Are Freedom and Slavery Opposites?

Thanks to everyone who left comments on What is Freedom? See some of those comments below.

According to Rabbi Kanotopsky in Rejoice in Your Festivals, if one merely has freedom from slavery, one doesn’t achieve true freedom. One must be glad to achieve freedom from slavery to Pharoah and be happy to become subservient to God.

For a people to survive for an extended period of time, it must have a higher purpose…A people cannot exist on a philosophy that is essentially negative.

If we understood חרות (herut), freedom, to be merely the opposite of שעבוד (shebud), servitude, that is a very negative and shallow understanding. Freedom, if it is simply the breaking of bonds and the throwing off of shackles – that concept of freedom speaks of nothing positive…. The Torah formulated freedom in an entirely different manner. Our rabbis understood that real freedom must contain the elements of service…The difference between the slavery we detest and the freedom we crave lies merely in the of the master…If I am slave to material pursuits and animalistic passions, this is servitude! If I am slave to the Law of God, this is freedom.

Felisol wrote: “As long as I manage to find freedom of thoughts, I cannot become truly enslaved.”

Rayna Eliana wrote: “I would say that in the dictionary sense, they are opposites. But in the mental and emotional sense they could both mean freedom in the fact that one can choose to feel free within one’s religion, no matter how others try to quash or stifle it. One can choose to feel free within one’s emotions, and try to get through the days with their minds focused on other aspects in their lives, that might bring them consolation…such as loved ones. Often remembering loved ones can keep one’s spirits and illuminations alive, and let them focus on living, as best they can under their conditions.”

Risa wrote: “The ‘freedom’ which we will be celebrating on Passover is a special freedom which we were granted when we left Egypt. That is, the recognition that we can not be slaves to men (i.e. to Pharoh) because we must be slaves to the God of our fathers. As long as we are loyal to His will and laws we will always be free.

Now, that’s not a very Western view and certainly ‘freedom’ has other perhaps more practical meanings as in being able to make choices and express ones views. That’s important too, but in a different context.”
My note: Risa’s first paragraph is close to Rabbi Kanotopsky’s views.

Ilana-Davita wrote: “Freedom entails responsibility.”
My note: This quote reminds me of Rabbi Levi Meier’s suggestion of a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast to complement the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast.

This topic brings to mind the comments of a friend I once had who grew up in South America. He said he felt had more in common with those from Eastern Europe – they didn’t have a lot of choices in life. In the U.S., we have so many choices. Which kind of freedom shall we choose? Sometimes it’s easier to not have all these choices. I feel fortunate that I can choose to lead a Jewish life.

May all those celebrating Pesach have a happy, healthy, meaningful holiday.

leaving egypt

11 thoughts on “Are Freedom and Slavery Opposites?

  • Wonderful, thoughtful post!

    I would add that Rabbi Kanotopsky and Risa’s explanations fit with Rashi on the Gemara (BT Eruvin 54a), who teaches: “For the sake of the Luchot (Tablets), the Children of Israel were free men.”

    In other words, our freedom was because of the Torah.

    • You would probably enjoy reading Rabbi Kanotopsky whole drasha on this topic. He starts off by stating there are three times in the tale of Yitziat Mizrayim (going out of Egypt) that mentions “Ma Zot.” Let’s see if you or anyone else can spot the three (besides the Tam, the simple son, asking that question of What is This?).

  • Rabbi Levi Meier’s suggestion of a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast to complement the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast

    The Jewish psychologist Victor Frankl said a similar thing. You might like Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning: it’s part Holocaust memoir, part popular psychology book.

  • Good post, too bad I didnt’ see the question first. I’ve been rather distracted of late; it’s busy season at the store.
    We are supposed to be “slaves” to G-d, not ot Pharoah. “Avodim hayinu l’Paroh bamizrayim…” We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypyt…”

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