In the process of clarifying my values through the Hutzell workbook I’m starting to notice a value of mine that was difficult for me to name with one word. I thought of vitality, intensity, letting go, immersion, throwing myself into or losing myself in something. What came to mind was one time this past year when my two year old grandson came to our house. He took my hand and started to dance with me, and he said “Let’s be wild!” To him, being wild means the same thing as having fun because when he’s busy having fun people tell him he’s being wild.
I identify with him. When I’m at a wedding dancing in a circle dance and I close my eyes so that I can really get into the dancing and be totally supported by the hands holding me, it’s because I want to be wild. When I go jogging in the morning and feel the spirit moving me I want to be wild. When I play bongos and put my passion into the rhythm I want to be wild. I want to be free.
In the Jewish calendar, this is the season of freedom. So what is freedom? Frankl spoke about freedom “from” and freedom “to.” When Nick Vujicic explains that he gets up again for the umpteenth time after falling repeatedly, he is demonstrating what it means to be free. And when you see students in his audience with tears in their eyes because they are painfully aware of the perceived invisible barriers in their lives, it is because they are aware that they are not free. (By the way I think you’ll find that in a different video, not this one.)
Frankl understood that we don’t understand the meaning of freedom and this is why he spelled it out. He said that freedom does not preclude restrictions but is contingent upon restrictions. Like the ground beneath our feet, the boundaries of life give us the jumping off point for our freedom.
Then my thoughts turned to a message in my email box about a statement by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, that people destroy their children by always repeating the Yiddish phrase ‘Es is shver tzu zein a Yid.’ (It’s hard to be a Jew.). He continued with the comment: “No, it is not hard to be a Jew. It is beautiful and joyous to be a Jew.”
I answered the friend who sent me the message by saying “The question it leaves me with is: Why is it so hard to be a Jew who says ‘It is beautiful and joyous to be a Jew’?”
I got my answer to the question yesterday when our synagogue’s rabbi spoke about the topic of leniencies and stringencies in the law. To keep a law in a stricter way can be a sign that you care, but if you’re depressed over it, this is not a good thing. It’s possible to be enlivened by the law or depressed over it. This has nothing to do with how strict or lenient you are but about whether it’s coming from a commitment that comes from deep within or not and whether it is right for you or not.
The holiday of Passover constitutes our birth as a nation, a birth from slavery and non-being to freedom and existence. What is the difference between a slave and a free person? A slave has no mind of his own. A free person asks himself: “How can I take all the gifts I’ve been given and use them to serve a good and useful purpose?”
There are two kinds of structures in life. There’s a structure that releases your spirit into a transcendent space, and there is a structure that confines. The structure that releases is something like the structure of music. There is a circle of fifths, there is tempo, there is timing. There are rules. The music comes out through the structure of the rules. Writing is the same thing. Many things in life are like this.
And then there’s a different kind of structure when you feel you’re restricted, limited, bound. Don’t do this and don’t do that. You can’t or you believe you shouldn’t and pretty soon you can’t move. You’re stuck in one place, with no life left in you. This structure is what we call barriers. The first is what we usually call boundaries.
But the truth is there is only one kind of structure. Because Nick experienced the structure of barriers in life. Everything other people could do so simply, for him there was a stop sign. No, you can’t just walk like a regular person. You can’t just eat with your hands. But he turned his confining barriers into boundaries that were springboards for his freedom. He has inner freedom and as a free person, he made his limitations serve him, serve a good and useful purpose.
The type of freedom the Jewish code of law is meant to be is the second type. It’s like the musical circle of fifths. It’s supposed to release a person into service rather than servitude, to access the capacity for choice in order to express the profundity of love and joy and also responsibility – the responsibility that only a lover can feel compelled to express.
So now I return to my Passover cleaning. Will I access my love in my relationship to God, to other people and to life? As I wipe away these bloated yeast-filled arrogant breadcrumbs will I release my spirit into freedom and self-transcendence or will I do the opposite and use the boundaries that are meant to release me as a depressive barrier that confines? It’s up to me. The freedom is within me.