Skip to main content

See also:

FEWER CHOICES, MORE FREEDOM

ROMAN SOLDIERS
ROMAN SOLDIERSRICHARD KLEMPNER

Imagine a Roman arena. You are center stage surrounded by thousands of rowdy spectators. In front of you are two massive doors overlaid with iron fittings. Behind one door is life and freedom; behind the other awaits a pack of hungry lions and an excruciating death.
The princess up in the grandstand catches your eye and is about to indicate the door leading to redemption. For some inexplicable reason, you the bewildered slave have caught her eye and her tender heart. She’s decided to deny the crowd its bloodthirsty appetite and save you. But at that moment the court philosopher appears at her elbow.
“Stop!” he hisses into her ear. “Don’t you want your heart’s beloved to be free?”
“Of course I do. That’s why I want to tell him...”
“If you tell him, you’ll deprive him of his freedom! Right now, he’s free to choose whichever door he wants. But if you tell him which door to open, he’ll cease to have any choice. He will have to open that door...”
Freedom of choice is the most precious of gifts granted to man. It is also one of the most misunderstood. As it is commonly perceived, freedom means an uncompelled choice between two (or more) options. If the choice is in any way influenced in either direction by an outside force, it is impinging on your freedom. And if the person telling you what to do is in a position of authority (parent, teacher, government, etc.), your acceptance of such authority means that you are relinquishing your freedom of choice.
But according to this line of thinking, true choice requires absolute ignorance. Ignorance, however, is not freedom - it is its very opposite. Placing a person in front of two blank doors does not make one free - it enslaves him to the cruel caprice of chance.
By granting the man in the arena knowledge, we grant him the ultimate freedom to choose: not to choose between two possibilities (we’ve just deprived him of that), but to choose the one possibility which is most consistent with his deepest, truest desire. That is true freedom. An animal may be fed and housed, but it is not free if all of the above is taking place in a cage in the zoo. Freedom is the ability to express who you are. In the case of the creature of the wild, it’s the freedom to be an animal; which means living in its natural habitat.
The Exodus from Egypt has come to represent humanity’s inextinguishable striving for freedom. The image of Moses demanding, “Let my people go!” has inspired countless freedom fighters. But look up that scene in your Bible, and you’ll discover that Moses does not merely say, “Let my people go;” he concludes in the name of G-d, “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me.” G-d at the burning bush, does not say, “Get them out of totalitarian Egypt and bring them on a vacation.” He says: “Bring the Jews to Mount Sinai, and give them a vocation filled with lots of commandments.”
So why do we celebrate Pesach as our annual “Festival of Freedom”? Because then we truly became free. We were granted the gift of knowledge: we were told which pathways and actions lead to the fulfillment of our soul’s most deep-seated desires, and which are contrary to them. Having glimpsed these truths, we may be more inclined toward the right door than to the wrong.
Simply put: We may have fewer choices, but far more freedom.