Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Understanding Circumstances
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Asher Ben Haim


We, the Nation of Israel, must protect our uniqueness. We must throw off all foreign and coercive influences and become what we really are. What we really are is written in the Torah, which was given to us by the Creator Himself, He Who chose us.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Today, many speak about the importance of freedom. They speak about how necessary it is for every individual to be able to live his life as he wishes, without being subject to any sort of outer coercion by other individuals or by society. To such people, religious Judaism is seen as a threat to freedom. This is because the religious community—so they say—strives to coerce the nonreligious community to abide by the laws of the Torah as much as it is possible. In addition to this, they claim that social-religious frameworks themselves contain a stifling atmosphere, which dictates adherence to the commandments of the Torah. Such a framework fails to grant people the freedom to choose freely the path which they wish to follow.

Yet, the claim that the nonreligious stand for freedom and the religious believe in coercion is superficial and mistaken. To the contrary, the goal of achieving freedom from foreign influences lies at the very foundation of religion. According to religion, the root of all sin is the external influences which sways a person from his true inner desire.

This was Adam's sin: he heeded a foreign call—he was tempted by the voice of Eve. This was Eve's sin as well—she was tempted by the snake. Adam did not answer God, saying, "I ate of my own desire." Rather, he said, "the woman influenced me." And the woman did not say "I ate of my own accord." Rather, she said to God, "The snake caused me to to eat." Their sin was that they allowed themselves to be influenced by others and did not remain faithful to their inner selves. When God asked Adam, "Where are you?" Adam did not know how to give a clear answer. God was not merely inquiring as to Adam's physical location, "Where are you standing?" The Almighty's "Where are you?" was addressed to Adam on a spiritual plane—"Who are you?" "Which path have you chosen to take?" Adam did not know how to answer because he had lost himself. He had betrayed his essence, following after foreign influences and bowing down before a foreign God.

This was also the sin of the moon. The Midrash tells us that originally the sun and moon were the same size. The moon, who was not satisfied with this arrangement, wanted more than what befitted her. The moon complained, "Two kings cannot rule with the same crown." She wanted to be the only ruler. She wanted to take the sun's portion for herself, to be something that she really was not. The sin here is that the moon deviated from her true natural essence. In essence, this is the root of all sin in the world: man deviates from his true inner self and fails to give voice to his unique inner nature. This is true of both the individual and group. The group also has an essential uniqueness of its own which it must protect. It must resist the temptation to follow foreign gods. Israel, too, must protect its uniqueness, and be true to its essential Israeli character, its inner desire. We must do this with complete freedom, without any alien exterior pressure. We must be what we really are.

We find, then, that the true ambition of religion is the ambition to achieve complete freedom. This freedom makes it possible for a person to reveal his true inner nature. This, as we have noted, is as true for the nation as it is for the individual. We, the Nation of Israel, must throw off all foreign and coercive influences and become what we really are. What we really are is written in the Torah, which was given to us by the Creator Himself, He Who chose us from amongst all the nations.

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