Shackles and Freedom
You can look at yours bars or through them.
Melissa Blake, a wheelchair-bound writer (and author of a Wall Street Journal editorial on 3/2/18), took strong exception to all of those who commented after Stephen Hawking’s death that he was finally free. She disagrees with the idea that people with disabilities are victims and takes pride in detailing the ways in which being in a wheelchair has been of benefit to her personally. I am certainly empathic to that and I think she could have taken it even a step further.
As the holiday of Passover approaches we are all called upon to ponder the ways in which we are enslaved, none of which have anything to do with physical shackles. Most of us have been enslaved by desires, by ego, by status and possessions and the pursuit of financial goals. Many of us are enslaved by the need for the approval of others, our fear of failure, our fear of rejection, our worries and our anxieties. I’m sure we could all make a long list.
None of these obstacles, none of these enslavements are affected by the physical circumstances of our lives. The important freedom is the freedom to choose, the freedom to rise above the confining or challenging situations we may be in to become the human beings we desire to be. Not everyone in a wheelchair is trapped and not everyone propelling themselves around on their own two feet is free.
The converse is also true. Not everyone who is paralyzed has found their way to a sense of spiritual or emotional freedom and some of us who haven’t experienced these types of physical challenges have nevertheless found our way to freedom.
The bottom line is that freedom is not dependent on the external circumstances of our lives, but rather the internal ones. We are free if we experience the ability to choose and take advantage of that opportunity. If we can’t see that the choice is ours or if we are unable to make that choice, that we are truly trapped, we are truly enslaved.
The opportunity of Passover is to gain this insight as we ponder the slavery of our brethren in long-ago Egypt. Despite the harsh slavery, they continued to defy Pharaoh and thrive. The opportunity of Passover is to internalize this idea as we eat the matzah and the maror, turning it from an intellectual discovery to a part of our psyche. The opportunity of Passover is to leave the experience with a sense of new possibilities, new beginnings now that we truly know that the choice is ours.
We have very little to no control over the situations and personalities that surround us but we have almost total control over how we respond to them. We are only trapped if we allow ourselves to be, if we define ourselves in a very limited fashion. Recognizing the power of the ability to choose allows us to soar.
I read a beautiful letter in a book called Facing Adversity with Faith by Miriam Leah Cramer. She tells the story of a Rebbetzen Twersky who was diagnosed with a benign tumor at the young age of 31 and left paralyzed and in a wheelchair as a result. She was now in the position we alluded to, she now had the opportunity to view herself as trapped or free. We get a glimpse into her understanding in this letter she sent to one of the prison inmates with whom she corresponded:
I have been thinking of you ever since receiving your letter. You mention how difficult it is to be locked behind bars, and my heart goes out to you. But when you say that I cannot image what life is like in prison, I feel compelled to tell you that you are mistaken.
There are different kinds of prisons…when I became paralyzed I was completely overwhelmed by a sense of being imprisoned by a body that would not allow me to run through a meadow or carry my child. For a long time I lay there wondering if my life could be meaningful as I thought I had lost everything worth living for.
Then one day, it occurred to me that I still had the freedom to make choices. Would I smile when I saw my children, would I ask God to give me strength to accept and have faith or would I rail against my fate – in other words, what would I do with the free will that was still mine…
There are many kinds of freedom…You can look at yours bars, or through them…
Whatever our situation, no matter our circumstances, this is the opportunity of Passover. For all of us. And this is the gift the Almighty has given us, the freedom to choose.