Friday, January 19, 2018

Freedom is Caring

During my sabbatical, I've been spending some time with Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik's Torah commentary. For those who don't know, Soloveitchik was one of the giants of the 20th century, and he more or less created what we now know as Modern Orthodoxy. He never actually wrote a Torah commentary, but one of his students gathered various teachings of his which related to various parts of the Torah, and assembled them into a single work. It's a pretty fantastic bit of Torah.

In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Bo, we get the Passover story, including the commandment of the Paschal sacrifice. It is, according to at least some sages, the only sacrifice which is closely tied to the idea of chavurah, community. One sage even asserts that this one particular sacrifice can only be offered by a group, never an individual. This one offering, so closely tied to freedom, can never be an individual act.

But, a chavurah, a community, is more than a group. It must be bound by something. And, that something is chesed. What's chesed? It's usually translated as "kindness," but it also has a sense of communal obligation about it. Loving responsibility. That, Soloveitchik teaches, is what freedom is really about. The ability to display chesed.
The ceremony of the Passover meal, centered around the paschal lamb, aims at the emergence of the new chesed community--for chesed is the characteristic mark of the free man...the birth of the chesed community--of a nation within which people unite, give things away, care for each other, share what they possess--is symbolized by the paschal sacrifice...[God] simply wanted the people--slaves who had just come out of the house of bondage--to emerge from their isolation and insane self-centeredness into the chesed community, where the little that man has is too much for himself.
To emerge from our insane self-centeredness. What a phrase. And, what a great definition of freedom. The ability to emerge from our insane self-centeredness.

As you may know, during my sabbatical, I've also been focussing a bit on Social Justice, and on trying to find ways, and partners, to work towards a world which cares more for the oppressed and the marginalized. And, although I don't know that Soloveitchik would have liked this application (he was speaking about the Jewish community here, not the world community), I still found his words resonant with the world of Justice. And, quite dissonant with much of the hatred and anger, and with the treatment of "the other," that I see in the news.

What is freedom? Freedom is defined, and symbolized, by our ability, and our willingness, to emerge from our insane self-centeredness, and to instead live within a nation built on caring for each other.

Cain Yehi Ratzon--May that be God's will.

Shabbat Shalom.

No comments: