Dreaming of Moshiach

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Defining Freedom

By Rabbi Levi Brackman

Passover is the time of year to throw off our individual enslavements and emancipate ourselves to achieve the desires of our authentic self - our soul.

In the West and especially in the USA, people pride themselves on being free. Indeed it is freedom that America would like to export to the rest of the world. However the question needs to be asked: are people living in western style democracies really free?

I recall a few years ago having my portrait taken by an Iranian photographer and asking him whether he enjoyed life in the UK more then he had enjoyed it in Iran. I was stunned when he answered no. "But here you are free and in Iran you were not," I said. "Surely it must be better here." He explained that in the UK he was completely enslaved by the financial expectations of society, whereas in Iran he was not. The reality is that we often get confused about the word freed and do not realize that the definitions vary. For most of the nearly 2,000 years that Jews have been in exile, they did not have self-determination and their actions were severely confined by the governments under which they resided. Today, however, most Jews live in the West or Israel where there are no limits to what they can achieve higher spiritually or materially. In this sense Jews are free in the West. However there is a greater element which my Iranian photographer was alluding to. The Kabbalists will this a personal exile or individual redemption. The former is where individuals are still enslaved to inner elements that hold them back from reaching their full potential and the latter is when one is freed from those restraints. To illustrate this there is a story told about the second generation Chassidic leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok, zs'kl.

One day, after he had settled in the land of Israel from Russian, he heard a commotion outside his house. When he asked a family member what the noise was about, he was told that a Shofar blast had been heard from the top of a high mountain, and people thought the Moshiach has arrived. Rabbi Menachem Mendel opened his window and said, "No, he has not come; I cannot smell the scent of redemption." His followers explained that Rabbi Menachem Mendel had to open his window for this because the smell of redemption always pervaded his private room.

This Chassidic leader and Kabbalist had reached the stage of self mastery where no other influences either outer or inner was able to contain him from reaching that which his authentic self wanted to achieve. Thus, his room was filled with the fragrance of redemption but the outside was not. It is common for people to talk about where they would ideally like to be in life and then give reasons why they have not been able to get there. Most often when one feels empty of lacking it is because one has not achieved what the authentic self would like to accomplish.

The reason for this is because other influences, psychological, emotional and societal hold one back. Self mastery allows one to move beyond that and progress freely in reaching the objectives of the authentic self. The problem my Iranian photographer was talking about had nothing to do with living in the UK or Iran. It was a personal issue. If he had reached self mastery he would not have the need to conform.

The problem was that he had allowed himself to become enslaved to the outside expectations of society and was out of sync with his authentic self. We must not confuse the types of freedom. Indeed in Western democracies citizens have a freedom of expression but although this must be cherished it does not make us personally free. Ironically, we can live in a free society and be personally enslaved. Conversely one can live in an oppressive society and be individually emancipated. Passover is all about freedom and for those living in democracies it is a time to think about individual personal freedom. It is the time of year to throw off our individual enslavements and emancipate ourselves to achieve the desires of our authentic self - our soul.

Printed in Jewish Weekly Magazine Hebrew Time 1-800-519-0984




והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו