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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, June 25, 2004

The Freedom of Slavery

I received an e-mail from Yudel and I thought I would share it: In your blog about Aristotle you were bemoaning what you took to be the fact that people are inexorably enslaved to something or other. You were groping for a way out. How does a person keep from being enslaved? But surely you know, the Tana in Avos says, "Ein lach ben chorin ela mi sheosek betaora." Freely translated, this says, the only way to be really free is to occupy oneself in Torah. So you see, there is a way out. The reason we feel so resigned to slavery as that we detach, or distance, ourselves from our ultimate source and our true identity. Consequently, our consciousness brings us into communion only with ulterior phenomena. And the only way to relate to something ulterior is slavishly. However, as we draw ourselves closer to our source, our true essence of being, we are no longer captivated by something exterior. For we have FOUND ourselves, truly and deeply. Now, as we all know, as Jews, what we really are, on the level of soulfulness (i.e., true ultimate essence), are Torah-beings. Accordingly, in proportion as we forge an identification of ourselves with Torah, the will of Hashem, we release ourselves from the exterior (ulterior) grip. We become attuned to our inner selves: you and me. This is true freedom. So you see, it's so very simple. I didn't see it as being so simple, so my response was this: If we can only find our true selves through dedication to Torah, how does that not make us slaves to Torah, and consequently, Hashem? (By the way, this would not necessarily be a negative form of slavery, maybe it would be a positive form, but I have trouble seeing it as being free from some kind of bondage, which is to me, slavery.) If Jews have this opportunity to free themselves by delving into Torah, where does that leave non-Jews? Are they bound by slavery because they are not bound by Torah? I think Aristotle's views might even coincide with that belief - he seemed to think that some people are natural slaves while others had higher rank and potential. But I have a lot of problems with that. Yudel's response: You get right to the root of the matter. You intimate that dedication to Torah and subservience to the Al-mighty is a form of slavish bondage. But as we know, the highest plane of existence we can reach is where we're servants to Hashem. The Al-mighty Himself refers to Moshe Rabeinu as "avdi"...My servant. And the Torah exhorts us not to subject a slave of our brethren to abject labor, by declaring "Ki avaday hem," "For they our My slaves," and therefore they (the Jewish people) must not be treated slavishly by us. Clearly, the point of it all is that we submit ourselves unreservedly to His will. Yet, as we saw, the Tana in Avos characterizes this as freedom! The way I've tried to explain it is to say, true freedom is self-actualization. When someone is encumbered from actualizing himself, he suffers from a lack of freedom. When someone is forced to do something against his will, he isn't actualizing himself. He isn't acting from the authentic root of his true identity, his essential being. We Jews...we're so holy and so special. By our very definition, we are receivers of Torah. We are acceptors of the will of Hashem. Our very inner being is entwined with this. Consequently, for us to willfully embrace Torah and embrace the way of life He has ordained for is - this IS for us to exercise an act of freedom. Because this puts us in touch with our deepest essence. And nothing can be freer than that! Usually, subservience is to something extraneous to us; so it drives us away from ourselves (as it were). But in this instance, it takes us back to who we really are and where we come from. It takes us to where we are destined to go. Secular, scientifically minded philosophers just aren't on our wave length. So they trouble themselves endlessly with the "Free Will-Determinism Problem." So much the worse for secular, scientifically minded philosophers. Nebach. Maybe this sheds some light on the situation with non-Jews, too. To the extent that they don't engage in self-actualization, they are indeed enslaved. When they pander to their baser instincts and relentlessly pursue hedonistic goals, they fail to actualize themselves as human beings, created in the image of Hashem. They are acting slavishly. They don't possess a Torah-essence as we do; so they lack the potential for the ultimate freedom that pertains to us. But within their own plain of existence, there is room to succeed and to falter/succumb. So there's a wide spectrum for them to vary on, ranging from the decrepitly earth-bound to the sublimely free. I still need to think about what he says a bit more - I like the thought that our self-actualization through Torah leads to personal freedom. However, I have trouble with the concept that non-Jews would not be given the same opportunity as we are - I believe Hashem loves all of us, Jewish or non-Jewish, and would not create some humans without the chance for true freedom. And I would love to throw the Free-Will/Determinism debate away, because it is something that bothers me a lot, but I am not positive it is so easy. Thanks for your thoughts, Yudel!

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