As we shall see, the concept of “liberty” is deeply connected to our ability to define natural consciousness, and our ability to suggest practical ways to develop this kind of consciousness. We will therefore begin here by deepening our understanding of this concept.
As a nation, we first met the concept of liberty at the Exodus from Egypt. The holiday of Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, is called “the time of our liberty.”
Egyptian philosophy worshipped the preservation of physical matter. Their aim was to overcome the finiteness of the limiting regularities of the natural world. An allusion to this can be found in the name that the Egyptians gave their clergy: kohen on, “priest of potency.” In the case of the Egyptians, the word kohen can be seen as the initials of the phrase kol hoveh nifsad, “all that exists, decays.” This expression is equivalent to the modern Law of Entropy, according to which everything is destined for destruction. The task of the Egyptian priest was to attempt, by impure power, to preserve the on, the “potency” of ani, the “self.” The practice of mummification in Egypt illustrates this idea.
However, all potency is destined to return to ayin, “nothingness,” the source of all existence. This is as stated in the Mishnah, da me'ayin bata ule'an ata holech, “Know from where you have come and to where you are going,” which can be read as, “Know that you have come from nothingness and to nothing you go.”
As a result of this principle of their creed, the Egyptians sank to the fiftieth gate of impurity, reaching a state the Ba'al Shem Tov describes as refraining from action because of apathy. The fiftieth gate of impurity is spiritual death, believing that there is no point in action, because the end of everything is ruin. The only enterprise which then may be deemed worthy of investing energy in was preservation, i.e. building pyramids, which are actually mausoleums, mummification etc. The Exodus of the Jews from Egypt was thus primarily the liberation from despair and apathy. The Exodus initiated the revelation of a perception of renewal accompanied by the recognition that the nation of Israel is above the natural laws of finite nature. Our first liberty is thus the liberty to act, to create, to renew, to elevate ourselves above the regularity of the cold nature of reality.
The Root of Existential Anxiety
The difficulty of living in a state of creativity is apparent to all. For, every person who contemplates a new idea immediately has to deal with the anxiety that comes with the thought that he is morally obliged to “practice what he preaches,” to implement his new idea in reality (which in general is a tremendously difficult task). The free flow from the realm of “will” or “thought” to the world of action and the practical realization of that “will,” is met and blocked by practical hardships which give rise to anxiety5. True and complete liberty is, if so, the ability to act naturally without the hindrance of anxiety, one's actions flowing freely from his will (and thereby skipping over practical obstacles).
An important point must be made here regarding what “free flow” refers to in the realm of action. The way most of the world deals (successfully) with worries is to ignore them, as in “ “If there is anxiety in a person's heart, he should distract himself from it.” Although it seems that by distracting the mind from anxiety one is freed from it, for it seems that the mind is now cleared and able to deal with the practical matters at hand without further hindrance, however, ignoring a problem does not solve it. The existence of anxiety indicates a deeper problem from which the worry originated. True and complete liberation from worry is thus achieved only when the anxiety is “sweetened at its root,” meaning that its cause is “sweetened” and no longer constitutes a source of worry.
The way of distraction is the method of service of the beinoni, the “intermediate” level of service described at length in the Tanya. The beinoni is characterized by a constant battle between his good and evil inclinations, however the good is always victorious. This is because “every person can, by the force of will in his mind, control himself and not succumb to the spirit of lust in his heart. He will not fill the whims of his heart in action, speech and thought, and is able to completely distract himself from what his heart desires to the very opposite..."6 The beinoni does not succeed in eradicating the evil from within him, nor does he succeed in removing the source of worry from his heart. Rather he deals with evil and anxiety by constantly distracting himself from them. It is clear that this is not complete liberty, for at every moment of his life he continuously has a new confrontation with evil and anxiety.
The work of the tzaddik, the “righteous one,” on the other hand, is not to battle with the desires of his heart, for he has completely removed the evil from himself, through “sweetening” it at its source. The evil inclination no longer strives to cause him to think, speak and do evil. For the tzaddik who possesses complete and true liberty, there is no worry at all (with regard to himself), for the source of worry no longer exists. From the above we see, that someone who merely distracts himself from worry and by so doing succeeds in acting and progressing in the world of action, is considered “intermediate.” Such a person has not yet reached true liberty. True liberty is the domain of the tzaddik, and expresses itself as total freedom from worry, and a free flow of the essence of the person from revelation of will to expression in action.
The work of the tzaddik is service of God through the way described in the Torah, yet acting according to the Torah is hard to describe as a carefree endeavor. Jewish law is full of many details that define the manner of the work to be done. It would seem that for one who wishes to strictly and precisely perform all the details of each mitzvah, “commandment,” there can be no possibility of “free flow” from a sense of complete and true liberty.
We will now try to understand the precise process by which, as a result of the performance of the commandments, true and complete liberty is revealed. In order to do so, we will examine the manner of mitzvah observance in different periods of the history of the Jewish people. We will also inspect the different views of Torah and man that each period illuminates.
5 The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be read as metzarim, “blocked, narrow passages.”