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    Liberty in the Land – B’har

    One of the great ideas of Judaism is freedom. It derives from this week’s sidra: U’k’ratem d’ror ba’aretz (Lev. 25:10).

    Judaism believes that everyone should be free – free to be themselves, to choose their company, to hold their own opinions.

    But there is a paradox. Freedom is a blessing, but it can also be a danger. It can make us bored. Rousseau wrote sadly about people who gained freedom but then wondered what to do with themselves. He called it “the culture of the picnic”.

    Such people thought that everyone yearns to enjoy a picnic. But picnicking is only worthwhile as an occasional break in routine, but if it becomes the routine it becomes wearisome and it cloys. It can lead to mischief.

    Some leaders make their people free but then impose worse repression on them. Solomon’s son said, “My father afflicted you with whips: I will afflict you with scorpions” (I Kings 12:11). Scholem Asch said, “Freedom has slain, gassed, tormented and enslaved more men, women and children than all the tyrants…”

    It can make us lonely. After the heat of battle we can feel cast adrift. Afraid of being alienated, we welcome a new dictator. We don’t realise what a privilege it is to be alive, how special every human being is (including ourselves), how good it is to have friends and be a friend.

    Real freedom is when you see a new task ahead of you, when you have a new cause to exhilarate you. After climbing a mountain, real freedom is when you see another mountain on the horizon and choose to climb that one too, and the next, and the next.

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