A (Short) Discourse on Freedom
Pesach 2016 /5776
Sarah Yehudit Schneider
“The reward phase of history called the world-to-come is characterized by unfettered freedom. Liberty (דרור) is its hallmark. Freedom emanates from this Cosmic Yovel—the 50th Gate of Binah which broadcasts the fact that God is One.[i] Its Fifty Gates trace a path of enlightenment that marks our progressive integration of this unfathomable truth.[ii] Moshe reached rung 49. And when we (altogether) attain the Fiftieth Gate, we will discover another fifty interincluded within it, ad infinitum.[iii] The Torah, which was revealed on the fiftieth day of our Exodus from Egypt, is likewise a portal to Freedom.” (Zohar 2:183a, 175b, 25a)
On Pesach we celebrate our freedom—our release from Egyptian slavery.[iv] There is one sense in which that was a permanent and irreversible liberation.[v] Some layer of ourselves was set free and there is no power in the world that can ever take that away from us. And yet, the first passage of our Passover Haggada declares a (seemingly) contrary reality: “Now we are slaves but next year may we be free.” R. Kook explains that our freedom odyssey merely began on Pesach night, that it continues through today and will only finally culminate in our post-messianic Golden Age (called the Cosmic Yovel).[vi]
Yet, what is this freedom that we’ve been seeking for millennia—that is the goal of our labors and the point of it all, that beckons us from the future—this Cosmic Yovel that is yet to come.
Freedom is the state of being free to choose the most preferable option in any given moment.
By preferable I mean the wisest option—which anticipates even the most distant repercussions and thus promises the most gain with least pain.[vii] It is also always (conveniently) the most good-serving and self-serving option as well.
By good-serving I mean that which moves the universe forward toward its messianic golden age as maximally as possible.
By self-serving I mean that which minimizes pain and maximizes profit. By profit I mean pleasure, progress, success and bounty that are not negated by pains, losses and backtracks along the way—gains that never deteriorate into loss, harm, shame and regret.
What keeps us from being free? The obstacles are twofold: Anything that a) blocks us from recognizing the most preferable option or b) prevents us from picking it once identified.
By blocks I refer to inner hindrances that limit our capacity to anticipate the consequences set in motion by our choices, such as ignorance, lusts, anger, apathy, and insecurities.[viii] These blockages constrict our options and confine us to a less than optimal life where true freedom (as defined above) eludes us.
By things-that-prevent-us-from-picking-what-we-know-to-be-right I refer to the more classic, external (sociological) barriers to freedom: dictatorships, peer pressure, propaganda, financial lacks, health problems, discrimination, etc. Our servitude in Egypt was of this sort.
Yet even in the cauldron of Mitzrayim the Tribe of Levi created an oasis of freedom despite captivity by cleaving to Torah study though the Torah itself was not yet revealed.[ix]
This Torah of Mitzrayim refers to the truth teachings acquired through prophesy, contemplation and observation that were passed down through the generations from Adam till Sinai. The avot and imahot derived the entire Torah in this way.[x] They evolved a spiritual practice that touched all 613 organs of body and soul though their actions differed from the mitzvoth now specified in our post Sinaic Torah.[xi] If something is true (says the Talmud) then it is also Torah.
Freedom and truth are codependents—wherever one is the other will be. When either is absent, the other will languish. It follows then that our quest for freedom is equally a striving for truth.
By truth I mean that which is good-serving, God-serving and self-serving all at once.[xii]
By truth I mean something that is constantly proving itself and refining itself through the years.[xiii]
By truth I mean something that, when taken to heart, increases freedom by revealing preferable options that were not previously recognized.[xiv]
By truth I mean something that, when grasped, produces mochin d’gadlut (broad, mature, expanded consciousness) increasing one’s capacity to bear paradox without compromising one’s moral compass.[xv]
By truth I mean something that heightens our ability to find the redeemable (and lovable) parts of every single soul.[xvi]
By truth I mean something that deepens our capacity to appreciate what it means…what it really means…what it really, really, really means that G-d is One.[xvii]
And since it “takes one to know One,” it follows that only a kli that fuses the totality of us into a single unified one (down here below), can grasp the Onenss of the One at its (ultimate) Fiftieth Gate. And since that 50th Rung (called Yovel) is the Gateway to perfect freedom, it follows that, by truth I mean that which increases our awareness of the supreme interdependency of every created thing.
Kabbalists note that the term Exodus from Egypt appears fifty times in the Torah because our multi-millennial march toward freedom has fifty rungs which correspond to Binah’s Fifty Gates of Expanding Awareness.[xviii] Mitzrayim is the proper noun for Egypt, but its etymological root, tsar, means constraint. Our ongoing Exodus is about fleeing the deception produced by our own narrow minds. Step by step, as we loose the shackles of constricted consciousness we become (simultaneously) more free, more truth-centered and (by Binah’s standards) more enlightened. Now that’s a cause for jubilation!
And all this is really just the fulfillment of our First Commandment which asserts the absolute Oneness of Divinity as the driving force behind our freedom odyssey.
I am HaShem your G-d Who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
The two phrases of this verse are intertwined for, as the kabbalists note, our freedom (to recognize the most preferable option) grows in proportion to our deepening capacity to grasp Oneness.
At this Passover season, with the lights of freedom streaming through, we should seize the moment and fashion a kli that can harness those lights to set us free.
HaShem, release us from all that blocks us from recognizing the most good-serving option and choosing it with a whole heart. When we can finally see the bare truth of each moment, undistorted by narcissistic needs and ego defenses we’ll become an oasis of freedom and a messianic force that can (and will) awaken the world.
[i] Yovel translates as Jubilee, which is the 50th year of freedom. The Torah instructs us in the mitzvah of Yovel: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants therein. This is your jubilee year, when every person shall return to his hereditary property and to his family.…” (Lev. 25:10-18). This is the verse, inscribed on the famous Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence.
[ii] Zohar 1:103b. “But of a truth the Holy One makes Himself known to every one according to the measure of his understanding and his capacity to attach himself to the spirit of Divine wisdom; and thus “Her husband is known”, not “in the gates” (bishe’arim), but, as we may also translate, “by measure”, though a full knowledge is beyond the reach of any being.’ R. Simeon said: ‘The “gates” mentioned in this passage are the same as the gates in the passage, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates” (Ps. XXIV, 7), and refer to the supernal grades by and through which alone a knowledge of the Almighty is possible to man, and but for which man could not commune with God.”. See R. Moshe Cordevero, Sefer Pardes, Shaar 13.
[iii] Baal Shem Tov on the Torah, Mishpatim 23.
[iv] Passover week is called “zman cherutaynu,” the season of our freedom.
[v] R. Shlomo Elyashuv (Leshem), HaDrush Olam haTohu (HDOHT), 2:5:2:8.
[vi] Orot, p. 44
[vii] TB Tamid 32a “Who is the wise person, the one who sees what is born.” The one who sees the entire chain of cause and effect that is born from each choice.
[viii] In short, all the things that fall under the rubric of yetzer hara. Ruth Rabba 3:1.
[ix] Midrash Tanchuma Va’era 6.
[x] TB Yoma 28b.
[xi] R. Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu III p. 51 (51-55); Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Likutei Torah, Parashat Shalach, maamar 2, 4.
[xii] San. 7a [When a man walks in the path of truth, he goes towards the right and attracts to himself a holy spirit from above, which in turn ascends with holy intent to attach itself to the upper world and to cleave to the supernal holiness.] Zohar 1:54a Happy the man who is upright in his works and walks in the way of truth, so that his soul may find its original mate, for then he becomes indeed perfect, and through his perfection the whole world is blessed.’ 1:85b
[xiii] Pesachim 118a/b; Zohar 1:200a When the souls of the truly righteous ascend, nothing comes in contact with them save holy beings that communicate to them words of truth, words that can be relied upon never to prove false.
[xiv] R. Tsadok HaKohen, Machshavot Cherutz p. 13.
[xv] R. Tsadok HaKohen, Resisei Laila, p.101.
[xvi] ספר מקור מים חיים על הבעל שם טוב על התורה – פרשת בראשית אות ק’.
[xvii] HaShem’s seal is truth, Shabbat 55a.
[xviii] R. Moshe Cordevero, Sefer Pardes, Shaar 13.