Can a slave be free? Can a free person be a slave?
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.”
A couple days ago we began Counting the Omer. It’s a 49-day count until Shavuot. What’s the connection between this mitzvah and the festivals that it links, Passover and Shavuot?
The enslavement in Egypt was horrific. Yet the Jewish people survived. They were now finally free. What would they do with this freedom? How would they act as free people?
People who are released from an institutional setting after many years often suffer from a failure to adjust to their newfound freedom.
What plan, if any, did G-d have to prevent this type of potential problem? Aside from giving them a great leader, di He provide any pathway for transition?
When G-d told Moshe at the burning bush to go redeem the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, He said, “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain.” This refers to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Interestingly, G-d uses the word תעבדון (taavdun) which means to serve and shares the same root as עבד (eved), a slave.
G-d essentially is telling Moshe to take the Jewish people from one form of servitude to another!
Shouldn’t Hashem be giving the Jewish people a bit of freedom? They have slaves for decades, can’t they just relax a bit? Why not let them simply enjoy their liberty? Isn’t that reason enough to liberate them?
However, true freedom is not by having no responsibilities and no purpose or goal. Genuine liberty is accomplished when a person is true to their essence, their inner being.
G-d is telling the Jewish people that being enslaved to Pharaoh and Egypt is a recipe for disaster. But being subjugated to your own calling is a good thing. By dedicating to a relationship with G-d we become truly free.
This is why G-d continuously refers to the Jewish people as His children, but also demands us to serve him. It’s important to remember that we are indeed children of G-d. He loves us dearly.
And that’s why He wants us to work on nourishing our souls and living in sync with our inner being.
Now that we are free from the boundaries of Egypt, the question we ought to ask ourselves is, “Am I free from my ‘personal’ Egypt, from the modern-day Pharaoh-like influences?”
That might lead us to a further question, “How do I better align my external self with my inner being?”
For that G-d provided the Jewish people with a 49-day journey. Going from one type of servitude to a freedom servitude is a huge transition. The mystics explain that the 49 days of counting is a 49-step path to self-refinement and preparation to receive the Torah.
As I progress toward my personal journey of freedom, I sometimes wonder, “Do I ever mix up the two? Is what I view as freedom really enslavement to my own inhibitions, complacency and habits? Is what I see as paralyzing confinement really liberating for my soul?”