How does the dicitionary define freedom?
“The condition of being free of restraints.”
Free from restrictions, no limitations, The ability to do or say whatever I want, whenever I want and with whomever I want. If we did a survey in the high street of any city or town this is probably what most of the general public would answer.
But we wouldn’t tell our child that they could do what ever they wanted and go to bed whenever they feel like. This would quickly lead to anarchy and a corruption of the child’s personality.
Therefore we see that restrictions are set in place for a reason. They are not there to make your life worse. The father who teaches his son to think before speaking his mind is training his son to be a mentch and have good manners and is restricting his complete freedom out of love.
Another example; If Mozart got up on stage and played any note that he felt like, he’d probably clear the theatre in a matter of minutes. He sticks to the notes in a scale for a reason. But hang on – isn’t his freedom restricted because he can’t play whatever note he likes.
On the contrary, by restricting his freedom he produces a really beautiful piece.
This is seen throughout the entire world. Freedom of speech can be misunderstood to mean that you can speak about whatever you want, but the sensitive person understands that sometimes its better not to say something, if it will cause offence for example.
For me, this answers one of the most fundamental questions. Judaism is a great religion, with a huge emphasis on family cohesion, respecting your parents and treating others as you want to be treated yourself. So what’s with all the limitations, like no doing anything on Shabbat?
With our new definition of freedom we can begin to understand it from a more mature angle. The commandments aren’t there to make your life a boring misery. Why would an all good, all loving G-d want to do that? Rather they are guidelines to help extract the best qualities from us and switch off our phones and TV’s in order to spend time with the family and re-connect to what is truely important. Shabbat gets us to focus on the spritual and most importantly on our relationship with Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu. (I highly recommend Rabbi Kaplin: Sabbath Day of Eternity)
I believe the true freedom and happiness we are all looking for can only be achieved through restrictions on our innate urge to act as we please.
This Pesach and for the rest of our lives may we all merit to be Free through limitations not free from limitations.
This idea is based on a shiur by Rabbi Hill of the JLE (London)