“The FREEDOM Of Religion”
Tomorrow is the Fourth of July… Independence Day… the celebration of the noble experiment that is American democracy. We live in a country that offers amazing freedoms and we must never forget the founding ideals and ideas… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… and freedom and justice for all… FOR ALL.
As Jews we know the importance of being able to follow our religion and beliefs without fear of persecution…or prosecution. We have not been so lucky in other places, other countries… and at times it seems that we are not so lucky even here. Racism, anti-Semitism, blame for all the woes in the world all seem to be thrown at us. Luckily it is not often, at least for me, but I have felt the vicious bite of anti-Semitism, blind hatred and ignorance.
This should make us acutely aware of several things. The first is that we must treat others in the way we want to be treated ourselves. We should celebrate their freedoms and the things that make them unique, just as we want ourselves to be accepted. Tolerance can seem like such a little word. We don’t want to just tolerate people… we want to embrace them, respect them, accept them. As long as people are striving for goodness and not evil… kindness and not destruction, we should, in theory, all be able to get along. This is, or at least should be, the ultimate goal of humankind… love, kindness and supporting each other.
The second thing is the freedom of religion. This country was founded on a freedom OF religion, not a freedom FROM religion. The meaning is clear… we should not bury or have to bury religion… nor hide it. Religion defines many of us. It makes us who we are. It gives us our guiding light, our ethics and morals and a blueprint on how to live a full and meaningful life.
It took a trip to Israel and a meeting with Aryeh Ben Yaakov at Misgav Am to make me realize and fully understand that I am a Jewish American and not an American Jew. I started as a Jew, and no matter where I was born, I would be a Jew. I thankfully and luckily was born here, thus I am a Jewish American.
In the United States Of America, people are allowed to worship and pray how they want. We are free to be Jews… to observe and pray and celebrate our culture and our religion. But Judaism itself gives us freedom, there is an amazing freedom that comes from Judaism. The obvious event and defining factor is Hashem freeing us from bondage in Egypt. This specific journey towards freedom led us to the Ten Commandments, to the oral and written Torah that defines us, and of course the Holy Land… our homeland… Israel. The Jews as a people, literally came out of and became ONE because of freedom.
I had a professor who said that until we know our boundaries, we are not completely free. This may seem contradictory and confusing. After all, shouldn’t freedom mean NO boundaries? Possibly… but human beings tend to stop and hesitate when they don’t know how far they can go. Knowing the rules, and how the game is played gives complete freedom within those specific guidelines. And yes, there are those who know the limits and then push them. But knowledge always seems to be key, and for me, knowledge is empowering and freeing. We have to have facts and information in order to understand truth. It is only then that we can truly discuss and debate. The knowledge of the Sanhedrin is what allowed them to so thoroughly delve into, define and understand so many things.
Judaism is all about guidelines. We have commandments and mitzvot and things we are supposed to do, ways we are supposed to behave. We are taught how to conduct ourselves in business and in our personal lives. We are taught how to pray, and yet people like Rebbe Nachman provide us ways of finding incredible freedom within what some might say are limiting confines. Our connection with G-d is how we define it. We can have conversations whenever and wherever. We can reach out to G-d whenever we need to, and talk to Him like a Father or Friend.
The Torah… Judaism… is a blueprint. But our lives are ours to design, to live and fill and fulfill. We must, of course, learn right from wrong. We must understand what Judaism really is… We must know what it means to be Jewish, but we must always also understand that we do have free will, we do have freedom. To connect to the freest one of all, Hashem, gives us that freedom. Judaism IS freedom! And yes, therefore, every day is Happy Freedom Day! We just need to celebrate it and live it daily!