When you ask any patriotic American what the defining quality of their country is, the answer will no doubt be… Freedom. From freedom of speech to freedom fries, any school age child will tell you America has a monopoly on Freedom. They may not use the word monopoly, but they’re certainly free to.
But it is obvious that there are limits to our freedoms. You aren’t free to not pay taxes, drive 100 mph through a residential area, and you’re certainly not free to shoot a buffalo from the second story of a hotel in the state of Texas. But rather than grumble at the seemingly hypocritical relationship between America’s reality versus its rhetoric, let’s look at a deeper understanding of the very concept. If freedom meant everyone being able to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to do it, a truly free society would be utter anarchy. That can’t be what freedom is.
The Jewish Perspective
Judaism comes along and gives a very different understand. A rabbi I hold in extraordinarily high esteem gave me this definition. Freedom is the ability to do that which matters.
Think about that for a moment. Even without the limitations of governmental laws, any way we choose to live our lives has choices and boundaries. We welcome many of these boundaries because we realize that even though they limit us, they embolden us and allow us to tap into more important things. Family responsibilities take away one’s freedom in order to build the most meaningful relationships a person will have in their life. A diet limits your freedom to eat what you desire in exchange for living a healthier and hopefully longer life. Olympic athletes live very structured lives to achieve their physical potential. We are all slaves to something, whether it is an ideology, our work, or our principles. Freedom is the ability to choose that slavery.
So how does a religion with so many restrictions (there are libraries dedicated to learning said restrictions) claim to have a whole holiday dedicated to freedom? It does because the core of Judaism is about doing what matters and maximizing your ability to do it. One thing that no one will argue with is that a slave is driven. They don’t get to waste time. Similarly, a truly free person, doesn’t either. They have too much to accomplish.