The Road to Freedom

Friday, 10 February, 2017 - 9:38 am

The Road to Freedom

Clearly the Jewish people were looking for trouble.

After decades of slavery Pharaoh was finally forced to set the Jewish people free. In last week’s Parsha we read about how Pharaoh literally chased them out of Egypt:

“And Pharaoh arose at night… he called for Moses and Aaron at night, and he said, "Get up and get out from among my people, both you, as well as the children of Israel…  the Egyptians took hold of the people to hasten to send them out of the land”.  

One would expect the Jews to be overjoyed, to move as fast as they could towards their homeland, to the land of their dreams. Yet, the people were in no rush to leave. In fact, after traveling three days, fulfilling G-d’s commandment to Moshe, they actually turned back towards Egypt, thus inviting Pharaoh to chase them.

The Jews were free. They should have moved on. Why are they heading back? Why were they looking for trouble?  

When Pharaoh sent the Jews out of Egypt, had they proceeded on their way, and traveled to Israel, they would never have been free. Because freedom means to be the master of one’s destiny, while the Jews were in fact attaining their freedom on account of Pharaoh. Their oppressor left them no choice and cast them out of his land and into freedom. They were still passively following Pharaoh's orders. The orders may have changed, previously they were commanded to build cities and now they were commanded to exit the land, but the psychological state of the people was still the same: they were following orders.

Freedom cannot be granted. Freedom must be taken.

Freedom cannot be granted by an oppressor. If you are free only because your oppressor ordered you free, then, in truth, you are not free at all.

To be free one must defy the oppressor. The courage that generates the act of defiance is the stuff of true freedom. The courage needed to defy, is in fact what is psychologically liberating.

In last week’s Parsha, the people left Egypt as a result of Pharaoh's command. In this week’s Parsha the people caused Pharaoh to have a change a heart. They travel back towards Egypt, affording Pharaoh the encouragement and the opportunity to order the Jews back into Egypt. Only now, when the people defy Pharaoh, when they are free not on account of Pharaoh, but rather despite Pharaoh, are they truly free.

We each have an inner Pharaoh who seeks to enslave us to our negative habits and tendencies. We are commanded to remember the Exodus every day of our life, in order to remind ourselves that we can be free of our inner Pharaoh. Often, however, the image of freedom we picture in our minds is one of our inner Pharaoh leaving us alone. We wish we were free. We wish we would just wake up one morning, and the Pharaoh would have released us from his grip. We wish our Pharaoh would grant us freedom.

Yet, as we have seen, freedom cannot be granted.

To be free means to have the courage to defy the oppressor. To stand up and say no. To do the right thing despite the command of our inner Pharaoh. To be free is to have the courage to say no to our inner tyrant.

The Jews turned back to defy Pharaoh, not because they were looking for trouble, but rather because they were looking for freedom.

For freedom cannot be granted. Freedom must be taken.  


Comments on: The Road to Freedom

Alex Troy wrote...

well done, Rabbi. as the engraving on the Korean War statue in Washington, DC reads, "freedom is not free"