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Limitations and Freedom

Limitations and Freedom

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We all have the same problem. It just shows itself in different forms. On the one hand we want freedom: healthy, pure, wholesome joys, the just rewards and fruits of our efforts. On the other hand, this quest is beset by problems, which we can group under the heading "limitations."

One kind of limitation is the fact that the joyous moment cannot go on for ever, and eventually we have to return to humdrum daily life. Another is that it may seem to take quite a bit of coaxing and prodding of that daily life in order to squeeze out a little bit of joy. Another kind of limitation is that in our looking for human joy and comfort there are also some unhealthy and destructive appetites which have to be controlled. So there are many kinds of limitation, as indeed there are many kinds of goodness, liberation and happiness. So the simple dualism is there, seemingly ever present: limitations and freedom.

There it is, the paradox of life: a combination of wholesome, succulent fruit and -- well, let's say, a simple wicker basket in which the fruit is kept. The fruit and the vessel which confines it. Our freedom, and the limitations of different kinds which give a border to our freedom, enclosing it.

Now, this perspective relates to the opening passage of this week's Torah reading. The Torah describes an activity which takes place in the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, in which each farmer expresses gratitude to G-d for the material blessings he and his family have been granted. The instruction in the Torah is to take the "first fruits" (bikkurim) which grow among one's produce, the dates and figs and grapes, to put them in a basket and bring them to the Temple. There the fruit is given to the Priest.

It is a way of thanking G-d, and there are beautiful descriptions by our Sages about the way the farmers would make their way together to Jerusalem, led by flute players.1 However, every passage in the Torah has eternal significance and, further, a tiny detail can be a clue to an entirely new perspective.

In this case the tiny detail is the fact that, according to the Sages, when the farmer brings the fruit in a simple wicker basket, the basket too is considered part of the sacred offering.

Why the basket? The succulent fruit is obviously the offering to the kohen (priest) in the Temple. Why should the wicker basket be anything more than a casual throw-away item?

Because, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the whole procedure is telling us something about life, about the interaction between delicious fruit and the simple wicker basket which holds the fruit. The Torah's image of the farmer and the Temple in ancient Jerusalem is also a teaching about our own lives. It is telling us that the limitation is also part of the offering. The limiting factor is also potentially sacred.

We might read the fruit as the soul and the basket as the body; or the fruit as our "religious" activity and the basket is the daily world. The point is that the power of the Torah is to make everything holy, through the practical precepts. The simple practicalities, and even the struggles of life: are holy. They too, together with the radiant joys, are part of our connection with G-d in the Temple.2

FOOTNOTES
1. See Mishnah Bikkurim chapter 3.
2. Based freely on the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likkutei Sichot, vol.29 p.145 ff.
Dr. Tali Loewenthal is Lecturer in Jewish Spirituality at University College London, director of the Chabad Research Unit, author of Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School and a frequent contributor to the Chabad.org weekly Torah reading section.
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Discussion (3)
August 21, 2013
really nice.
thank you.
Anonymous
Cleveland
August 20, 2013
Baskets
Ah, the wisdom to understand the concept of the basket. Life is made up of so many baskets. If we are fortunate, we recognize that the size of the basket may not be what we would like, the number of baskets may not be as many as we wish, but our
pleasure in enjoying the contents of each basket is unlimited!
Thank you for another fine essay. Shana Tova.
ler
PA, USA
September 2, 2012
thankyou
Very insightful and thought provoking. May G-d continue to bless you in His service who brought this message to the world
Michelle
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