Let Freedom Reign
"To know how to free oneself is nothing;" wrote Nobel Prize Author Andre Gide, "the arduous thing is to know what to do with one's freedom."
Modern American and European history can largely be seen as the quest for freedom. The Russian, French, and American Revolutions threw off century-old political, economic, and social shackles.
Yet this freedom has been a paradox. In "Escape From Freedom," eminent Psychologist Erich Fromm notes that modern man "has not gained freedom in the positive sense" and that what is thought of as freedom has in fact isolated man. Fromm grappled with the puzzling phenomenon of what he saw as modern man's "flight from freedom."
What is Freedom?
"And the Tablets are the handiwork of G-d, and the handwriting is the handwriting of G-d charus (engraved) on the Tablets." Do not read "charus" (engraved) but "cheirus" (freedom), for you have no free man except the one engaged in the study of Torah. (Pirkei Avos 6:2)
I have often pondered the meaning of this cryptic teaching. The study of Torah makes one free? The one and only path to freedom? I understand that the Torah makes life more meaningful, more spiritual, more enjoyable, more truthful...but more free?
The Maharal explains that the concept of slavery can refer only to the physical body. The body, interfacing with the physical world, is enslaved by the laws of the universe. The spiritual world, on the other hand, is not enslaved by these laws, since it is a world of "form" and not one of "matter."
The ultimate expression of this form is the Torah, which is the blueprint of the universe and gives form to all matter in the physical domain.
The verse cited above in Pirkei Avos expresses this metaphysical reality with its word choice: The handwriting was "engraved" - as opposed to "written" - upon the Tablets. Writing can be erased; engraving cannot be erased without destroying the medium engraved upon.
The Ten Commandments could not merely be written, they had to be engraved; the inscription had to be indelibly impressed upon the Tablets. The "form" of Torah expressed itself inexorably upon the physical matter; so much so, that the Sages teach that the engraving went completely through the stone Tablets, with the round letters hanging miraculously in "thin air."
"Charus-engraved" is not incidental; it is imperative. It hints to "cheirus-freedom," spiritual form directing and defining physical matter. This is ultimate "freedom" from the physical.
According to Pirkei Avos, Torah study is not merely one avenue to freedom; rather, it is the only avenue to freedom. Even an absolute monarch of a vast domain with abundant wealth and prodigious power is not free, as he always faces the threat of the insurrection of his subjects. Only one involved in the spiritual, the eternal, is capable of transcending the physical world absolutely, and dominating absolutely the physical universe.
Torah study is obviously more than casual perusal; to achieve the freedom of the Torah, it must be "engraved on the tablets of our heart;" it must be lived.
By elevating the physical and infusing it with the "form" of Torah and mitzvahs, the Torah scholar transcends the limitations of the material world; he frees himself from the deterioration and decay of the physical by converting finite physical matter into infinite spiritual form. He is truly free.
"Let freedom reign" in the Jewish heart! Only then is there a chance for the Jewish people to be "a light unto the nations," and for the nations of the world to recognize that since true freedom is possible, they no longer need to "escape from freedom!"