Freedom: Its True Definition

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In שמות פרק י:א , Exodus 6:1, it states, “and G-d said to Moshe, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand he will let them [the Jewish people] go. Indeed, by a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.’”

There seems to be a contradiction; first it says that Hashem will against Pharaoh’s will force him to send them away; and then it says the “deliverance” will be against the will of the Jewish people!

The same perplexity is seen in Deuteronomy 16:3 where it states “…Seven days you shall eat matzos, the bread of affliction, for you departed from the Land of Egypt in haste… as you should remember the day you left Egypt…”.

Again the pasuk states that matzoh is a representation of the terrible slavery, for a slave is forced to eat matzoh, rather than bread, for it satiates quicker and takes less time to bake. Immediately the Torah says that matzoh represents our freedom due to the fact that we left in haste and didn’t have time to allow the dough to leaven and rise. Which one is the “real” reason?

Rashi in both places teaches us that our moment of freedom was not due to our own volition, but rather the Egyptians forced us to leave on a moment’s notice.

What is the meaning of this? At the moment of deliverance, at the moment of ecstasy when we became a free people, it wasn’t our decision to leave that actualized our newfound freedom, but rather Hashem forced Pharaoh to force us to leave! We as a people, in contradistinction to other nations, never had a moment when we weren’t subjected to the dominion of another, either Pharaoh or the Almighty Himself.

As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains (Devarim p.346) :

“Your departure from Egypt was marked by enforced haste. The hand of G-d lay heavily on the Egyptians, so that they, who earlier had refused to grant you three days’ freedom from your labors- indeed, not even a moment’s respite from your labors – now actually drove you out into freedom. And even as they had done during all the years of your slavery, so now, too, they did not permit you sufficient time to bake proper bread for yourselves. Thus, even at the moment of your redemption, you still were slaves. You did not achieve your freedom by your own power; you received it from G-d, by means of your oppressors. Your oppressors were driven by G-d, and you were driven by your oppressors. G-d alone acted in freedom on that unique day in the history of mankind.

And all this is למען תזכר את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך, because this is meant to be the starting point of all of your future thoughts and actions. For on this day you did not become “your own master”; rather, from the oppression of human violence you passed into G-d’s possession; you left the servitude of man and entered into the service of G-d.”

In Exodus Chapter 6:6, one of the four connotations of גאולה deliverance is וגאלתי , which the רמבן (Nachmanides) translates to mean that ”I, Hashem, will acquire you from Pharaoh.” The Torah is emphasizing that there was no moment where you- Klal Yisroel- were not under the dominion of “another party”.

Why is this important? It defines the pathway to true human development and actual greatness.

A human being yearns for control of one’s destiny. A human being enjoys controlling others rather than being instructed what to do. Even when abiding by another’s instruction, one still yearns to retain some control, i.e. when, how, what etc.

Chazal teach us “ אין בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתורה ”, a person only experiences freedom when one follows the dictates of the Torah. How can that be? I have no say over determining my path of life!

Freedom doesn’t mean I can do what I want; that’s slavery. The true definition is that all my actions are consistent with the objectives and path of life I have embarked upon. To develop a system that is perfect necessitates an Absolute Being who gifts us with an absolute system. For otherwise, my intellectual, emotional, and hedonistic makeup, my desire for attention, fame, material wealth, power, physical desires, will wreak havoc to my planned path. Yes, we were given a wonderful gift by Hashem, we were given the great ennobling opportunity to become subjects of Hashem, never having the “freedom of Western civilization” but the true freedom of Torah life!


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