Serving Your Own Source
By Braha Bender
Flip through the pages of any modern history book and you’ll find slavery emancipation stories from around the world. Not a small number of nations have managed to break the bonds of slavery and reclaim their human right to freedom. The years of yearning to escape their captors and discover independence are finally fulfilled in what is often a heady mass-celebration of a national dream.
Striving to experience the longed-for taste of freedom, people can endanger their lives and the lives of their families. A slide towards self-annihilation may begin without the nation even realizing it. The mad rush for experiences of freedom threaten anarchy, and the fledgling nation may find itself struggling to maintain self-governance and autonomy. Freedom without boundaries becomes its own prison.
Avoiding the chaos of unbound freedom requires preparation in advance. Significant transitions can be navigated gracefully with foreknowledge and education for a new way of life. But none of these were possible when the Jews left Egypt.
There was no time for planning the national transition from slave-nation to an autonomous people. No one had mapped out a system of governance or elected officials. All at once, without forewarning, the moment arrived to move. Immediately after the Jewish People had left Egypt, Moshe (Moses) announced that the new Jewish governance and legal systems would be arriving in a few weeks. From God. At Mount Sinai.
What happened to creating an “autonomous national culture”? What happened to complete, unfettered, absolute freedom? A superficial reading seems to show the Jews going straight from one form of slavery to another, from Pharaoh to the Almighty. Nonetheless, the nation declared that they would accept the Torah unconditionally: “We will do and we will hear.” Why?
It seems that we, who have never been physically enslaved, are the ones who don’t understand freedom. As slaves, the Jews were free and even encouraged to pursue every sleazy impulse that came their way. That wasn’t the problem. The Jews fell to the 49th level of spiritual impurity to prove it. Nothing was restricted.
The problem was that in Egypt we had not been free to actualize our true selves. Our values and dreams were crushed beneath the Egyptians’ whips and horses. No one had time to ask herself, who would I want to be if nothing held me back? We saw our babies being drowned and our marriages torn apart. We wanted more than another distraction. Over two hundred years of slavery in Egypt had taught the Jews a lesson our materialistic modern culture encourages us to forget: serving your own Source is not the same as serving another human being.
Freedom from your own essence, your own values and dreams, is no freedom at all. Freedom is connecting with the spark of Godliness inside yourself and letting it fly, letting it be fully expressed. Spiritual self-expression may take hard work, but that labour is not slavery. Serving God is serving your own soul.
At Sinai we knew that “there is no free man but one engaged in Torah.” We were about to receive the instruction manual from the Creator of the universe. With these “insider secrets” we knew we could do anything we wanted, and couldn’t wait to start.
“Like one person with one heart”, the Jews at Sinai knew freedom when they saw it. The question is, do we now?