs are stuck in a thought loop that sings much like a dirge. Friends, it is life altering and essential to realize that without freedom of mind, freedom of mobility is just an illusion. We function on autopilot and walk pre-encoded paths. Without freedom of mind, physical freedoms are under constant threat. This is true of nations and of individuals. Freedom is something we must fight for every day of our lives because every moment offers us a choice. Who is in charge of the decisions that shape your life? Do you really have freedom, or do you react in default mode?
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” said President Ronald Reagan. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
But long before the American president spoke these powerful, true words, Judaism taught that, “In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt.” For Egypt is not just a country on the map. It is a mindset. And the battle bequeathed to us is to constantly transcend our current selves and question what we are thinking and why we are thinking it. The word “Egypt” in Hebrew means limitations. If we are to live with purpose and have a fulfilled life, then it is incumbent upon us to free ourselves from our limitations, from our figurative “Egypts,” every moment of our lives.
In this week’s Parasha, Shoftim we are reminded of G-d’s warning to the Israelites after leaving Egypt: “You shall not return that way anymore.” Some people fear freedom because it comes with great responsibility. It is hard to break the chains of a slave mentality. After they were freed from Egypt, many of the Israelites complained and advocated returning with distorted recollections leading the way, “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”
If you want to meet the person you are capable of becoming, then you must break the chains that control your thoughts and let go of toxic and paralyzing beliefs about yourself. We have all heard the expression mind over matter. Physicist Max Plank, an originator of the quantum theory said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” God’s consciousness created the world, and our thoughts create our reality.
Modern science and self-help gurus speak and write abundantly about the power of positive thinking. But Judaism has been teaching this for thousands of years — not merely because it’s nice to be positive, but rather because of the creative power of thoughts.
The Tenth commandment, “Thou shalt no covet” is a sin of the mind, and yet it is considered the most dangerous one to violate because coveting (thinking about) what another has will lead to the violation of all the other commandments. The power of the mind! What you thought is what you brought. Our mothers warned us to watch our steps, but watching our thoughts is even more important and will better guard and guide our steps.
This month of Elul is a time of introspection and repentance before the Jewish High Holy Days. But how can we repent or hope to change if the poisonous mindsets of yesterday continue to accompany us along the way. Einstein said that we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. It’s interesting to note that many of the survivors of the Holocaust survived because of their visualizations of life beyond the concentration camp barbed wire fences.
If you want to change your life, change your thinking. If you want to be free, don’t compete with elephants as to who has a better memory.
Here is an example of why it’s not good to have a memory like an elephant. Consider a baby elephant which is tied by a rope to a stake in the ground. When he’s a baby he’s not strong enough to pull the stake up. Eventually he becomes strong and is amply capable of doing so, but his mind has already been conditioned so he doesn’t even try.
Chabad Chasidism teaches, “Think good and it will be good.” Positive thinking is a force multiplier. A healthy mind is your most important weapon. As the saying goes, “Change your mind, change you find.”
In this week’s Torah reading, the Israelites are told to pursue the truth; earlier they are told to distance themselves from lies. Our instinct is to distance ourselves from liars and to be with honest people. But, my friends, the person we lie to the most is usually ourselves.
We let Satan play with our minds and convince us that we are dumb or failures, has-beens, or wannabees. He makes us scared to be free and convinces us to return to Egypt, to our limitations. But G-d promises us a Land flowing with milk and honey. He asks of us not to be bitter, but to be better. He opened the sea before us and gave us the Book of Life and commanded us not to look back. “…For the L-rd said to you, ‘You shall not return that way anymore.’”