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Enslaved to “Freedom”

Rabbi Moshe Lieber

Parshat Beshalach

Oct 21, 2009

 

After the Jews had left Egypt Hashem tells Moshe to have them turn around and return towards Egypt as a ploy to lure Pharaoh to chase them so that the grand finale – the splitting of the Reed Sea – could happen. He tells them to camp at Pi-hahiroth [literally the mouth of freedom] so that Pharaoh will say that “they are imprisoned in the land, the Wilderness has locked them in”. What is the significance of their camping at Pi-hahiroth and why will that particular encampment cause Pharaoh to believe they are trapped and therefore to try and recapture them?

 

Mei HaShiloach offers an enlightening perspective based on a deeper understanding of freedom. The idol Baal-zephon was in the form of a male and a female figure, an allusion to grossly immoral behavior. The underlying message was that to be free means to be unfettered by any moral restraint. When I can do whatever I want without pangs of conscience or any prudish inhibitions then I am liberated. Pharaoh was sure that the Jews camped in front of this idol because its message stopped them dead in their tracks. He was sure that they began to question what kind of freedom they had achieved if they needed to impose limitations on their lives and were unable to experience the free-swinging lifestyle that passes for liberty among those who lack the moral compass of Hashem and His Torah. He had no doubts that they would feel claustrophobically entrapped in the desert.

 

But we Jews know better! Those who are prisoners of their own base desires are not free at all! Since it is mans intelligence that makes him uniquely human only one who has his animalistic desires under the baton of his intellect is truly liberated.

 

Pharaoh chased after us convinced that we would feel inhibited by the freedom that Hashem gave us never realizing the pristine truth that only one involved in Torah can really taste freedom. The Egyptians chased us and found their end at the bottom of the Sea. How appropriate it is that Chazal teach us that the Sea split when it saw the coffin of Yosef HaTzaddik? Tempted to buy into the Egyptian view that freedom means letting it all hang out with no moral direction or restraint, Yosef stood up to the temptress and declared himself authentically free. When the Sea saw his bones, symbolic of the ability of true sanctity to overpower the most natural of instincts, it knew that it too would have to step aside in the face of the People who carry the legacy of moral liberation.

 

In our society we are challenged at every turn with the idol at Pi-hahiroth. We are pushed subtly and less subtly to view moral boundaries as unbearable suppression and to think that freedom means unrestrained and unbridled “pursuit of happiness”. Be it in the way we dress, the fashion in which we carry ourselves, or the music, literature or entertainment that we are willing to allow to invade our lives or homes, the drum of false freedom bangs unabated. Our ideas about relationships, love, marriage and family life are subject to the insidious poison of society’s warped “values”.

 

The parashah of Nazir begins with the words àéù ëé éôìéà literally “when a man will disassociate himself” by taking a vow of nezirus.Ibn Ezra views the term as related to ôìà something wondrous. The Nazir who creates a device to protect his moral integrity does something wondrous. While most people relentlessly chase after their desires this person seeks to flee from them. It is for this reason that the Torah describes the Nazir as having the crown of Hashem on his or her head. The true king is one who displays sovereignity over their own passions.

 

We must remember who we are. Let us keep in front of our eyes the words of Ibn Ezra and respect the fact that we are royalty who know the true meaning of freedom.

 

 

Have an uplifting Shabbos!

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