“The easiest thing is to hide from the world and its follies, seclude oneself in a room and be a holy hermit. What the Torah desires, however, is that a person should be part and parcel of ‘all the congregation of the children of Israel,’ and be holy.”
— Rabbi Moshe Alshich

There is a difference between being “free” and having a “free-for-all.” Having left Egypt, the Jews were slaves no longer, and by definition were “free.” But what does freedom look like?

TheWhat does freedom look like? Egyptian Pharaoh was considered to be a “god.” He could enslave a nation, decree genocide, act outside of all reason, and he answered to no one. In being “free” to act with impunity, Pharaoh nevertheless brought widespread death and destruction to his country. So, is that what “freedom” looks like? If so, then really, what’s the point? Surely, it must mean something else.

A New Paradigm of Freedom

In liberating the Jewish people from slavery, G‑d had to teach us what freedomtrue freedomlooks like. The kind of freedom G‑d wanted us to embrace was a certain kind of freedom, the freedom of being “congruent.”

Being congruent means that the actions of your external self are consistent with the values of your internal being. Essentially, it means being authentic and true to yourself. The question however, as we can see from the example of Pharaoh, who was evil inside and out, is which self are we, and what kind of person do we want to authentically express?

Having been slaves in Egypt for more than 200 years, how could the newly liberated Jew know what his or her real self was? How could a recently freed slave understand his or her potential, much less how to actualize it?

The Hebrew word for “Egypt” is Mitzrayim, which means “narrowness” or “constraint.” Leaving Egypt for the desert was going from a place of constricted boundaries to a place of no boundaries. To avoid the external chaos of a “free-for-all,” as well as the internal panic of being in a state of “free fall,” G‑d had to teach us what being a truly free human being looks like and how to create our internal controls. So the Jews had to learn both “how” to be, as well as “what” to be.

One of the main themes of last week’s Torah portion, dealt with the laws of prohibited relationships. Previously, it was the laws of proper speech: what comes out of your mouth. Before that, it was the laws of kosher animals: what goes into your mouth. Laws, laws and more laws. It seems that there is no part of our livesour relationships, our behaviors, even our bodiesnot governed by Torah law. That’s because Judaism is an inside/outside religion.

So is this just a new form of slavery? After all, when we were slaves in Egypt, Pharaoh certainly controlled us. In so doing, however, Pharaoh wanted to crush us, to break us down utterly. In total contrast, G‑d wants to build us up, to cultivate our character so that we understand who we truly area holy people.

The Freedom to Be Holy

For us to be kedoshim (“holy”), the title of this week’s parsha, we must be “whole.” We must be congruent. We must be holy both inside and out. In governing all of the myriad aspects of our lives, G‑d is teaching us that Judaism is not compartmentalized, but is a seamless integrated holistic way of being.

Therefore, we can’t say “This is for G‑d, but that is not.” We can’t say, “Before, I was on G‑d’s time, but now I am on my time.” We can’t say, “What I do or say over here matters, but over there it does not.” And we certainly can’t say, “Well, this is just business ... ”

AndEverything has to matter so, whether it’s governing what we eat, how we speak, how we conduct business, how we treat others, how we conduct our intimate relationships, etc. ... all of it matters. In an integrated seamless holistic life, everything has to matter. And therefore, we can look at each law that G‑d gives us as another nuance and refinement, another pathway and connection, to help us close the gap between the external being and the internal selves that represent our true G‑dly essence.

When we were delivered from Egypt, we were given the gift of freedom. To stay free, however, is another story. Staying free means embracing freedom as a responsibility to be earned, integrated and owned; in other words, being congruent. When we can do that, no one and nothing can ever enslave us again. And that is what freedomtrue freedomreally looks like.

Things to Ponder:

  1. Can you think of a time in your life where under the guise of using your freedom, you were really just escaping responsibility and having a free-for-all? In hindsight, was it healthy for you? What lessons did you learn, and did you find that you ended up creating more boundaries from this sense of freedom?
  2. What in your life could use some holiness? Think through your thoughts, speech, actions and relationships, and write down five things you can implement in those areas to uplift them and yourself.
  3. In what ways do you feel enslaved, and what are you a slave to in your life? How can you break free from this, and how will your life look when you are no longer under its control?