Friday, May 25, 2007

Freedom is one of those terms we use liberally and think we all understand yet it’s a concept that lawmakers, philosophers, religious leaders and teenagers spend an immeasurable amount of time trying to define and delineate. It’s this elusive, seemingly unattainable aspiration we pursue incessantly but never feel satisfied with. Whether it’s financial, emotional or physical freedom, we all want more of it. Personally, the minute I can jump on a bus or plane to get away, I’m packed and on my way. Deep breaths filling my unrestricted lungs, my head uncluttered by obligations and responsibilities, my feet and mind unbound and free to roam…nothing feels like freedom. Recently, however, it occurred to me that somehow it was specifically this quest for freedom which was at the root of my confusions and troubles and it got me wondering about what freedom really means.

People often ask me how it is that I can be such a free spirit and also BT - it seems contradictory. Who takes on a life of servitude to an all-powerful G-d when freedom is what they are in search of? Surprisingly though, it is precisely through my connection to Torah and Judaism that I have experienced the greatest amount of freedom.

Freedom generally signifies a lack of constraints. Whether physical, psychological or emotional, freedom is a state we achieve when we are no longer held back by restrictions and boundaries. This can often lead to adopting a hedonistic lifestyle, devoid of rules and limitations where one is free to express and behave as one desires. Because on our most basic level we associate more directly with our physical body, I think our desire for freedom is often translated into physical freedom. We appease this deep and innate need to feel free by pursuing physical freedom, with financial freedom as the primary means.

But we keep chasing.

It sometimes feels like a neverending race with no finish line in sight. It occurred to me, after all these years of chasing after this type of freedom, that maybe I was trying to placate a very deep need with a very superficial source of appeasement – trying to achieve spiritual freedom by removing physical constraints. The essence of a human being’s existence is his ability to choose, to exercise his free will and this is where real freedom can be found. It is the ability to decide and choose one’s fate - but that sense of freedom kept slipping through my fingers. It got me wondering about what constraints were stopping me from achieving that level of freedom?

We are all created with the ability to be free, to exercise our free will. Existentially, freedom is what defines us. It occurred to me that maybe the greatest impediment to exercising our free will, and to ultimately achieving a state of true freedom, is our fear of accepting the consequences of our choices. Being afraid to make a choice paralyses us and leads us to feel imprisoned, restricted and unable to exercise our free will. Consequently, we are left with a body, an animal body with animal urges, and we try to compensate by chasing after physical freedom. We fool ourselves into believing that physical freedom, financial freedom or sexual freedom can make us feel truly free.

Religion is often accused of minimizing freedom. It includes a type of servitude in which people can feel trapped or stifled. But at the root of Judaism is the concept of free will. From the time of creation, the ability to choose one's fate was given to man. So how does a system based on free will lead some people to feel imprisoned? People will claim that they don’t have a choice, that they are trapped in their lifestyles - there are family repercussions, societal ramifications, consequences and hardships they cant handle. People don’t feel free to choose…

As a BT, I strongly appreciate my freedom to choose. I can choose to live my life the way I do, I can choose to go back to my old lifestyle, I can choose a new lifestyle. I can choose to believe and I can choose to act according to my beliefs. In the past I have often heard people who were raised in observant homes complain that they didn’t have the choices I did by being born into this lifestyle. In fact there have been times when even I, after so many years of living this way, felt that way too - I fell into the trap of believing that I too had lost my ability to choose.

Wanting to avoid this feeling of being stifled by my lifestyle, I started to consider all the restrictions I felt were impeding my freedom to choose, whether it was torah obligations or societal pressures. I realized that I was in fact completely free to choose to act as I desired but that I would have to pay for the consequences of my actions. I could stop wearing a skirt, but then I might be objectified, I could break shabbos, but then I’d be losing that special connection to Hashem that develops on that day, I could choose to behave in any way I wanted, but then I’d limit my dating options or the respect I received from others and maybe even from G-d. I realized I was free to act as I pleased as long as I accepted the consequences of my actions.

My freedom of choice is the rock that G-d can’t lift. It’s in my hands, not His. But being that it is completely up to me to choose, the weight of the rock is also mine – and that’s the real obstacle to exercising my free will. It’s not that I cant choose, it’s that I sometimes wish I was able to make choices without any repercussions. But that’s not the way of the world – it's wishful thinking, we can’t escape the reality of cause and effect.

There are many choices that I am free to make, but they carry consequences that I am not necessarily ready to accept. No one imposed any choices on me, but I have sometimes felt trapped because I was afraid to make a choice in view of the consequences it carried - consequences that have and will continue to affect me, my family, my future and my community. What I also realized was that all the big decisions I’ve made in my life, all the difficult choices I’ve been faced with also carried extremely difficult consequences, and it was precisely because of those sacrifices I made that my choices are so precious to me. The freedom to choose, and the sacrifices I’ve made to make those choices are what make my decisions and my lifestyle so important and cheriched.

Janis Joplin sings 'freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose'. I understand that as meaning that we can only achieve freedom when we make a choice fully accepting the consequences of that choice – when we’ve accepted the “losses” and have nothing left to lose. To choose between two inconsequential outcomes, or to make a choice but resent the consequences is not an expression of freedom. Consequences are the currency that we can measure our choices by. Since real freedom can only be achieved through making choices, then real freedom can only be achieved through accepting the consequences of our choices. 'Nothing left to lose' means that I’ve accepted the worse case scenario, the consequences and implications of my choice and I’ve made my choice knowing full well what I am choosing. That’s freedom. There is no resentment or guilt or passive aggressive denial. Freedom means that I know what I am getting myself into and I choose to go into it.

No one is trapped into any kind of lifestyle; we choose the lifestyle we live in – because we don’t want to face the consequences of the alternative choice. The irony is that it is only in making that choice that we can truly be free. Freedom is the only ability we have that animals don’t share with us. We can choose to do something which is harmful, we can choose to do something which is against our best interest, we can choose to remain in an unhappy situation, we can choose to feel imprisoned and accept the circumstance of our lives.. but in order for a choice to be free we have to be fully aware of the consequences of our choice and we have to accept them - we have to have nothing left to lose. In that kind of a choice, we express our freedom.

Whether someone comes from a secular background or an ultra sheltered chassidish background, whether they had a healthy upbringing or a dysfunctional one, every person comes to a point in their life where they need to choose who they want to be. In order to attain real freedom and to truly develop into a healthy adult, a person needs to come to the realization that they are completely free to choose but that whatever choices they make will carry consequences. Making a free choice is not simply doing what one feels like or picking an outcome, a real choice – expressed freely – is one where the consequences have been weighed, and accepted. I think that once a person realizes that every choice is open to them, as long as they accept the sacrifices entailed in making that choice, then they can truly feel free.


At Friday, May 25, 2007 10:38:00 AM, Blogger The Dreamer said...

Beautiful, as usual.

And I agree with every word.

"Ein Licha Ben Chorin Ela Mi Sheosek BaTorah" - your description is just wonderful.

Can you publish this one?
It's so well written and illuminates many vital points.

At Friday, May 25, 2007 12:35:00 PM, Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

Can I print it out and read it over shabbos?

At Friday, May 25, 2007 12:42:00 PM, Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

I think this is why the youth have such a such a warped sense of freedom..Because theyre sense of resposibility have not yet been honed and the notion of consequences only comes with experience.

So well written.
The fact that youre blog is not a finalist for best blog award shows that the whole award system is a sham!

At Friday, May 25, 2007 1:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is in the hands of the "elders" such as yourself to relinquish their pressures and expectations of the youth in order for them to get to that admirable point of decision making; freedom.

At Friday, May 25, 2007 1:34:00 PM, Anonymous anonym00kie said...

the dreamer..
thanks. but i'll tell u, this post wasnt so much about praising torah, as it is about making choices. there are torah observant poeple who have never tasted freedom, and secular poeple who live out their freedom every day. it's a question of who is making their choices fully aware, accepting consequences, and not out of fear and habit.

it's too bad i didnt put this up before shavuot, then u for sure would have had enough time to read it :)

brilliant comment. i dont think david necessarily meant it as criticisim, i think its a fact that the younger you are the harder time you have with freedom because it is so difficult to grasp. but.. youre 100% right that in order not to have a warped sense of freedom, one needs to learn about consequences and make their own mistakes and choices and that requires those in authority to let go and allow for that to happen..

At Friday, May 25, 2007 2:45:00 PM, Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

Not sure what anyone is reading into my comment.
Just making an observation based on Mookies post.

While yes it is up to the elders..(goodness I'm only in my low 30s lol) to try and do is not really possible.
When I say some things only come with experience thats exactly what I mean. It's like trying to get a 10 year old to eat healthy. He takes his body and youthfullness for grnated and hasnt even begun thinking about consequences re: his body and health and is thus IMPOSSIBLE to convey.

At Friday, May 25, 2007 2:49:00 PM, Blogger The Dreamer said...

mooks - yeah, i know it was about making choices... but i thought it fit that chazal so nicely... :)

ever read the book "choice theory" by william glasser? it's excellent...

At Friday, May 25, 2007 4:01:00 PM, Anonymous JOMO K. said...


At Monday, May 28, 2007 10:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're seemingly using your own personal background to judge all that have to choose, and thus proclaim freedom within reach for all. What you don't realize is that you're conclusion based on a singular experience is entirely faulty. You fail to understand that personal consequences - or rather, you mean sacrifices - to varying degrees are something we can all accept for ourselves as the price of freedom, but our responsibilities are something we cannot compromise or sacrifice. At times in life there are children or other lives that may be deeply and permanently affected by choices that are more important than one's own individual freedom. To suggest that freedom should come before one's responsibilities is frankly --- irresponsible.

At Monday, May 28, 2007 11:25:00 PM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

anonymous.. i think you misunderstood what i said.
what i said was that freedom only comes when we make choices by accepting the consequences.

freedom doesnt mean doing what feels good or doing whatever we feel like. freedom means the ability to choose once we accept the consequences of our actions.

if a person has a responsability to others, they can chose to do whats right and act responsably, or they can choose to ignore their responsabilities and do what feels good to them. either way they are making a choice and both choices carry their own consequences.

in the case of a parent who has the choice to act in a way which will benefit him, or to act in a way which is more responsible and will benefit his children, he is free to choose either. both of these choices carry consequences - one will make him happy but ruin his kids, and the other will make him unhappy but will make his kids happy. we tend to think that if we sacrifice our own happiness for someone else that we have lost our freedom - but what im saying is that if the parent weighs the consquences of both choices (his happiness vs his childrens happiness) and he chooses to act in the benefit of his children (which he should), and sacrifice his own happiness, then he has acted freely, and achieved real freedom (eventhough he had to make a big sacrifice).

if we make a choice based on the consequences we want to achieve, then the choice was made freely. if the parent decides that he would rather sacrifice his happiness in order to act responsbly to his kids, and he accepts the price he is paying, - then he has acted freely.

another example is in terms of torah observance. a person may feel stifled and decide that if he werent frum he would be happier but he feels that he has no freedom to stop being religious. i think thats faulty thinking. this person has 100% freedom to choose to stop being relgious, but there will be repurcussions - it will affect his wife/kids/parents/future, it will affect his entire life. so YES he is free to stop being religious but he will have to deal with the consequences. OR he is free to stay religious and there are consequences to that choice also.

we want to live a life that has no consequences.. but freedom only comes when we have a choice, and we only have a choice when we have opposing forces to weigh - when we have to choose between consequeneces.

(i would never ever suggest that one's personal freedom/happiness should come before one's responsabilities, but the truth is that G-d did give us the ability to choose that. if one can choose to act irresponsbly and feel free then one should feel as free when they act responsibly - both are equal choices.)

At Monday, May 28, 2007 11:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you equate freedom to happiness? Choosing in freedom is often, as you said, full of consequences, and frequently sought for reasons other than happiness. To the contrary, the sacrifices attributed to said freedom can bring immediate struggles and hardships, as I'm sure you can agree yourself. I'm sure your 'freedom' wasn't necessarily a quest of 'happiness' rather a quest of something else, truth, meaning, etc.

When you understand that you are weighing FREEDOM against your CHILDREN not personal HAPPINESS against CHILDREN, you realize that you simply cannot have your freedom for the sake of their hurt. While these situations - choices in life are unavoidable and understandable - I was trying to point out to you that freedom is not available for those trapped in a certain life. Sure not the kind of freedom YOU would have settled for.

Accepting consequences is entirely different as accepting one's fate. Accepting consequences is understanding that your mistakes that may come with choosing what you believe in are yours to live with. Accepting fate is living with what you have and making the best of it. The latter is not the equivalent of freedom.

Freedom is when you can choose your path. Not when you can choose to live with the path chosen by someone/thing else. There may be a word for that; character - stregnth - attitude, but it's not called freedom.

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 12:10:00 AM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

anonymous, i disagree. youre understanding of freedom is the one im debating, the common one - youre free when you can do what you feel like.

the point of this post is a realization i had that freedom is NOT the ability to do what we want. freedom is the ability to CHOOSE. period.

if i choose to sacrifice my happiness (meaning im not free to do what i feel like and im stuck in a life i dont like) because i dont want the consequences of the alternative choice, then i am FREE.

people always think that being free means i can pick up and do as i please.
i disagree, thats physical, superficial freedom.
real freedom is being able to make a choice based on the consequences - i choose to remain religious because i have kids. i choose to remain secular because i cant disapoint my parents. i choose to stay faithful because my spouse deserves it. those are FREE choices. (even if it leaves you stuck in a situation)

one is free to go against everyone, but obviously the consequences are not worth it and so one chooses not to.

the reason you or others dont feel free is because you think youre victims and that choices have been made for you.
i disagree
choices are being made by you every single instant of your life. every second a person doesnt leave his wife and kids and torah and life, that person is freely choosing to stay there because the consequences of leaving are worse than the consequences of staying.

(do you want to email me?)

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 12:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying, well put, although I don't agree.

You are the one seeing freedom as a superficial physical inability. You think one's not free when they're physically behind bars, but when there are bars that cannot be seen, you refuse to realize that there is a prison with no ability to walk. They are chained, and you choose not to realize that.

To be between choices where the obvious choice is the undesired is not what we humans so yearn for. To be trapped in your own prison of morals is a wonderful place only humans can acheive, but it'll still leave us trapped.

Freedom, by definition is self-determination. When would you think self-determination stops being available at the face of consequences? When there will be punishment by law? When there will be bodily harm? Don't you realize that the line goes way deeper, that what stops us in life is far more than just physical harm?

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 1:19:00 AM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

physical bars dont eliminate your freedom, punishment doesn’t either, neither does bodily harm. in all of these situations there are choices to make and freedom to be found. is it the freedom to roam free? nope.. but its freedom to act according to your convictions depending on the hierarchy of convictions youve set for yourself.

if i claim there are no chains, no bars, physical or otherwise, its because i feel like ive spent my life trying to break away from them. what ive realized is that there are no bars and chains but we believe that there, and this is what this post is about, breaking away from those perceived bars and chains.

i guess the major choices ive had to make in my life required major sacrifices but thats where i felt the most free. its hard for me to imagine that there is a point where we lose our freedom to choose..
existence just wouldnt make sense to me without that ability.
maybe you can give me more concrete examples?
(can you email me?)

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:23:00 PM, Blogger Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:24:00 PM, Blogger Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 10:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here’s a concrete example, although you might not have been looking for the metaphor…

A person that has a contagious disease and is confined to isolation does not have the “freedom” to “choose” to leave his room. Although he might consider the consequences of leaving his room and decide for or against it, physical boundaries (locks, guards, walls) do not allow him to make a choice.

It is very literal and merely argumentative to suggest that there is freedom where the blockages are not of materialistic evidence. When one has certain responsibilities and “chooses” to forgo his preferences because he has no choice, he chose not to be free. To claim that this person is actually free because there is no actual, visible keeper is incorrect.

At Wednesday, May 30, 2007 12:50:00 AM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

having freedom to choose doesnt mean that one can do whatever he wants, thats not freedom, thats fantasy. i cant walk on water, i cant bat my wings and fly, i cant wake up 10 years younger, does that mean im not free?
g-d puts a persn in a situation, then given that situation, a person is free to choose between teh alternatives available.
sure a sick person cant choose to be healthy, they cant choose to break the locks and walls, they cant choose to stop being contageous. thats nto freedom, thats wishful thinking and delusion. choice is taking the choices you DO have and choosing which one to pick.

hmm.. is it just me or are we just going in circles :)

the kind of freedom im talkin about has nothing to do with physical or emotional or spiritual boundaries. the freedom im talknig about is the personal freedom to choose how to live one;s life given the circumstances one is presented with.

a person given the choice to convert or die could easily think he has "lost his freedom" - after all, what kind of a choice is that?! its not fair! but the truth is, those who chose to burn at the stake instead of convert understood that by choosing to stick by their convinctions, and accepting the consequence of death were freer than you and i will ever be. when you have nothing left to lose, when you accept the consequences completely, tehn you can be free. thats real self determination, the ability to be who you chose to be (whether its staying jewish and burning at the stake, or sacrificing your "freedom" to wear jeans and go clubbing for the benefit of your children, or losing your freedom to switch sexual partners in order to protect your marriage)

At Wednesday, May 30, 2007 1:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha. So you deduce that there is no antonym to freedom, all that is around and has been for many years is simply a free universe. Those that are physically/literally imprisoned are in a position of fantasy as there is no choice, and hence it is not freedom that are lacking, and those that are subject to choice are automatically in a position of freedom. Tadda. All of the world is created with freedom. Time to stop fighting for it, it’s offered for free!

”g-d puts a persn in a situation, then given that situation, a person is free to choose between teh alternatives available.”

You see certain situations as 'alternative available' while I, as a person in that situation, deduce it to mere ‘fantasy’. There is no choosing, there is no living with sacrifices, there is no weighing consequences, there is just staying with what you have. I think you need to be in such a position to ever understand that.


At Wednesday, May 30, 2007 9:28:00 AM, Anonymous anonym00kie said...

we've all been in situations where all we saw was a wall in front of us, and no possibility of leaving, or choosing otherwise.
we all FELT bound, we all felt trapped at some point..

what im questioning in this post is how valid this "feeling" is..
are we really bound by anything/anyone, or do we choose to feel that way so we can feel like victims.
when you beleive that someone or something can imprison you and remove your freedom, then you've lost your freedom. when you realize that no one can do that to you, you can be free..
but.. it's so much easier to sulk, be unhappy, feel victimized, excuse our negativity when we feel that others are imposing on us, chaining us down..when we feel we're victims.. i guess im tired of feeling that way

At Tuesday, June 05, 2007 5:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At Wednesday, June 06, 2007 10:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

אין לך בן חורין כמו מי שעוסק בתורה

Satisfaction and High spiritual feelings can give a sense of freedom too, versus when you live free and follow your yetzer gora you feel sorry afterwards, and feel addicted to your the opposite of "freedom"

At Thursday, June 07, 2007 1:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

very well said. i really enjoy your posts

At Wednesday, June 13, 2007 5:58:00 PM, Blogger j said...

Sometimes you make choices and don't fully understand the consequences of that choice. When you come to the realization of the reality of your situation I think that is the point where you feel trapped. For instance decideing to have a child. You don't know the enormaity of that type of responsibility until you are given it. But you chose to get pregnant b/c you wanted to creat for yourself a family or b/c you parents were pressureing you for grandchildren, or b/c you needed s/t to wake up in the morning for. Once the realization of how difficult your reality is and what the consequences really are, that is a scary thing and than you come to feel trapped by your blind choice.

At Thursday, June 14, 2007 11:06:00 AM, Anonymous j2 said...

j- welcome to mookies blog
but you missed the point you have a freedom to choose and accept the consequenses of your choice

At Thursday, June 14, 2007 10:56:00 PM, Blogger j said...

I have the freedom to choose to accept the cosequenses or I have the freedom to choose what 'and' accept the consequenses.... spell it out better for me.

At Friday, June 15, 2007 10:35:00 AM, Anonymous j2 said...

j- email mookie she's more eloquent then i

At Tuesday, June 19, 2007 11:19:00 AM, Anonymous anonym00kie said...


"Sometimes you make choices and don't fully understand the consequences of that choice. When you come to the realization of the reality of your situation I think that is the point where you feel trapped."

I think that was my point. real freedom is when you are able to understand and take into considerations the consequences of your choice. if before you have children, you fully understand and accept how hard it will be, then later when it is difficult you wont feel trapped. you may feel tired of frustrated, but not trapped, because you chose this for yourself. now of course, the younger you are, the more difficult it is to understand these consequences, but my claim was not that we are all free all the time. to me, its a process, a life long process of learning to be truly free. when we get to the point where we are able to realize that we made wrong choices.. our new choice becomes ' how to deal with the life we got ourselves into ' we can either run awya, or accept it, or deal with it, or hate it.. but our attitude at that point is our own. its true that we might not be able to change the results of our past choices, but we do have a choice about how to handle them in the future..

my post wasnt about saying how great and easy things are.. on the contrary, i was saying how liberating it can be when we arent afraid of how difficult it all is.

At Wednesday, August 22, 2007 5:08:00 PM, Anonymous LilBT said...

Here, here sister! Well put and eloquently stated. That's exactly how I feel! :-D


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