TORAH TUESDAYS: PARSHAT BO
BY HENNIE BLACK
In this week’s parsha, Bo, we learn about the exodus from Egypt and the freedom of the Jewish people from 210 years of slavery.
But what does freedom really mean? What does freedom look like?
We can gain insight from Hashem’s command that Moshe and Aaron relay to Pharaoh: “Send out my people that they may serve Me.”
“That they may serve me?” They were already servants to the Egyptians!
It appears that Hashem is not simply freeing the Jewish people from slavery – He is setting them free for the purpose of serving G-d.
Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l taught that there are two types of freedom – “freedom from” and “freedom to.” “Freedom to” is freedom with a purpose.
We are all slaves to something. We build our lives around ideas and things that we choose to follow. Pure unfettered freedom, where we are not beholden to anything at all, simply doesn’t exist. We can either be slaves to Pharaoh and Egyptian culture or we can be servants to G-d and Judaism and all the moral and eternal values that they imbue.
Purposeful freedom has a direction. Had we been redeemed only to freely do whatever we want, would we have been truly free? Unfettered freedom is not true freedom, as it will invariably impact the freedom of someone else. For example, if you chose to exercise your freedom and run a red light, you are putting yourself and others at risk. In this scenario, your freedom actually hurts another.
Having a life of direction, ethics, morality, purpose and meaning is a much higher level of freedom. This is freedom for you and freedom for others.
Hashem chose to ingrain this concept of freedom with the first two commandments that He gave the Jewish people while they were still in Egypt, even before receiving the Torah at Sinai. The two commandments are the laws of Rosh Chodesh (sanctifying the new moon) and the laws of the Pascal Lamb offering, known as “Pesach.”
As slaves in Egypt, the Jewish people were subservient to their Egyptian taskmasters and were available to them at their every whim. They were not in control of their own time, nor were they owners of their own possessions – it all belonged to their masters. The commandments of sanctifying the new moon and the Pesach offering gave the Jewish people responsibility over their own time, space and ultimately their own destiny.
This fascinating and counter-intuitive idea that rules, structure and laws make you free is one that we need to grasp and appreciate. Freedom is a gift that we must work on daily to sustain and manage. Freedom to choose our actions and the way we live our lives, filtered through the prism of a higher purpose and goal, is true freedom. It is important to not only understand the superior aspect of this freedom, it is equally important to sustain this freedom and pass it on to the next generation.
It was a gift that Hashem gave us, and it remains a gift we pass on to our children.