Video Message for Pesach 2011 (Edited Transcript)
Hi welcome. Thank you for taking the time to watch this. This year I decided to do something different. As you know every Pesach I distribute a leaflet with a message to the entire community. This year, in light of current world events, I decided to distribute something more substantial: a short book of 40 pages on the topic of freedom, entitled Freedom Agenda – Blueprint for Creating a Better World.
We are living through historic times. What is happening in Arab countries around the world, in Egypt, Tunisia and other places, is really historic. The theme and spirit of the times is the quest for freedom. As freedom is one of the cornerstone values of Judaism, I felt it appropriate to convey some of these ideas concerning the Torah’s agenda for freedom.
While I was preparing the book, I had a fascinating conversation with a Jewish CEO of one of the top companies in South Africa who told me that often people view Judaism as a system filled with restrictions and duties that constrict our freedom and limit our options in life. I found that fascinating; here was a genius, really an outstanding person with this particular perception of what Judaism is all about. And I hear what he is saying. I can see how people can understand it from that perspective. But I think that it’s a mistake.
I told him there is a remarkable passage in the Talmud that looks at freedom from a completely different perspective. The Torah tells us that the Ten Commandments were charut al haluchot, “engraved on the Tablets,” and the Talmud comments that the word charut, engraved, has the same letters as the Hebrew word cheirut, which is freedom. The Talmud says, “there is no one who is truly free like a person who is involved with Torah.” This is a remarkable claim: Torah is the gateway to freedom. Not only can we achieve freedom through Torah, but the Talmud makes the bold statement that Torah is the only way to achieve real freedom.
The Torah is full of duties and obligations; the 613 commandments seem to impose restrictions on our lives. How, then, do we understand this statement of the Talmud? There is an interesting analogy from the physical world: health, diet and exercise. We might think that real freedom means eating what we want, when we want, as much as we want – and never having to exercise; to watch what we eat and to exercise – that would seem restrictive. But in truth, although on a superficial level diet and exercise are restrictive, such a lifestyle is actually liberating because it enables us to be free from the ravages of ill health and lethargy. Living healthily means we are living in accordance with the laws of the physical universe, and when we live in accordance with the laws of the universe we are living at our optimum.
In the same way that G-d created physical laws for the universe, He created moral and spiritual laws for the universe. He revealed those laws to us in His Torah, and guided us as to how to live our lives. The Talmud even says G-d looked into the world and created the Torah. The Torah, then, is the blueprint for the world – its moral and spiritual infrastructure. When we live in accordance with this blueprint for a moral and spiritual world, we are living in accordance with the moral and spiritual laws of the universe. As with the physical laws of nature, when we follow the moral and spiritual laws we thrive and are full of energy.
The book Freedom Agenda: Blueprint for Creating a Better World discusses the moral and spiritual blueprint for the world, which G-d revealed to us in the Torah. The Torah shows us the gateway to freedom. It is a guide for creating freedom in this world. It’s the Torah’s agenda for freedom and it’s based on G-d’s blueprint for the moral and spiritual universe. It shows us the gateway to freedom. The book discusses the Torah’s guidelines to achieve freedom on an individual level as well as on a societal level, in terms of government – how to control abusive power; how to prevent tyranny; and how to run a welfare state; and in terms of individuals functioning within society as a whole – how to create a society of compassion and decency; how to understand the forces of history.
The book addresses these issues and that’s really what freedom is about and that’s what the book is about. Free copies are available from the shuls and the schools. It is also downloadable for your Kindle or iPad, on this website.
I hope you enjoy it. Read through it, ponder it. I would love to hear what you think about it. Please email me your thoughts – it is always pleasure hearing from our very special community.
Thank you so much for taking the time to watch this. Chag Kasher veSameach, wishing a joyous and kosher Pesach to our entire community. G-d bless you and thank you.