“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