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  • Writer's pictureAyelet HaShachar

Freedom

This Dvar Torah was written by Seri Feldman-Gubbay for parshot Acharei-Mot - Kedoshim on 7 Iyar 5780 / 1 May 2020.


This week’s parsha (Acharei-Kedoshim) is actually a double parsha, so it is the jewish equivalent of a 2 for 1 sale of books from Borders or Dymocks (RIP). By that, I don’t mean that these two parshot aren’t very good and that’s why they’re on sale, but rather we are witnessing the sale of a lifetime because God, or whoever wrote the Torah just really wants us to have more things to read and consider. And what better time than now!

This week’s parsha gives us a run-down of all the mitzvot that we as Jews must abide by in order to be holy, to appropriately serve god and to ultimately be free. In the greater context of the Torah, the Jews have just come from centuries of enslavement under Egyptian rule. Now God’s version of freedom for Jews didn’t include building pyramids or living as slaves but did come in the form of a list of rules. How was this freedom? How was this the opposite of what Pharoah offered the Jews? The rules from God were different to Pharoah’s, yes, but not obeying them still (supposedly) resulted in death. The Hebrew word for “Egypt” is Mitzrayim, which means “narrowness” or “constraint.” But the rules and mitzvot set out by God could too be understood as constraints.

To understand whether rules can denote freedom, we must ask ourselves what freedom is. This parsha for me, offers the answer that freedom is the opportunity to live a congruent or consistent life, where one’s morals and actions exist harmoniously. For Jews way back when, that meant being able to be ‘Jewish’ both internally and externally.

Freedom can also then be extended to mean responsibility. Without a Pharaoh ruling over the Jews’ every action, the Jews were suddenly faced with the responsibility to live their own lives. Once out of Egypt the Jews could very well have decided to politely say “nah, we’re good” to God’s set of rules and mitzvot, and then decided to live their lives without rules. But would this have been freedom? If we look literally at the rules and mitzvot offered by God, a lot of the rules do kind of suck, or rather are rooted in homophobia, sexism and xenophobia. So in that sense, a lot of the rules are incongruent with the notion of freedom. But taking a less literal view on the rules, they offered the Jews a framework by which exist. They offered them meaning and morality. We can compare this to our world today.

We exist in a society with various mitzvot and rules, or rather laws and social practises- some of which are good, and others not so. Let’s take murder for instance- it is codified as a crime in our legislation, with a prescribed penalty if we commit the offence. I for one don’t abide by this rule because I fear the penalty, I don’t kill people because that rule is fair, right and provides me freedom. The rule is less about limiting people from being able to murder others, and more about giving everyone the freedom to live. (I am aware that our current system does not equally value everyone’s right to life- but that is a conversation for another time.)

And further, what about all these COVID-19 rules? They obviously limit our freedom in a literal sense, however do they truly limit our freedom? Are they not in place to ensure we have the freedom to live? I recently watched a video which had snippets of protesters in America outcrying about their lack of freedom with the new restrictions, and one MAGA hat adorned concerned citizen very ‘appropriately’ said to the camera, “Let my people go!” It made me laugh.

I am aware that increased governmental control and surveillance can lead to dangerous outcomes, so I don’t discount every outcry over these new restrictions. I do however genuinely believe that the rules are being put in place for our own collective good. Like the MAGA man, I too want my people to be free, however (I suspect) not in the same way that he does. I want my people to be free to be safe and to live their lives, and right now, if we do not adhere to these rules, that freedom is simply impossible. We are out of Egypt, we are no longer slaves, but to narrowly suggest that that freedom means we now need to be rid of rules and forms of educated, informed authority misses the point.

I hope you all have a wonderful shabbat, despite the rules and regulations, and perhaps try to view them as tools to better ensure our collective freedom for the future.

Shabbat shalom.

Seri is a law student, author and recent cat-mum.



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