Saturday, April 12, 2014
Avadim Hayinu - At first we were slaves... to Judaism
Once you really internalize that there's no Overlord scrutinizing our every move, that Torah/Judaism is solely a product of the human mind, that's the ticket to freedom. Because now the whole system turns on its head. No longer are we slaves to Judaism. No, it's Judaism that has to work for us.
When it does its job well, meaning it adds to our lives positively - provides meaning, joy, growth, etc. - then great. But when it starts to be a drag, makes us neurotic, strikes us as immoral, etc., then it's not doing its job, and either that part of Judaism has to shape up - the way we decide it should - or it gets the ax. And each of us as individuals gets to make that call. We created Judaism, and that means we can keep it or reject it - or even change it* - as we see fit.
(*Some of us may undertake such change slowly, others overnight. Some may use Halacha as the process for introducing/vetting change, others their own conscience. Some may tinker with this or that, and others may need to revamp entire areas of Judaism. Whatever your preference, there's probably a Jewish denomination or community that's a good fit for you - or at least good enough. And if not, you can be sure there are many more kindred spirits out there with whom you can form a community. You just have to find them.)
Now, that doesn't mean we act like slave drivers. That which is within our employ deserves our respect, and it also requires great effort - care and attention - on our part. For Judaism to work for us, we also need to work for it. That's how I understand statements like, "More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews." Only by expending effort on Shabbat do we derive benefit from it. It's not a metaphysical idea - it's a general principle in life.
So, freedom "from" Judaism, if that's what an individual needs - yes. Freedom "within" Judaism, as something we do out of choice - yes. But no more slavery - that's over. At least it is for me.