The Bonds of Freedom

By Rabbi Steven Bayar

On Wednesday night we begin the celebration of the minor holiday of Lag B’Omer (so named because it is the 33rd day (lag) of the omer). The omer is a 49 day period between the second night of Passover (when the Israelites had already left Egypt) and Shavuot (when the Israelites received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai). It is considered a period of contemplation and repentance as we re-enact the transition from slavery to freedom.

The concept of freedom within our tradition is different from the definition we find in secular and other religious life. In secular life, freedom is the ability for a person to do anything they wish at any time. Yes, there are consequences for breaking the rules — but true freedom allows a person complete latitude.

In other religious traditions, freedom is the sacrifice made in order to become a faithful adherent to that tradition. In this metaphor, freedom is traded for the fetters of belief.

Freedom in Judaism is best described by Immanuel Levinas, a scholar of great renown but rarely studied. His concept of freedom is our ability to choose what bonds we will voluntarily accept. In his conception, complete freedom is anarchy and destructive. Each person chooses how they will live. In Judaism, that is the moment of freedom. How we choose to live is a consequence of what we have chosen.

At this time of contemplation, what bonds have you chosen? That is the question we answer on Shavuot.