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7 Nissan 5763 - April 9, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
What is Real Freedom?

by Rabbi Shmuel Globus

It is hard to describe, but you know it when you feel it: Freedom.

It is said in the name HaRav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy"d, zt"l, who said in the name of the Gaon of Vilna, that there are sixty-four mitzvos to be done on Pesach night, deOraisa and derabbonon, with each brochoh counting as a separate mitzvah.

HaRav Shlomo Brevda reports that a group of avreichim once sat down to make a count. Each one came up with sixty- four mitzvos--but each one had on his list many mitzvos that were not on the lists of the others. From this we see that there are many more than sixty-four mitzvos on this night. (The question remains which mitzvos the Gaon of Vilna meant to be counted!)

HaRav Brevda writes, "Afterwards I started thinking about this. The Seder night is the night of redemption from slavery to freedom. If so, why did the Torah and Chazal place on the Jewish people such a heavy load of difficult and heavy mitzvos, davka on this night, to the point that it seems as if we are not free men but actually slaves? Why is this night different from all other nights?" (Leil Shimurim p. 47).


Here is a story of a free man: When Pesach appeared on the horizon. Rav Yitzchok Zilber, then imprisoned in a Soviet work camp (now spiritual leader of Russian-speaking Torah Jewry in Israel), started to plan for the festival. He firmly decided that even in imprisonment he would not eat chometz on Pesach.

Not all the Jewish prisoners shared his opinion. Among the prisoners were several members of Yevsektzia, the Jewish communist party. They were sworn to fight Judaism to the bitter end, and were possessed of a ferocity that would not shame even the non-Jewish communists. Rav Zilber tried to convince them. "I am not promising that you will get out of jail early," he said to them, "but I promise that you will not lose anything by not eating chometz." This was not an easy matter to arrange: Bread was distributed in the camp in meager amounts that did not satisfy the prisoners' hunger.

The difficult task of obtaining matzoh flour was done by Rav Zilber's wife who was not in jail. She stood in line for many hours to get flour. She had to bake the matzos in hiding, because someone who was caught baking matzos was sent to jail. She broke the matzos into little pieces that were designated as `tea cakes,' and she brought them wrapped in a package.

Rav Zilber saw to it to acquire potatoes as well from some of the camp's known thieves. The question of where to cook was yet unsolved, as was the question of where to find cooking utensils. He managed to find a pot and cleaned it with snow and sand.

A prisoner named Mishka Kosov, who held the other prisoners in terror, approached him. Rav Zilber knew Kosov as the leader of the gang of thieves in the camp, and a complete goy. Suddenly Kosov began to speak to him in Yiddish: "I see that you are making efforts not to eat chometz," he said to him. "I also am a Jew; I will be with you too." Kosov continued to surprise Rav Zilber. He took out a hundred rubles, gave them to Rav Zilber, and asked him to send the money to his wife to buy kosher chicken for Pesach.

Rav Zilber, in return for some potatoes, got permission from the prisoner in charge of the camp's stove to do some cooking.

The main thing that worried him was that the food they had prepared for Pesach would be stolen. Here Mishka Kosov surprised him again. He gathered all the thieves and informed them: "For eight days it is forbidden for you to `borrow' anything from Yitzchok Zilber. Whoever does not obey will find himself headless." The warning proved effective.

The camp physician, a Jew married to a goyah, also agreed to cooperate. He gave the Jews access to the clinic on Seder night. "We sat and spoke and I said over words of Torah; we did everything properly," recounts Rav Zilber. "If I fulfill Hashem's mitzvos properly, then I am a free man. We taught the prisoners to say, `Pesach, Matzoh, and Morror.' Also Mishka Kosov was there, and he really liked the raisin wine," he laughed.


We see that the feeling of freedom stems from service of Hashem. This also explains why there are so many mitzvos on the Seder night. We also serve Hashem; why don't we feel as free as Rav Zilber did in the Soviet work camp?

First let us think about why we don't feel as if we were slaves. "The reason that the feeling of slavery is lacking among us could be explained as stemming from the influence of the system called `democracy,' which has increased its strength in the last one hundred years. In all previous generations, there was a king or dictator. Then there was a feeling of slavery and subjugation before a stronger force. This gave a sense of what true kingship is. From seeing earthly kingship, people could imagine Heavenly kingship.

"But in a place of democracy, where all people are considered equal, there is no concept of subjugation and slavery. Each person does as he sees fit. This influences our spiritual life as well.

"This could explain the well-known incident in which R. Chaim Volozhiner cried when he prophetically foresaw that in the future, the Torah would go to America, and that this would be the last journey of the Jewish people before the Redemption. R. Chaim then said, `I am extremely worried and fearful about the difficulties and stumbling blocks that will face the Torah leaders of that exile. Will they succeed in establishing it in the same Torah tradition that existed in Europe until then? Who knows how the Torah of this exile will look!' (Avi Hayeshivos p. 110).

"Perhaps R. Chaim perceived that the Torah would go into exile to a place where democracy rules, where there is no feeling of slavery. Perhaps he saw that this would exert an influence on our spiritual life as well . . .

"Rav Avrohom Yaffin zt'l, son-in-law of the Alter of Novardok, writes (Introduction to Madreigas Ho'odom): `I heard when I was in Vilna in 5700 (1940), from the holy mouth of Rav Chaim Ozer zt'l, "I remember when I was young that they would say in the name of R. Chaim Volozhiner that in the future, the Torah will go into exile in America." Indeed, this is the hardest exile for the holy Torah and those who learn it . . . And this is in truth the greatest problem in the American exile, that by nature there is not much fear and terror there . . .'" (R. Eliezer Yehuda Miller, A Heart to Know Me--A Collection of Teachings by our Rabbis on the Importance of the Heart in the Service of G- d, end of ch. 6).


True freedom is rarer than it used to be. We have to work hard to achieve it. Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler zt"l tells us how:

"A slave is someone who is forced to work but who will not receive the fruits of his labor. Therefore, all of a person's actions concerning worldly matters are actions of slavery, for he will not receive the fruits.

"This applies even if he will acquire much wisdom and author books. All the Torah that a person will learn and think and write, and also what he will teach to others, are all actions of slavery. They are not his until he acquires them, until he makes them his in his heart through doing them for the sake of Heaven. If not, he remains a slave as he was before. Only a person who is beToraso yehegeh (who contemplates his Torah) is a free man. This refers to a person who acquires it to make it his through a true inner desire, free of any personal motives. `The only free man is the one who engages in Torah learning' (Pirkei Ovos 6:2). `Engages' implies with an inner desire" (Michtav MeEliahu part 3, p.289).

Here is a poignant description of a person who lacks this inner desire:

" . . . `This soul's desire is cut off from service of the Creator.' Meaning to say, a person who fulfills the mitzvos, davens three times a day and says a brochoh on every food or drink that requires a brochoh -- he serves Hashem, but all his service of Hashem is without desire. It is just routinely-performed actions.

"In other words, he davens and says brochos and does mitzvos with the same feeling that he felt when he was a child, when his father taught him to do them. Indeed, he goes and does them without any change, not in deed and not in thought. Just as when he was a child, he of course was thinking only about his toys and games and he did the mitzvos only in order to avoid punishment, to finish them so he could return to his business.

"So is this person: due to the habits of his childhood, he continues to do the same now, after he has matured and grown older and gained understanding. In the midst of his worldly business and concerns, he also grabs for himself (so he thinks) a little of the World to Come. He does mitzvos and kind deeds, he prays, he always remembers his brochos. But everything is without pleasure and enjoyment. It is simply habit that has become second nature. He goes on every day, following his habits . . .

"This person does all his mitzvos without awareness. But when he gets to material pursuits such as eating, drinking, etc, he engages in them with enjoyment and tremendous desire. He chooses with the utmost care what he will eat, and how it will be prepared, and with what he will have it, and how much he will eat. He plans out all these details perfectly. He does not miss so much as a hairsbreadth!

"The same applies concerning the desire for money. His head and entire being is immersed in this desire, twenty-four hours of the day. `And he who loves money will not be satiated by money' (Koheles 5:9). If he has a hundred, he wants two hundred, with a strong will and such a powerful hunger that if he does not fulfill his desire, he is liable to commit suicide, G-d forbid. All this is exactly the opposite of the way he relates to his spiritual matters, to which he is absolutely anesthetized.

"This is what Rabbeinu Yonah meant when he said (Sha'arei Teshuvoh 2:6): ` . . . the soul of a wicked person, someone whose whole life was spent in the desire of bodily matters. This soul's desire is cut off from service of the Creator'" (Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt"l, Lev Eliyahu 3, p. 258).

We see that the slavery to Hashem that makes us free is in the heart. It is the heart's true inner desire for Torah and spirituality. This is the feeling of the free man.

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