“There is no free man but one who busies himself with the study of Torah” (Avot 6:2)
Freedom means not being tied down by the boundaries and limitations that tend to limit us. There are different types of freedom. An acrobat is someone who has developed and cultivated a certain freedom of his or her physical body. A skilled acrobat is not limited by the forces that limit the rest of us. A musician is another person who cultivated freedom. An accomplished musician can express themselves with an instrument in ways that the rest of us cannot. The same applies to a race-car driver, a stunt pilot, and to so many other skills that people develop.
Each of these people develops a specific freedom. And in order to develop any freedom one needs to limit themselves. The skilled acrobat, musician, and mathematician all need to spend many long hours, days weeks, months and years cultivating and developing the particular skill in order to be able to obtain that specific freedom that they seek.
But is there any one freedom that we can point to and say that this is the freedom? Can we say about any specific type of freedom that this particular breaking of boundaries is the true freedom?
The question we must first address is who are we? The Scriptures teach that we were all created in the image of God. This means that deep inside of all of us is the yearning to be kind as God is kind, the desire for truth as God is true and the desire for fairness, justice and mercy. That is who we are.
The true freedom is when our sensitivity to truth, our humility and our gratitude are mature, developed and unencumbered by the limitations that would stand in our way. True freedom is when our practice of kindness soars to heights that we may otherwise not have reached. We can only say that our inner selves have obtained freedom when our consideration for others breaks boundaries and exceeds limits.
Let me illustrate with a small but true story. This took place in an elementary school. A group of eighth grade girls were going to get up on stage to sing for the rest of the school as part of the annual color war contest. The team’s colors were maroon and black so each of the girls was dressed in a black outfit trimmed with a large maroon bow. One of the girls lost her bow. She only realized that her bow was gone as she was about to go up on stage. She panicked. How embarrassing! Please get me a bow! But there were no extra bows around. Another girl immediately took off her own bow and tied it around her friend and that is how the group went on stage.
Do you think that the girl who lost her bow was not a considerate girl? I am sure that she is a nice and fine girl but her quality of consideration was hampered and limited by the wall of embarrassment. The girl who so readily and unhesitatingly gave away her own bow was not limited by the same wall of embarrassment that tied down her friend. Her consideration of others was more free and unlimited than that of her friend.
This is a miniature story but one that sheds light on so much more. It could be consideration versus embarrassment; it could be gratitude versus pride; it could be kindness versus greed and it could be holiness versus self-centeredness. In each of these situations we need to break barriers and find freedom and the range is endless.
How do we develop this true freedom? What are the exercises that develop our sensitivity to kindness and break the petty walls that tie us down?
This is the Torah. Studying the words of the Torah and following the precepts of the Torah with a heart that is humbled before the One who so lovingly granted us the Torah is the way we develop true freedom. The way we cultivate the freedom of the image of God in which we were all created is by imbibing the holiness, the beauty and the truth of the Law of the Creator of heaven and earth.
There is no free man but one who busies himself with the study of Torah
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal