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Passover Eve, 5778

The Path to Freedom – Why and How?

By Elad Arnon

Liberty and freedom. They are unattainable but always there, on the horizon that we are reaching for. But can we ever get there?

Before the enlightened people of Europe exhorted us to be courageous enough to use our own minds, and not only obey the laws of religion and the Church, the Greek sages ruled that, just as bees live in a hive, a person lives in a state, within a social framework. In such a framework, it is impossible for everyone to have real freedom; freedom within a society will always be relative.

So here is a limitation on our personal freedom. When we talk about liberation from slavery to freedom, when we sing of next year as a freed people, we are talking about the entire society, where everyone seeks freedom but within the rules by which we are required to live.

Anarchists will suggest that true freedom allows unrestricted, unlimited actions. But this approach denies the agreed upon conventions and may ultimately lead to social chaos. This social chaos will, in turn, endanger lives because in the absence of order and law enforcement authorities, who will protect society against the criminals?

So how can we be free within a society?  Meir Ariel, a famous Israeli poet, said that there is no such thing as real democracy, since all nations by their nature are ruled over. We as free citizens can vote freely, one vote in every election. But who can assure us that personal interests such as power and money do not guide our elected leaders? Who can promise us that a doctor who has taken an oath to keep us healthy does not first consider his own financial situation? And how can we be sure that the teacher who educates our children is not just ignoring the difficulties our youth face for his or her own peace of mind?

Is there one true direction in the quest for freedom? Where is our promised land? Where is the prophet who will guide us through the complex desert of humanity, in which there is violence, genocide and holocaust.

There are still many freedom fighters who have charted and continue to chart a course for us. Today, successful women are leading the way in advancing the status of women. And LGBT men and women march proudly even when they are insulted and risk their lives in the face of religious extremism. There are those who pave the way and inspire us in our quest for freedom.

I believe that the path to freedom begins with awareness, with the desire to learn and accept new ideas. We need to be loyal to our personal direction on our own journey, but also be exposed to different cultures and religions. We cannot simply dismiss what many others believe. And we need to have faith that it is human nature to seek to better the world.

Jewish tradition is rooted in learning.  Our sages studied the Torah as a religious need, and gave us wisdom through the traditional sources such as the Talmud and the midrashim. In Europe, the Haskala movement combined Jewish tradition with secular philosophy. In Yemen, young children learned Torah with their mori, their teacher. And during the Golden Age in Spain, sages like Maimonides interpreted the Torah in accordance with the developing world.

I suggest we live according to the Jewish tradition of cultivating awareness for respectful discourse, interfaith understanding, and human compassion, and let this be the path to our personal and collective freedom.

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