With Pesach coming up, I’d like to talk about the idea of freedom.
It has always interested me that in many ways, we human beings don’t do so well with freedom.
The ‘freedom’ that ensued after the French revolution descended to violent anarchy. Russian serfs, for centuries desperate for freedom from the czars, did not create the best of societies once they achieved it. Power and the immense freedom that accompanies it, has led almost every historical empire to decadence and decline. Going all the way back, the Jewish People moaned, complained, and even wanted to return to Egypt once they had been freed.
Freedom seems much more attainable as an ideal, than in actual reality.
In contemplating a reason for this, I believe the following.
The fight for freedom is an incredibly meaningful endeavour. However, once the goal has been achieved, the accomplishment leaves a vacuum. We human beings thrive on meaning. But without it, we lose motivation and drive. We need vision and purpose to get us out of bed in the morning. Freedom without purpose is ultimately empty. Its pleasure is short lived. And, I would be so bold as to suggest, that perhaps the attainment of freedom for freedom’s sake is not even worth it. Freedom is only valuable if the free person or society uses that freedom to work towards a new and greater dream. Freedom is a platform, but not an end. It is a ladder to a greater good, but if the ladder is not climbed, the freedom is worth little. Worse, the years of struggle will seem to have achieved nothing. And that is incredibly deflating and discouraging.
This is why the rabbis tell us that, ‘there is no free person other than one who involves him or herself in Torah’. For the Jewish People, Torah is a direction, a goal, a purpose; it is the building of a good and moral society, a striving towards Godliness. It is climbing the ladder of freedom. Without direction, they are saying, there is no satisfaction in freedom. It doesn’t need to be Torah, it can be any meaningful goal, but ultimately freedom comes with a price tag. And it’s not just the price tag of the initial struggle to be free. Once freedom is attained, the struggle is by no means over. Indeed, I would suggest that the struggle has just begun. Because with freedom comes responsibility. Human beings can use their freedom to build for themselves and others a better world. Or they can slip into the decadence that freedom can provide. And find themselves in a world that is no better, perhaps even worse, than the slavery they came from.
Parsha in a Nutshell
The focus of this portion is tzoras, a physical disease that would afflict a person who transgressed the laws of speech. It would progressively afflict home, clothes and skin. It is often mistranslated as ‘leprosy’, but that’s clearly incorrect as leprosy only affects the body and the symptoms are very different.