by Rabbi Shmuel Globus
What is Real Freedom?
It is hard to describe, but you know it when you feel it:
It is said in the name HaRav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy"d,
zt"l, who said in the name of the Gaon of Vilna, that
there are sixty-four mitzvos to be done on Pesach night,
deOraisa and derabbonon, with each
brochoh counting as a separate mitzvah.
HaRav Shlomo Brevda reports that a group of avreichim
once sat down to make a count. Each one came up with sixty-
four mitzvos--but each one had on his list many mitzvos that
were not on the lists of the others. From this we see that
there are many more than sixty-four mitzvos on this night.
(The question remains which mitzvos the Gaon of Vilna meant
to be counted!)
HaRav Brevda writes, "Afterwards I started thinking about
this. The Seder night is the night of redemption from
slavery to freedom. If so, why did the Torah and Chazal place
on the Jewish people such a heavy load of difficult and heavy
mitzvos, davka on this night, to the point that it
seems as if we are not free men but actually slaves? Why is
this night different from all other nights?" (Leil
Shimurim p. 47).
Here is a story of a free man: When Pesach appeared on the
horizon. Rav Yitzchok Zilber, then imprisoned in a Soviet
work camp (now spiritual leader of Russian-speaking Torah
Jewry in Israel), started to plan for the festival. He firmly
decided that even in imprisonment he would not eat
chometz on Pesach.
Not all the Jewish prisoners shared his opinion. Among the
prisoners were several members of Yevsektzia, the
Jewish communist party. They were sworn to fight Judaism to
the bitter end, and were possessed of a ferocity that would
not shame even the non-Jewish communists. Rav Zilber tried to
convince them. "I am not promising that you will get out of
jail early," he said to them, "but I promise that you will
not lose anything by not eating chometz." This was not
an easy matter to arrange: Bread was distributed in the camp
in meager amounts that did not satisfy the prisoners'
The difficult task of obtaining matzoh flour was done by Rav
Zilber's wife who was not in jail. She stood in line for many
hours to get flour. She had to bake the matzos in hiding,
because someone who was caught baking matzos was sent to
jail. She broke the matzos into little pieces that were
designated as `tea cakes,' and she brought them wrapped in a
Rav Zilber saw to it to acquire potatoes as well from some of
the camp's known thieves. The question of where to cook was
yet unsolved, as was the question of where to find cooking
utensils. He managed to find a pot and cleaned it with snow
A prisoner named Mishka Kosov, who held the other prisoners
in terror, approached him. Rav Zilber knew Kosov as the
leader of the gang of thieves in the camp, and a complete
goy. Suddenly Kosov began to speak to him in
Yiddish: "I see that you are making efforts not to eat
chometz," he said to him. "I also am a Jew; I will be
with you too." Kosov continued to surprise Rav Zilber. He
took out a hundred rubles, gave them to Rav Zilber, and asked
him to send the money to his wife to buy kosher chicken for
Rav Zilber, in return for some potatoes, got permission from
the prisoner in charge of the camp's stove to do some
The main thing that worried him was that the food they had
prepared for Pesach would be stolen. Here Mishka Kosov
surprised him again. He gathered all the thieves and informed
them: "For eight days it is forbidden for you to `borrow'
anything from Yitzchok Zilber. Whoever does not obey will
find himself headless." The warning proved effective.
The camp physician, a Jew married to a goyah, also
agreed to cooperate. He gave the Jews access to the clinic on
Seder night. "We sat and spoke and I said over words
of Torah; we did everything properly," recounts Rav Zilber.
"If I fulfill Hashem's mitzvos properly, then I am a free
man. We taught the prisoners to say, `Pesach, Matzoh, and
Morror.' Also Mishka Kosov was there, and he really liked the
raisin wine," he laughed.
We see that the feeling of freedom stems from service of
Hashem. This also explains why there are so many mitzvos on
the Seder night. We also serve Hashem; why don't we
feel as free as Rav Zilber did in the Soviet work camp?
First let us think about why we don't feel as if we were
slaves. "The reason that the feeling of slavery is lacking
among us could be explained as stemming from the influence of
the system called `democracy,' which has increased its
strength in the last one hundred years. In all previous
generations, there was a king or dictator. Then there was a
feeling of slavery and subjugation before a stronger force.
This gave a sense of what true kingship is. From seeing
earthly kingship, people could imagine Heavenly kingship.
"But in a place of democracy, where all people are considered
equal, there is no concept of subjugation and slavery. Each
person does as he sees fit. This influences our spiritual
life as well.
"This could explain the well-known incident in which R. Chaim
Volozhiner cried when he prophetically foresaw that in the
future, the Torah would go to America, and that this would be
the last journey of the Jewish people before the Redemption.
R. Chaim then said, `I am extremely worried and fearful about
the difficulties and stumbling blocks that will face the
Torah leaders of that exile. Will they succeed in
establishing it in the same Torah tradition that existed in
Europe until then? Who knows how the Torah of this exile will
look!' (Avi Hayeshivos p. 110).
"Perhaps R. Chaim perceived that the Torah would go into
exile to a place where democracy rules, where there is no
feeling of slavery. Perhaps he saw that this would exert an
influence on our spiritual life as well . . .
"Rav Avrohom Yaffin zt'l, son-in-law of the Alter of
Novardok, writes (Introduction to Madreigas Ho'odom):
`I heard when I was in Vilna in 5700 (1940), from the holy
mouth of Rav Chaim Ozer zt'l, "I remember when I was
young that they would say in the name of R. Chaim Volozhiner
that in the future, the Torah will go into exile in America."
Indeed, this is the hardest exile for the holy Torah and
those who learn it . . . And this is in truth the greatest
problem in the American exile, that by nature there is not
much fear and terror there . . .'" (R. Eliezer Yehuda Miller,
A Heart to Know Me--A Collection of Teachings by our
Rabbis on the Importance of the Heart in the Service of G-
d, end of ch. 6).
True freedom is rarer than it used to be. We have to work
hard to achieve it. Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler zt"l
tells us how:
"A slave is someone who is forced to work but who will not
receive the fruits of his labor. Therefore, all of a person's
actions concerning worldly matters are actions of slavery,
for he will not receive the fruits.
"This applies even if he will acquire much wisdom and author
books. All the Torah that a person will learn and think and
write, and also what he will teach to others, are all actions
of slavery. They are not his until he acquires them, until he
makes them his in his heart through doing them for the sake
of Heaven. If not, he remains a slave as he was before. Only
a person who is beToraso yehegeh (who contemplates his
Torah) is a free man. This refers to a person who acquires it
to make it his through a true inner desire, free of any
personal motives. `The only free man is the one who engages
in Torah learning' (Pirkei Ovos 6:2). `Engages'
implies with an inner desire" (Michtav MeEliahu part
Here is a poignant description of a person who lacks this
" . . . `This soul's desire is cut off from service of the
Creator.' Meaning to say, a person who fulfills the mitzvos,
davens three times a day and says a brochoh on
every food or drink that requires a brochoh -- he
serves Hashem, but all his service of Hashem is without
desire. It is just routinely-performed actions.
"In other words, he davens and says brochos and
does mitzvos with the same feeling that he felt when he was a
child, when his father taught him to do them. Indeed, he goes
and does them without any change, not in deed and not in
thought. Just as when he was a child, he of course was
thinking only about his toys and games and he did the mitzvos
only in order to avoid punishment, to finish them so he could
return to his business.
"So is this person: due to the habits of his childhood, he
continues to do the same now, after he has matured and grown
older and gained understanding. In the midst of his worldly
business and concerns, he also grabs for himself (so he
thinks) a little of the World to Come. He does mitzvos and
kind deeds, he prays, he always remembers his brochos.
But everything is without pleasure and enjoyment. It is
simply habit that has become second nature. He goes on every
day, following his habits . . .
"This person does all his mitzvos without awareness. But when
he gets to material pursuits such as eating, drinking, etc,
he engages in them with enjoyment and tremendous desire. He
chooses with the utmost care what he will eat, and how it
will be prepared, and with what he will have it, and how much
he will eat. He plans out all these details perfectly. He
does not miss so much as a hairsbreadth!
"The same applies concerning the desire for money. His head
and entire being is immersed in this desire, twenty-four
hours of the day. `And he who loves money will not be
satiated by money' (Koheles 5:9). If he has a hundred,
he wants two hundred, with a strong will and such a powerful
hunger that if he does not fulfill his desire, he is liable
to commit suicide, G-d forbid. All this is exactly the
opposite of the way he relates to his spiritual matters, to
which he is absolutely anesthetized.
"This is what Rabbeinu Yonah meant when he said (Sha'arei
Teshuvoh 2:6): ` . . . the soul of a wicked person,
someone whose whole life was spent in the desire of bodily
matters. This soul's desire is cut off from service of the
Creator'" (Rav Eliyahu Lopian zt"l, Lev Eliyahu 3, p.
We see that the slavery to Hashem that makes us free is in
the heart. It is the heart's true inner desire for Torah and
spirituality. This is the feeling of the free man.
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