Because Freedom Kills

Article by Rabbi Shimon Posner: “We can best understand most current news stories as a real-time implosions of a naïve understanding of what freedom is and what freedom is not. One definition of freedom is an easy sell; another is not.

By Rabbi Shimon Posner – Shliach to Rancho Mirage, California

We can best understand most current news stories as a real-time implosions of a naïve understanding of what freedom is and what freedom is not.  The straightforward meaning of freedom is “get out of my face and let me do whatever I darn please”.  The counterintuitive meaning of freedom is subjecting oneself to a life of unending discipline, often abstinence and occasionally deep pain.  One is an easy sell; one is not.  

Historically, revolutions depose those who deny people freedom and replace them with themselves.  Predictably, the one-time revolutionaries become the new despots – until new revolutionaries come along and keep the violent circle going.  

As it goes with political constructs so it goes with personal diets.  Someone decides to lose excess poundage and hits upon the idea to limit, let’s say, carbs.  This new creed lasts until the donut’s allure proves irresistible, which renders the carb diet passé, which is to be replaced by oh, I don’t know, gluten-free – which allows donuts if you broaden the definition of donuts to include something as ridiculous as a gluten-free donut.  

The supersessionist diet de jour includes carbs but eschews rib steak until the tantalizing aroma demands to be consummated with a tantalizing taste.  You get the picture, you likely have walked the path.

Historically then, in both politics and waistlines, we ride a merry-go-round instead of attack the problem, namely, that if we don’t self-limit, then an exterior force will fill the void.  Paranthetically, this is how Egyptian slavery was introduced, the original manifestation of anti-Semitism.

It would be nice to think that we could break the shackles that enslave us and celebrate that we are free at last, but alas, left to our own devices we implode under the sheer fickleness of our rectitude and its burden of subjectivity.  Simply put, we love ourselves, or more precisely, we love our comfort zone, and we can rationalize away anything that threatens our happy place. What we fail to realize is this: the freedom to indulge in feel-goods makes us rot.

Talmud doesn’t intone truths in bold captions, it slips them in gently.  Such we see in Shabbat 105b which discusses the principles of what constitutes a creative process, or in the vernacular “work”.   The subject at hand is the Biblical dictate to refrain from work (the creative process) on Shabbat and do as G-d did in creation: on the seventh day he withdrew from the creative process, or rested.  The question posed is, if someone in a fit of rage throws and breaks a vase, which is a destructive act not a constructive act, would he therefore not be liable, or in a more nuanced approach since he is venting his anger would we say there is a constructive element in the vase’s shattering, as when one vents when feels placated.  The Talmud interjects that such behavior is comparable to blasphemy.  Because, the Talmud explains, such is human nature, one gets used to venting anger and then continues to do so until he is totally at the mercy of his lesser nature.  

We see from this discussion that giving voice to our lesser nature makes us want to do it again and again until our character disintegrates.  

Words tell stories.  And often in the stories they tell, we see where the words come from, where they are now, and where they may be leading.  Let’s examine two words: decadence and decay.

Decadence conveys luxurious self-indulgence and may be used to describe a rich chocolate cake.

Decay connotes decomposition and putridity.  

Instructively, Noah Webster used them as synonyms, and for good reason.  Both words trace their roots to the Latin decadere – “to fall” or “to sink”.  When we self-indulge we decompose.  Webster (most probably unknowingly) reflected the Talmudic teaching: self-indulgence is neither static nor therapeutic.  It is corruptive, and it spirals out of control.

Therefore, we count the Omer.  At the Burning Bush, when G-d first introduced Moses to the exodus, He linked it inexorably to Sinai.  At Sinai, when G-d delivered the Ten Commandments, He presented his credentials (as it were) as He who “took you out of Egypt”.  Exodus and Sinai are one process, symbiotically dependent on each other’s validity and demonstrated through the Omer Count.  

This week, for the 3, 333rd time, we will reenact His giving and our accepting of His Torah.  We will resolve to earn our freedom by accepting the Divine Discipline.  As Moses insinuated at the Bush, it’s hard, how can I succeed?  And G-d answered him: for I am with you.  A Jew is never alone.  G-d provides us the tools and the energy and we provide the sweat, blood and tears – and laughter- until the job gets done.  There is no greater reward.  Even donuts.

Based oh-so-very loosely on Michtov Kloli Shavuos 5743

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