A famous pre-Revolutionary American once said, “Give me liberty
or give me death!” Not all would agree that life without liberty is not
worth living, yet we all acknowledge that liberty is a priceless gift. But
what is liberation and why is it so precious? Is simply casting off all
restrictions a virtue? Should a mother aspire to be liberated from caring
for her infant child?
Furthermore, our Sages tell that “the only free person is one who
studies the Torah.” But how is Torah study liberating? If anything, its
many prohibitions and restrictions would seem to be quite restrictive.
Let us look into the very first verse of this week’s Torah portion for
the answer. “And Hashem said to Moses, ‘Say it to the Kohanim, the
sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them, ‘You shall not contaminate
yourselves . . .’” Say it to the Kohanim . . . and you shall say to
them . . .There are no superfluous words in the Torah. What then is the
point of this apparent redundancy?
The commentators find a profound implication in this verse.
Hashem was actually sending two different and distinct messages to the
Kohanim through Moses. The principal message was the prohibition
against contamination by corpses and all the other precautionary
guidelines that follow thereafter. There was always the possibility,
however, that the Kohanim would find the prohibitions restrictive, that
they would chafe at the burden imposed upon them.
Therefore, Hashem told Moses to preface his remarks with another
message: “Say it to the Kohanim . . . the sons of Aaron!” Remind them
of who they are. Remind them that they are not ordinary people. They
are the sons of Aaron, the exalted princes of the Jewish people, the
privileged members of Hashem’s priestly caste. Ordinary modes of
behavior and lifestyle would be inappropriate for such people. Their
special status requires a higher, more purified way of life. Thus, the
prohibitions are not oppressive restrictions but marks of distinction.
In this light, we gain new insight into the meaning of liberty. It is the
freedom to achieve the maximum personal growth without hindrance or
outside interference. The mother caring for her infant child enjoys liberty
when she is allowed to fulfill her maternal role completely, not when she
is released from it. Liberty allows us to live up to our standards, our
values and ideals, to seek personal fulfillment.
How does a person reach fulfillment by the transcendent standards
that apply to a human being, a creature formed betzelem Elokim, in “the
Image of the Lord”? Our Sages tells us that it is only through Torah.
Without Torah, a person is drawn into the vortex of his passions and
desires. He is swept away on the carnal currents and drifts ever further
from the fulfillment of his exalted potential. Only through years of
painstakingly following the divine guidelines of the Torah can a person
approach perfection. This is liberty of the highest order.
In our own lives, in a society that glorifies liberty and libertarianism,
we sometimes find ourselves restricted by the commandments of the
Torah, and reflexively, we may feel a twitch of resentment. But if we
reflect on the overall benefits of our way of life, we will surely
understand that we are the ones who enjoy true liberty, we are the ones
whose entire lives are directed toward bring us to ever higher levels of
spirituality. Torah truly enriches us and gives us the priceless gift of