> Weekly Torah Portion > Beginner > Straight Talk

Let My People Go

Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )

by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

Freedom must include a meaningful purpose.

Back in the 1980s, the tag-line for the campaign to free Soviet Jewry came from this week's Torah portion: "Let My people go," Moses said to Pharaoh. However, that's only the first half of the phrase used by Moses. He continued. "Let My people go ... so that they should serve Me [God]." In other words, let them go for a purpose.

In Jewish thinking, freedom alone is not a value. If a man is free and he uses this freedom to hurt others, to abuse his body with drugs, or to waste his life, is such a freedom of value? Better that he be a slave.

Freedom is only of value if there is purpose attached to it. Without purpose, people will be no happier free, than if they were slaves.

Modern Israel has faced many existential challenges throughout its history - wars, terror, UN condemnations. However, in my mind, the greatest threat to Israel today is not Iran or Hamas. Israel's greatest threat today lies in its lack of purpose. At least a million Israelis have left the country. Young Israelis are disillusioned. And the universally dirty business of politics is seemingly nowhere dirtier than in the Holy Land. As of today, America is a safer place for Jews and a country where Jews know unprecedented freedom. So what purpose does Israel serve?

Let My people go... so that they may serve Me. Freedom must include a meaningful purpose.

And yet of all nations, for the Jewish people to lack purpose is the most ironic. Our whole history is one of dreaming of a better world and striving toward that goal. From our very inception, the concept of being a 'light to the nations' has inspired and driven us. And we have done so. The values of our Bible have permeated the entire world.

We've had a purpose, and that purpose remains agonizingly within reach. If only we would grasp onto it. A person drowning is tragic. But a person drowning because he is lying down in a few inches of water and all he need do is stand up, is unbearably tragic.

That's what the Jewish people is doing today. We are drowning because young Jews find no meaning in Judaism. No meaning in Judaism?! We are drowning in an inch of water. It's about time that we stood up. And if you're already standing, help someone else get up.

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