January 17, 2020

Right Before Our Eyes: Spiritual Freedom From Conformity!

Wake up this morning? Of course. But did you really wake up? Or are you still sleepwalking? To be awake, we must stir our inner being and be prepared to encounter all that truly comes before our eyes.

Our lives are remarkably short & we need spiritual activities to constantly remind us of this truth. A person who lives to eighty years old will take about 672,768,000 breaths in a lifetime. Consider the shofar, which only makes a noise if someone blows their precious breath into it. So too our soul only prays if we allow God to breathe through us. Consider tapping into the Divine breath that breathes through you like a Divine shofar. Feel the gratitude & intimacy. Then the soul can start to shake, to dance, to sing! When we encounter others, we must see beyond the surface. Rav Alexandri taught:

If a common person uses a broken vessel, it is considered a disgrace. But not the Holy One, blessed be God. All of God’s vessels are broken. “God is near the brokenhearted, (Psalm 34),” (Pesikta d’Rav Kahana).

To emulate the Divine, one should be adamantly focused on the most powerless rather than the most powerful, the most broken rather than the most privileged and fortunate; we must witness the suffering right before our eyes. A Chassidic story hits home:

The Sassover Rebbe entered a hotel, and sat beside two local peasants. As the two peasants sat at the bar and drink, they began to fall into a drunken stupor. One turned to his friend and said, “Tell me, friend, do you love me?” His colleague responded, “Of course I love you. We’re drinking companions.  Naturally I love you.”  Then the first one said to his friend, “Then tell me, friend, what causes me pain?” His colleague said, “How should I know what hurts you?  I’m just your drinking buddy.” He said, “If you loved me you would know what causes me pain.”

To achieve such a level, we must gain more elevated freedom. Many consider themselves free who from the Torah’s perspective are still enslaved. Rav Kook explains that there are intelligent slaves whose being is full of freedom and there are free individuals whose being consists of the spirit of a slave. The real slave is one who lives in conformity seeking to be honored by others. The free individual experiences inner individuality and is focused on the eternal illumination of the image of God within oneself.

The opportunities to truly see ourselves and others are right before our eyes. Therein lies our freedom, indeed our dignity.


Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of seven books on Jewish ethics.  Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”