My latest blog post for The Jerusalem Post:
What’s the most important freedom?
During Hanukkah, we celebrate religious freedom. That kind of freedom is vital. But it’s not the only kind, or even the most important.
When modern people talk about freedom, they’re usually talking about political freedom. That kind of freedom means they can do whatever they want as long as they don’t harm others or grossly violate the moral norms of society. But it’s not the most important kind of freedom, either.
What could be more important than religious or political freedom?
Ask a simple question: What makes the other kinds of freedom valuable and meaningful?
The answer is: freedom from ourselves. It’s freedom from the dictates of our own selfish and egotistical desires.
Freedom to do as we choose isn’t enough. Unless we choose wisely, such freedom can do more harm than good — to us, to our people, to our societies, and to our world.
Choosing wisely sometimes means acting against our natural impulses. It means letting go of the wants, wants, and more wants that try to dominate our lives in a consumerist culture. It means letting go of grudges and petty jealousies. Most difficult of all, it means letting go of our obsession with “what’s mine,” and trying to work for a good that belongs to all of us. As A.J. Heschel said:
“Freedom is liberation from the tyranny of the self-centered ego … He who sets out to employ the realities of life as means for satisfying his own desires will soon forfeit his freedom and be degraded to a mere tool. Acquiring things, he becomes enslaved to them; in subduing others, he loses his own soul.” 1
Ironically, the only freedom worth having comes when we submit to moral and natural law. If we ignore what’s right, then what we produce will be morally, psychologically, and spiritually harmful. If we ignore what’s true, then what we produce won’t be what we expected:
“Growth in rationality means being increasingly laid under constraint by rational law. But surrender to such necessity is the open secret of freedom. Spinoza adds that it is also the secret of happiness.” 2
To make the most of Hanukkah, resolve to free yourself:
- From judging other people. You don’t know what’s in their hearts.
- From worrying about other people judging you. They might judge you fairly, unfairly, or not think about you at all. In any case, you can’t control what they think. Don’t waste your time worrying about it.
- From the belief that your happiness depends on material things. Happiness comes from living morally and productively.
- From obsessing about the past. It’s done. Learn what you can learn from it, but focus on the present and future.
- From bad habits. Replace them with good habits. Your mind, just like nature, abhors a vacuum. If you stop doing one thing, you must put something else in its place or you’ll go back to your old ways.
- From comparing yourself to other people. There will always be people who have it a little better than you or got a lucky break. But there are also plenty of people who have it worse than you and didn’t get the lucky breaks you did.
You are who you are. Make it the best you can be. Only then will you know true freedom.
Blanshard, B. (1962), Reason and Analysis. Open Court Publishing, LaSalle, IL.
Heschel, A.J. (1955), The Insecurity of Freedom. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York. Kindle edition.