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January 16, 2017 / 18 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Philly Jewish Museum Posts Huge Sign Reminding Americans of Freedom of Religion

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH), located on historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia, has installed new building signage asserting George Washington’s promise of religious liberty to the people of the United States.

Quoting Washington’s iconic letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790, the enormous banner reads, “Happily the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The Museum—a safe, open space for all—displays this text as a timely reminder of the ideals of inclusiveness on which this nation was founded.

Facing Independence Mall as it does, in the heart of historic Philadelphia, the Museum’s signage refers to one of the most significant documents in American history. George Washington’s letter, currently on view at NMAJH, was composed in August 1790 in response to a letter from the Jewish community of Newport. In it, Washington affirmed rights denied to Jews for millennia and underscored the nation’s commitment to respecting religious liberty and equality for people of all faiths. Washington described his vision of a country in which “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

“George Washington’s call for religious pluralism is especially powerful today, given the rise in expressions of bigotry and exclusion in recent months,” states Ivy Barsky, NMAJH’s CEO & Gwen Goodman Director. “Just as Washington fervently promised to preserve this nation’s acceptance of all people, the National Museum of American Jewish History remains committed as ever to our mission of inspiring a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American experience and the invaluable contributions to this country by immigrants.”

JNi.Media

Court Rejects Freedom of Information Request to Shield Archeologists from BDS Attacks

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday rejected a petition filed by two extreme-left, anti-Zionist NGOs, Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh, against the Archeology Department of the IDF Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, demanding to know the names of archeologists working in digs around the liberated territories. District Court Judge Yigal Marzel ruled that publicizing their names would expose these archeologists to academic boycotts as well as possibly sabotage Israeli government archeological projects in Judea and Samaria.

Judge Marzel accepted the State’s argument that the archeologists, who testified in a separate hearing without the petitioners’ presence, would be exposed to academic boycotts should their names be published. Such boycotts could prevent the archeologists from publishing their findings in international academic journals, and they could be shunned by their foreign peers, seriously damaging their professional careers.

Judge Marzel ruled that the potential personal harm to the archeologists and their research justifies concealing their names. A few of the archeologists who testified consented to have their names be revealed to the petitioners, and they were.

The court sided with the State regarding the petitioners’ request for information on the location of the discovered archeological finds, accepting the argument that such exposure could lead to the theft of the artifacts.

The court also rejected the petitioners’ demand to review the list of artifacts the Israel Antiquities Authority has lent out for exhibition. Judge Marzel also refused to compel the IAA to hand over the records of specific digs, Tel Batir and Tel Shiloh, in Judea and Samaria.

The court did side with the petitioners’ demand to receive a list of the digs in Judea and Samaria, as well as the dates of their completion an future plan for their use.

Yesh Din’s annual budget, based on its 2014 report to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, is $1,565,000. Its donors include the EU, the UK, Human Rights and International Law Secretariat (joint funding from Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands), Norwegian Refugee Council, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), HEKS (Switzerland), Norway, Ireland, Germany, and Oxfam-Novib (Netherlands).

Emek Shaveh’s annual budget, also based on a 2014 report to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, is $246,225. Its donors include Switzerland (FDFA – Swiss Foreign Ministry), HEKS (Switzerland), Cordaid (Netherlands), Norway, Ireland, Oxfam GB (UK), CCFD-Terre Solidaire (France), and Oxfam Novib (Netherlands).

JNi.Media

The Movement for Jewish Freedom

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, Israel Thriving}

Those of us who care about the well-being of Israel are part of a movement.

We no longer generally think of it in such terms because Zionism fulfilled itself in 1948 and over the decades Jewish supporters of Israel have lost that sense of solidarity – that movement sensibility – that made the reestablishment of Israel possible to begin with.

What I am calling the “Movement for Jewish Freedom” is an attempt to reengage Zionism as a political movement grounded in solidarity with other groups who share common interests.

I imagine it as a subset of the movement for indigenous rights which, itself, is a subset of the international movement for the maintenance of liberal-democracies.

The Movement for Jewish Freedom is highly individualistic, fiercely idiosyncratic, and entirely non-partisan. It includes people as diverse from one another as Pamela Geller is from Alan Dershowitz.

Because the ideal of liberal-democracy is, by necessity, at the core of the Movement for Jewish Freedom it must oppose Islamic jurisprudence (al-Sharia). The reason for that is because al-Sharia is non-democratic and, according to its central precepts, must strip women, Gay people, and Infidels (kuffar) of their most basic civil liberties… often in a grotesquely violent manner.

Jewish Freedom Under the Umbrella of Liberal-Democracy 
and Indigenous Rights

Many people who come out of the progressive-wing of the movement will squirm at notions like the necessity to “maintain liberal-democracies throughout the world.” It will resonate as right-wing in a sort-of vaguely amorphous manner for many people. The word “neo-con” will quickly come to mind for some.

When I poke around the alleys and byways of the pro-Israel movement, however, I do not see much desire to impose liberal-democracy onto parts of the world that do not want it. This is a matter of culture. Some cultures are open to liberal-democracy and some are not. Liberal-democracy cannot be imposed upon cultures that do not want it, because then it would no longer be liberal democracy, now would it?.

Nonetheless, under the larger umbrella of liberal-democracy stands the movement for indigenous rights.

The movement for Jewish rights, in our ancestral homeland, is just one part of the much larger series of indigenous struggles throughout the world. The movement for the maintenance of liberal-democracy is key to indigenous rights because it is only through liberal-democratic systems that indigenous rights can be pursued as a matter of social justice. While the wheels of justice may grind slowly in the liberal-democratic West, at least they grind. In non-democratic systems, such as those bowing to Islamic law, submission is enforced through state violence. You get no discussion under these terms.

What you get are cracked skulls, wretched prisons, and torture.

A rising star within the Movement for Jewish Freedom, and a stalwart defender of indigenous rights, is Ryan Bellerose. Bellerose, a Métis from Canada – and the lone, sole American-style football playing, Native-American Zionist in the history of the universe – makes the point that Jewish people who care about the well-being of Israel would do well to embrace our own sense of indigeneity because we are, in fact, the only people on the planet with anything resembling a claim to indigenous status in that tiny part of the world.

Indeed, our ancestors lived and built and fought and made families in the Land of Israel for at least 3,500 years.

Our presence there well precedes the development of formal history. Thus to refer to the Arab invaders, who marched upon Judea and Samaria millennia later, as “indigenous” is to spit in the face of history.

I would submit to you that in order for the Movement for Jewish Freedom to advance toward its goal of Jewish autonomy on historically Jewish land – free from perpetual jihadi harassment and the constant screeching for genocide that so often comes out of the mosques – then we need to embrace our own sense as an indigenous people, among other indigenous people, fighting for rights of autonomy upon our own land.

As Bellerose has written, and I paraphrase, it is not merely a matter of standing on our tippy-toes, waving our hands in the air, and saying, “Hey! We’re indigenous, too!” Instead, we need to politically engage with other indigenous peoples in a direct manner.

This will be difficult for many pro-Jewish / pro-Israel advocates because we do not generally think of ourselves in such terms and because the Palestinian-Arabs have already claimed that slot. But they have done so in a demonstrably false manner and we need always be ready to point this out.

In short, we need to stand with other indigenous peoples struggling for autonomy within liberal-democratic systems.

Our political opponents often seem comfortable with non-democratic forms of government. We, however, cannot afford to be. Nor, from any ethical perspective, would we want to be.

Some Varieties of Zionist Experience
 
The Movement for Jewish Freedom is diverse.

It includes Democrats and Republicans and those unregistered with any political party, such as myself. It includes hard-right conservatives and even a few hard-left progressives. (Difficult to imagine, I know.)

We are across-the-board, politically, ethnically, and across religious identities. Most activists in the movement naturally tend to be Jewish people, but some movement activists are not Jewish. Bellerose is clearly not Jewish and neither is another great friend and activist within the movement, Chloe Valdary.

 

But those who are friendly toward the movement come from all religious backgrounds. The most prominent of these, of course, are American Evangelical Christians who are earnest about Genesis 12:2 and 12:3, which reads:

And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

There are also, of course, plenty of Catholics who believe in Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel. Plenty of Hindus and Buddhists and Theosophists and Rastafarians and even the random Muslim, or two.

One of the reasons for pro-Israel diversity around the world is disapproval of the jihadi tendencies among some within the Muslim faith. Our friends and supporters often recognize that al-Sharia is not only non-democratic, but highly fascistic in its implementation, thereby creating at least some sympathy for the Jewish people in the Middle East.

Jews and Christians lived as second and third-class non-citizens under the imperial boot of Islamic rule for thirteen centuries until the demise of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. That, I think, was probably more than enough.

Furthermore, of course, al-Sharia is not some noxious, but irrelevant, relic from the past, but is the reality of life for hundreds of millions of people from North Africa to the Arab world, on the continent of Asia, all the way to Jakarta.

Throughout the world all sorts of people from all sorts of different faiths and backgrounds and politics recognize this and are potential allies because they, too, understand that there is something deeply sadistic about any religious legal tradition that advocates, for example, the chopping off of a hand and a foot, from opposite sides of the body, as a form of “justice.”

There are also ex-Muslims, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who oppose Qur’anic law, not to mention self-identified practicing Muslim reformers who acknowledge that Sharia seriously impinges upon the civil liberties of women, Gay people, and all “unbelievers.”

Those of us who actively promote the movement for Jewish rights or Jewish liberty or Jewish freedom (whatever you want to say) include academicians like Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm who edited The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, which, as an aside, includes a piece by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, of the AMCHA Initiative, entitled, “Interrogating the Academic Boycotters of Israel on American Campuses” that I well recommend.

The movement also includes prominent bloggers, such as the Elder of Ziyon, who – when he isn’t plotting with the other Elders to take over first the world and then the rest of the universe – can be found exposing media hypocrisy and the kind of general nonsense that usually swirls around coverage of the Long Arab War Against the Jews.

The movement includes prominent legal analysts, such as Eugene Kontorovich, and journalists, like the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh or Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, who is published in the Arutz Sheva and the Gatestone Institute, among numerous other venues.

It also includes artists and musicians, such as Matisyahu, and even much loved cartoonists, like Yaakov Kirschen, the creator of Dry Bones.

But, most importantly, it includes just regular Jews, and regular friends of regular Jews, who do not like the entirely unjust way that Israel is treated by the international community and who do not very much appreciate the kind of long-standing, Koranically-based, hatred and violence that gave us 9/11 and the recent destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, by the Islamic State (IS), in Syria.

The Enemy

Diaspora Jews, particularly of the left-leaning variety and for perfectly understandable reasons, are deeply uncomfortable with even the notion of “enemy.”

No normal people want enemies. Normal people do not want war or to be forced into a position where they must take action against another people.

Unfortunately, the Jewish people, generation upon generation, century upon century, faced grinding hostility by both Europeans and Arab-Muslims. Thankfully, the Christian peoples have moved beyond institutionalized Jew Hatred and today some of our best friends on the planet come out of the western churches.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of the mosques.

Our enemies include virtually every single Arab government and much (if not most) of their religious leadership.

Our enemies do not include Muslims, in general, but merely those who would subject the rest of us to the mercies of Islamic law.

Furthermore, much of the western-left, almost the entirety of the United Nations, the European Union and the Obama administration, have proven themselves consistently hostile to the well-being of the Jewish people through being consistently hostile to the well-being of the Jewish State.

This hostility is justified on the grounds that Israel is a racist, colonialist, imperialist, apartheid state that has pushed the innocent indigenous population off of their land, while refusing to allow them autonomy in a state of their own on that land.

And that is the “Palestinian Narrative” in a concise form.

In truth, Palestinian-Arab nationalism emerged out of the larger Arab nation as a weapon. At the very core of “Palestinian” identity is the cruel goal of eliminating the Jewish State of Israel. It is their very reason to be as an allegedly distinct people. Hostility toward Israel, and towards Jews, is the glue that binds them and allows them to claim a distinct ethnicity, of sorts.

Why?

Because Israel is the Dhimmi that Got Away and the Arabs don’t like it.

Jewish sovereignty on the land of our ancestors is understood not only as a terrible humiliation to the entire Arab nation, but as a direct violation of the will of Allah. Thus Jihad is both obligatory and sacred.

The very existence of Israel flies in the face of Qur’anic imperatives to maintain and expand Dar al-Islam at the expense of all non-Muslims. The dhimmi is supposed to be humiliated upon paying the Jizya – they had to crawl – but it is Israeli Jews who have humiliated their former social superiors, through surviving and thriving in freedom from dhimmitude within the State of Israel.

Meanwhile almost the entire Muslim world wallows in poverty and ignorance, violence and genocide against Zoroastrians and Christians and Yazidis and the Ba’hai, and the constant intra-Muslim warfare between Shia and Sunni… and almost all of this they blame on the West or on the insidious, international “Zionist conspiracy.”

The Arabs, “Palestinian” or otherwise, are not the victims of the Jews.

On the contrary, it is the Jewish minority in the Middle East who have been constantly persecuted by the great Muslim majority in that part of the world from the early 7th century until the present. It is not merely the Palestinian-Arabs, but virtually the entire Arab and Muslim worlds that are perpetually endeavoring to squeeze the Jews out of Israel, by any means necessary. These means include war and violence and intifada, lawfare, international diplomatic aggressions, the movement to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel (BDS), heritage theft and attempts at heritage obliteration, cognitive warfare (pdf) and Pallywood.

We can break down the contemporary phases of the Long Arab War Against the Jews as follows:

Phase 1, 1920 – 1947: Riots and Massacres

Phase 2, November 1947 – April 1948: The Civil War in Palestine

Phase 3, 1948 – 1973: Conventional Warfare

Phase 4, 1964 – Present: The Terror War

Phase 5, 1975 – Present: The Delegitimization Effort

There is a possibility that we can eventually overcome this perpetual hostility, but it will not come from Israeli concessions because those concessions are always pocketed by the Palestinian-Arabs and then used as the starting point for demands on further concessions.

Instead, we need solidarity among ourselves and among our allies within a political framework that benefits both.

Michael Lumish

Tamar Yonah Show – Jews Who Fight For Freedom and the Price We Pay [audio]

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

Since the beginning, the Jewish People have been fighting for freedom. As evil regimes and power-hungry dictators try to rise up, feeling themselves ‘superior’ to others and enslaving them under their empires, the Jewish People stand up and say “No!” to tyranny. Until this day, power-hungry regimes try to kill the Jewish People and the light to the world they carry. Guest, Aaron Braunstein from the Jewish Covenant Alliance,  talks to Tamar about how Israel must continue to hold the torch of freedom, in order to prevent oppressive regimes like Iran, from taking over and spreading their evil empire.

Also, Shifra Hoffman of VictimsOfArabTerror.org  and Shuva.net  talks about joins us and talks about the rise (again) in terror attacks against Israel.

Tamar Yonah Show 18Sept2016 – PODCAST

Israel News Talk Radio

‘Freedom March’ Spells Pre-Shabbat Nightmare for Gush Etzion Jews

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

A group called Combatants for Peace, in cooperation with the “Standing Together” initiative (not this Standing Together, but a different group which is occupying the same name), plans to gather hundreds of Jews and Arabs to “demonstrate together at the Freedom March on Friday, September 2, at 1:30 PM, by the tunnel checkpoint” in Gush Etzion, to protest Israeli administrative detentions without trial and in solidarity with hunger strikers (suspected terrorists and affiliates).

The Freedom March will begin at the Battir village roundabout adjacent to Route 60, and proceed to the tunnel checkpoint “separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem”.

Their press release wasn’t accurate, as the tunnel checkpoint separates Gush Etzion from Jerusalem, whereas Bethlehem is separated from Jerusalem at the checkpoint on Derech Hebron in Jerusalem at the turnoff to Rachel’s Tomb.

The section of Route 60 known as the Tunnel Road, built by Israel, is a stretch of a little under 1.5 miles, the road crosses the Refa’im range and the Beit Gilo range in two tunnels, one 300 yards, the other 1,000 yards, connected with a large bridge over the Gilo River valley.

Israel began building the bridge and tunnels in 1992 and the stretch was inaugurated on September 2, 1996. There’s a 20 year anniversary coming up in a few days.

It is now the main highway that connects Jerusalem and western Gush Etzion, and was built, in part, to relieve the pressure from the old, scenic Walleja road which wasn’t designed for the volume of traffic that exists in Gush Etzion, and as one of the bypass roads that were built after the Oslo accords were signed.

The unique stretch of this tunnel road allows a few dozen (the organizers will never attract hundreds) protesters to block traffic travelling between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion on Erev Shabbat, as they did back in July, when a group of “former” Arab terrorists and their leftwing Israeli enablers held a protest and for a short time blocked Highway 60, holding up signs saying “The wall is violent,” which, by the way, the year 2006 called and wanted back.

The problem is that these protests are done with approval from the IDF, and so, as long as the protesters are not using violence and stay on the side of the road (which they obviously didn’t do last time) no one cares. But when they block the road, motorists are forced to stay in their cars in an ever burgeoning traffic jam, and wait for someone in authority to come open up the highway.

With Shabbat candle lighting time starting to drop below 7 PM, in a few weeks such protests could pose an enormous inconvenience for hundreds, if not thousands of local residents and visitors.

JewishPress.com inquired with the organizers via email if they invited participants from Judea and Samaria who have protested against administrative detentions and restraining orders against Jews. They responded that “anyone who supports human rights and an end to the occupation is more than welcome.”

So much for cooperation and intersectionality between the downtrodden.

So, if you live in Gush Etzion and plan a trip to Jerusalem Friday — maybe you should stay home and clean up before Shabbat.

David Israel

Expanding Freedom

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Whose idea was it to send the spies? According to this week’s sedrah, it was G-d’s.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.’ So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran” (Numbers 13:1-3).

According to Moses in Deuteronomy, it was the people: “Then all of you came to me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.’ The idea seemed good to me; so I selected 12 of you, one man from each tribe” (Deuteronomy 1:22-23).

Rashi reconciles the apparent contradiction. The people came to Moses with their request. Moses asked G-d what he should do. G-d gave him permission to send the spies. He did not command it; He merely did not oppose it. “Where a person wants to go, that is where he is led” (Makkot 10b) – so said the sages. This means that G-d does not stop people from a course of action on which they are intent, even though He knows that it may end in tragedy. Such is the nature of the freedom G-d has given us. It includes the freedom to make mistakes.

However, Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed III: 32) offers an interpretation that gives a different perspective to the whole episode. He begins by noting the verse in Exodus 13:17, with which the exodus begins: “When Pharaoh let the people go, G-d did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For G-d said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So G-d led the people around by the desert road toward the Reed Sea.”

Maimonides comments: “Here G-d led the people about, away from the direct route he had originally intended, because He feared that they might encounter hardships too great for their present strength. So He took them by a different route in order to achieve His original object.” He then adds the following:

“It is a well-known fact that traveling in the wilderness without physical comforts such as bathing produces courage, while the opposite produces faint-heartedness. Besides this, another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery.”

According to Maimonides, then, it was irrelevant who sent the spies. Nor was the verdict after the episode – that the people would be condemned to spend 40 years in the wilderness, and that it would only be their children who would enter the land – a punishment as such. It was an inevitable consequence of human nature.

It takes more than a few days or weeks to turn a population of slaves into a nation capable of handling the responsibilities of freedom. In the case of the Israelites it needed a generation born in liberty, hardened by the experience of the desert, untrammeled by habits of servitude. Freedom takes time, and there are no shortcuts. Often it takes a very long time indeed.

That dimension of time is fundamental to the Jewish view of politics and human progress. That is why, in the Torah, Moses repeatedly tells the adults to educate their children, to tell them the story of the past, to “remember.” It is why the covenant itself is extended through time – handed on from one generation to the next. It is why the story of the Israelites is told at such length in Tanach: the timespan covered by the Hebrew Bible is a thousand years from the days of Moses to the last of the prophets. It is why G-d acts in and through history. Unlike Christianity or Islam there is, in Judaism, no sudden transformation of the human condition, no one moment or single generation in which everything significant is fully disclosed.

Why, asks Maimonides (Guide III: 32), did G-d not simply give the Israelites in the desert the strength or self-confidence they needed to cross the Jordan and enter the land? His answer: because it would have meant saying goodbye to human freedom, choice, and responsibility. Even G-d Himself, implies Maimonides, has to work with the grain of human nature and its all-too-slow pace of change. Not because G-d cannot change people: of course He can. He created them; He could re-create them. The reason is that G-d chooses not to. He practices what the Safed Kabbalists called tzimtzum (self-limitation). He wants human beings to construct a society of freedom – and how could He do that if, in order to bring it about, He had to deprive them of the very freedom He wanted them to create?

There are some things a parent may not do for a child if he or she wants the child to become an adult. There are some things even G-d must choose not to do for His people if He wants them to grow to moral and political maturity. In one of my books I called this the chronological imagination, as opposed to the Greek logical imagination. Logic lacks the dimension of time. That is why philosophers tend to be either rigidly conservative (Plato did not want poets in his Republic; they threatened to disturb the social order) or profoundly revolutionary (Rousseau, Marx). The current social order is either right or wrong. If it is right, we should not change it. If it is wrong, we should overthrow it. The fact that change takes time, even many generations, is not an idea easy to square with philosophy. (Even those philosophers, like Hegel and Marx, who factored in time, did so mechanically, speaking about “historical inevitability” rather than the unpredictable exercise of freedom.)

One of the odd facts about Western civilization in recent centuries is that the people who have been most eloquent about tradition – Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott, T.S. Eliot – have been deeply conservative, defenders of the status quo. Yet there is no reason why a tradition should be conservative. We can hand on to our children not only our past but also our unrealized ideals. We can want them to go beyond us, to travel further on the road to freedom than we were able to do. That, for example, is how the Seder service on Pesach begins: “This year slaves, next year free; this year here, next year in Israel.” A tradition can be evolutionary without being revolutionary.

That is the lesson of the spies. Despite the Divine anger, the people were not condemned to permanent exile. They simply had to face the fact that their children would achieve what they themselves were not ready for.

People still forget this. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were undertaken, at least in part, in the name of democracy and freedom. Yet that is the work not of a war, but of education, society building, and the slow acceptance of responsibility. It takes generations. Sometimes it never happens at all. The people – like the Israelites, demoralized by the spies’ report – lose heart and want to go back to the predictable past (“Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt”), not to the unseen, hazardous, demanding future. That is why, historically, there have been more tyrannies than democracies.

The politics of liberty demands patience. It needs years of struggle without giving up hope. The late Emmanuel Levinas spoke about “difficult freedom” – and freedom always is difficult. The story of the spies tells us that the generation who left Egypt was not yet ready for it. That was their tragedy. But their children would be. That was their consolation.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The True Definition Of Freedom

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

And I came down to save them from the hand of Egypt and to bring them forth from that land unto a good and wide land, a land flowing with milk an honey” – Exodus 3:8

 

This is how God addressed Himself to Moshe when promising to redeem the Jews from Egyptian bondage. This promise heralded their soon-to-be-achieved freedom.

Freedom is the most lauded ideal of a democratic society. We march for it, fight for it, and often die for it. Unfortunately, in seeking liberty, many try to throw off the “yoke” of a spiritually guided life. To them, religion, with all its rules and regulations, is an uncomfortable burden, incongruous with modern society. So freedom is defined as “doing as we please,” in tandem with liberty from the demands of a religious life.

The Torah’s definition of freedom affects the three realms that constitute human life: the realm of the soul, the realm of the body, and the realm of the surrounding world in which the individual lives.

The enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and their subsequent liberation operated in these three realms. First, there was spiritual enslavement in and to a country with the lowest level of moral depravity. Egyptian civilization was based of the forces of nature and natural phenomena, especially the Nile River. It hardly ever rains in Egypt, but human ingenuity developed an elaborate irrigation system that turned Egypt into a flourishing garden surrounded by deserts. This brought about a profusely idolatrous culture, characterized by the deification of the forces of nature and the powers of man, who was able to utilize these forces.

Second, there was the extreme physical slavery of hard labor. And third, there was the complete deprivation of the share of material possessions to which humans are entitled.

Likewise the liberation involves all three realms, and in the fullest measure.

First and foremost, spiritual liberation. The Jews were commanded to take lambs held sacred by the Egyptians and sacrifice them – a public demonstration of the utter worthlessness of the Egyptian cult. It was not enough to deny Egyptian idolatry in the recesses of one’s heart; one was called on to do so openly and without fear.

Second, complete physical liberation by marching out of Egypt with a “raised hand” amidst song and jubilation.

Third, regarding material possessions, the Torah relates that the Jews went forth “with great wealth.”

Harmonious and total freedom cannot be achieved through a way of life whereby the soul is subordinated to the body and both body and soul are subjugated to the material world. The superior cannot serve the inferior and be content doing so. The highest aspect of human life, the soul, will never acquiesce in subservience to the body.

True freedom can be achieved only by freeing the body from its animalistic tendencies and liberating it to serve its Creator.

As was true in ancient Egypt, many today worship the supremacy of man and his astounding accomplishments and find no place for God in this age of science. The Torah reminds us that we must “withdraw” and reject the idolatry of the land – in whatever form it expresses itself. We must recognize God’s control of the universe and human

Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-true-definition-of-freedom/2016/04/28/

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