By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
In the Torah portion this week Bo (Shmos [Exodus] 10:1- 13:16) we read of the great Exodus from Egypt. Let my people go that they may serve Me was the Divine call transmitted by Moses to Pharaoh. Now, if the purpose of leaving Egypt and Pharaoh's whip was to be able to serve G-d, so where is the freedom? We are still slaves, only now we are servants of the Almighty!
Many Jews today argue similarly. Mitzvahs cramp my style. Keeping kosher is a serious inconvenience. Shabbat really gets in the way of my weekend. And Passover has got to be the biggest headache of the year.
Long ago, the sages of the Talmud said it was actually the other way around. There is no one as free as he who is occupied with the study of Torah. But how can this possibly be true? Torah is filled with rules of law, ethics and even expectations and exhortations that we take the high road and behave beyond the call of duty. How could they say that Torah makes us free? Surely it is inhibiting rather than liberating?
The editor of a famous satirical British magazine, in his later years, became religious. An interviewer was questioning him how he could make such a radical transformation and become religious? How could he stifle such a magnificent free spirit as his?
His answer was a classic. He said he had a friend who was a famous yachtsman, an accomplished navigator of the high seas. A lesson he once gave him in sailing would provide the answer to the reporter's question. The yachtsman taught him that if you want to enjoy the freedom of the high seas, you must first become a slave to the compass.
A young novice might challenge the experienced professional's advice. But why should I follow that little gadget? Why can't I go where I please? It's my yacht! But every intelligent person understands that without the navigational fix provided by the compass we will flounder and sail in circles. If you want to enjoy the freedom of the high seas you must first become a slave to the compass.
The Torah is the compass of life. It provides our navigational fix so we know where to go and how to get there. Without the Torah's guidance and direction we would be lost in the often stormy seas of confusion. Without a spiritual guidance system we flounder about, wandering aimlessly through life. Just look at our kids when they're on vacation from school and are "free" from the disciplines of the educational system. Unless they have a program of some kind to keep them busy – like a summer camp – they become very frustrated in their "freedom."
Within the Torah lifestyle there is still ample room for spontaneity and freedom of expression. Not all rabbis are clones. To the untrained eye every yeshiva bochur looks identical – a black hat, glasses and a beard. The truth is that everyone is distinctively different; an individual with his very own tastes, attitudes, personality and preferences. They may look the same but they are each unique.
We can be committed to the compass and still be free spirits. Indeed, there are none as free as they who are occupied with Torah.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Yossy Goldman)