Are you free?

In the Kovno ghetto in the early 1940’s, an extraordinary scene took place in the makeshift synagogue. The worshippers already knew the fate in store for them. One morning the leader of prayers stopped in the middle of the service and said, “How can I thank G-d for my freedom when I am a prisoner facing death? Only a madman could say this prayer now.”

The rabbi replied softly, “Heaven forbid that we should not say the blessing. Our enemies wish to make us slaves. But though they control our bodies, they do not own our souls. By making this blessing we show that even here we refuse to be defeated. We are free men, temporarily in captivity. That is how we shall live. That, if necessary, is how we shall die.”

With the reading of the Exodus story in Shule this weekend (Parashat Bo) we are once again encouraged to consider whether we, in our own lives, are truly free?

Now, true freedom doesn’t just mean relief from servitude to those exerting power over us. It’s not just the lack of someone standing over us with a whip in hand. Because, as the above story illustrates, even whilst living among the most constricting and brutal conditions, one can still be free in spirit. Rather, we exhibit real freedom when we don’t allow anyone or anything to control our ability to choose – be that, the way we think, our attitude or the values that we wish to champion.

Whilst many of us are privileged to live in ‘free’ societies, in other words, free from external threats and persecution, how many of us are really free? How many of us choose to obsess about what everyone around us thinks of us and try and keep up with the latest trends and fads? How many of us allow ourselves to wallow in anxiety and allow our fears to deprive us of achieving our hopes and dreams? Are we not all subjected to and sometimes controlled by our inner cravings and selfish obsessions?

Here we have the irony. Even in a ‘free’ society, it can be challenging to be free.

Wishing you and yours a Shabbat Shalom and I look forward to seeing you in Shule!

Rabbi Yossi Friedman