A central theme of Pesach (Passover) is freedom as a means to serve G-d. As G-d says, “Let my people go so that they may serve me” (Exodus 10:3). The exodus from Egypt culminates in a complete acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Thousands of years later, we live in a society that values the individual experience above all. Our personal connection trumps blanket commitment and conflicts with the value of accepting the yoke of Heaven. In modern times, the very idea of obligation to any value or object is opposed to the idea of freedom. Commitment contains an element of coercion, while exercising our free will is more meaningful to us.
In his essay “Commitment vs. Connecting”, Rav Amital of Yeshivat Har Etzion criticizes our generation for “seek(ing) ‘identification’ with mitzvot, but not a ‘commitment’ to them.” He says that “authority and obligation – two foundations necessary for living in accordance with the Torah – have become irrelevant in this generation. Not only are these concepts not spoken about, but worse still – the very mention of these terms ‘turns off’ the modern person, since the ‘connection’ they seek is personal, individual and experiential.”
Rav Amital observes that our generation is influenced by this atmosphere in our religious approach as well, and that choice out of free will has become the foundation of our religious worldview.
Questions to ponder:
- Is Rav Amital being too harsh on our generation or is he simply a careful observer of an obvious phenomenon?
- In your own life and decisions, do you see the tension between personally identifying with mitzvot vs. accepting the entire Torah?
- Perhaps our freedom represents progress. Do we gain more from being free to make our own (hopefully right) choices? Or are we better off relinquishing control from the outset and deferring to our religious tradition?
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