“There is no free man but one who busies himself with the study of Torah” (Avot 6:2)

Freedom means not being tied down by the boundaries and limitations that tend to limit us. There are different types of freedom. An acrobat is someone who has developed and cultivated a certain freedom of his or her physical body. A skilled acrobat is not limited by the forces that limit the rest of us. A musician is another person who cultivated freedom. An accomplished musician can express themselves with an instrument in ways that the rest of us cannot. The same applies to a race-car driver, a stunt pilot, and to so many other skills that people develop.

Each of these people develops a specific freedom. And in order to develop any freedom one needs to limit themselves. The skilled acrobat, musician, and mathematician all need to spend many long hours, days weeks, months and years cultivating and developing the particular skill in order to be able to obtain that specific freedom that they seek.

But is there any one freedom that we can point to and say that this is the freedom? Can we say about any specific type of freedom that this particular breaking of boundaries is the true freedom?

The question we must first address is who are we? The Scriptures teach that we were all created in the image of God. This means that deep inside of all of us is the yearning to be kind as God is kind, the desire for truth as God is true and the desire for fairness, justice and mercy. That is who we are.

The true freedom is when our sensitivity to truth, our humility and our gratitude are mature, developed and unencumbered by the limitations that would stand in our way. True freedom is when our practice of kindness soars to heights that we may otherwise not have reached. We can only say that our inner selves have obtained freedom when our consideration for others breaks boundaries and exceeds limits.

Let me illustrate with a small but true story. This took place in an elementary school. A group of eighth grade girls were going to get up on stage to sing for the rest of the school as part of the annual color war contest. The team’s colors were maroon and black so each of the girls was dressed in a black outfit trimmed with a large maroon bow. One of the girls lost her bow. She only realized that her bow was gone as she was about to go up on stage. She panicked. How embarrassing! Please get me a bow! But there were no extra bows around. Another girl immediately took off her own bow and tied it around her friend and that is how the group went on stage.

Do you think that the girl who lost her bow was not a considerate girl? I am sure that she is a nice and fine girl but her quality of consideration was hampered and limited by the wall of embarrassment. The girl who so readily and unhesitatingly gave away her own bow was not limited by the same wall of embarrassment that tied down her friend. Her consideration of others was more free and unlimited than that of her friend.

This is a miniature story but one that sheds light on so much more. It could be consideration versus embarrassment; it could be gratitude versus pride; it could be kindness versus greed and it could be holiness versus self-centeredness. In each of these situations we need to break barriers and find freedom and the range is endless.

How do we develop this true freedom? What are the exercises that develop our sensitivity to kindness and break the petty walls that tie us down?

This is the Torah. Studying the words of the Torah and following the precepts of the Torah with a heart that is humbled before the One who so lovingly granted us the Torah is the way we develop true freedom.  The way we cultivate the freedom of the image of God in which we were all created is by imbibing the holiness, the beauty and the truth of the Law of the Creator of heaven and earth.

There is no free man but one who busies himself with the study of Torah

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal


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46 Responses to Freedom

  1. naaria says:

    Worth repeating; “The question we must first address is who are we? The Scriptures teach that we were all created in the image of God. This means that deep inside of all of us is the yearning to be kind as God is kind, the desire for truth as God is true and the desire for fairness, justice and mercy. That is who we are.”

  2. I agree that we should indeed come to understand that we were created in the image of G-d! This shows what a Powerful G-d we have — One who could take the dust of the earth and breathe His very breath into His creation to make him a living being. We should also come to understand that since the fall of man (Genesis), every human is a sinner (as you have previously noted) and that a first step to turning back to G-d is to acknowledge our transgressions: Isaiah 1:18-19 “‘Come, let us reach an understanding,’ says the LORD. Be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece.’ If, then, you AGREE and give heed…”

    And the beauty of this is G-d’s Mercy! The surrounding chapters of this verse show mankind’s utter sin and depravation, yet He still loved and sought them — just as He loves and seeks us.

    As the psalmist said, “Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered…” (Psalms 32). The LORD alone is our Redeemer, our Savior, and our Holy G-d, and all of His Words are good and right. Amen.

    • Freedom
      I agree that part of submitting oneself to God means accepting that we are sinful – but it happens to be that the passage in Isaiah that you quoted has nothing to do with this concept – the word “tovu” does not mean “to agree” in the sense of agreeing to the previous statement – rather it means “desire” in the sense of willingness to obey God

      • Friend,
        Yes, tovu means to be willing, consent, yield to, accept, and desire. The JPS Tanakh translates it as “agree,” and I, too, understand all of the above to be elements of agreement. (I would not yield to or accept or desire something with which I do not agree.) Given that the desire/acceptance/sense of yielding directly follows G-d’s clear descriptions of sin and His statement “Come, now, and let us reason together…”, I understand this to certainly relate to agreeing with Him. When two entities reason together, that is what follows. They either agree or they don’t; that is the first step.

        In any case, I certainly agree with you that the entire context definitely includes willingness to hear and obey.

  3. cflat7 says:

    Did Man “fall”? Was’t it that Adam chose to disobey?
    Note Gen. 4:7

  4. melissa33774 says:

    I absolutely love that story! I’m sharing!

  5. naaria says:

    We were created with the ability to sin; (we did not “fall”). We weren’t created to be infallible angels. God did not create a mistake nor was God somehow surprised (as if God were naive or ignorant) that by creating people with freedom that somehow, somewhere, someplace, someone would choose to sin and perhaps even do evil. Without that freedom to choose to be righteous or not (as in Gen 4.7), there would be no purpose for human life, other than to be mindless robots for some unknown reason.

    • David says:

      “The Fall”

      When God created us there was no evil in us, only the potential for evil and/or to learn of evil. Adam brought evil into himself by disobeying God. Adam experienced evil first hand thru his free will. He gained knowledge of his own ability to disobey God directly thru his own actions. Thus he acquired the “knowledge of good and evil” thru personal experience.

      That’s what is known as “The Fall”

      God and the angels have “knowledge” of good and evil NOT thru direct personal experience of committing evil. They have knowledge apart from personal experience. They have knowledge thru what I call intellectual, observation or discernment.

      And, that is why it was not acceptable to God that Adam remain in the Garden. The “fallen” Adam had knowledge of good and evil NOT thru intellectual observation but thru personal experience of himself disobeying God.

      And, apparently, for God it is unacceptable to comingle “knowledge” of good and evil obtained thru direct personal experience with the properties of life to live eternally.

      When God said that the “man has become like one of us” He meant in “knowledge” only, not in HOW that knowledge was obtained. We are very different from God in the character of our “knowledge” of good and evil. As stated above, God and the angels obtained their knowledge NOT thru sinning themselves. But man on the other hand sinned himself.

      Again, that’s why it’s called the “fall.”

      By the way, our personal experience knowledge of good and evil will be wiped from our memories after we enter eternal life, or life in the age to come.

  6. The “fall” is simply a term used to define the time when mankind chose to reject G-d’s clear command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After they disobeyed, they and the earth were cursed, they were driven from the Garden of Eden, and they were no longer welcome to eat of the tree of life (see Genesis chapters 3 and 4).

    Now, I don’t have any problem at all with using some other term, but most circles do understand “the fall” to refer to what is described above. Since that time, as is noted in numerous Scriptures, every single person has sinned. In other words, Scripture does not say “blessed is the man who has not sinned” but rather “blessed is the one whose sin is covered.” We have the choice to accept G-d’s verdict of our sin and give heed to Him, certainly, but it is no longer a question, for any human, of whether he or she has ever sinned. Everyone has, as multiple Scriptures tell us — we all have a sin nature now. And the first step back to G-d is to come to know His Word and to acknowledge and accept His clear statements about that sin.


    • So, I think what people mean, when they talk about the fall, is that before that choice, man and woman weren’t sinners. After it, they were. That sounds like a step down (not up) to me.

      • Oh, and especially, the invitation not being extended anymore to eat of the tree of life, and the cursing of both mankind & earth are what I think starkly contrast the “before/after” situation in what people refer to as “the fall”. There, I’m done explaining what I think is meant by this term, although like I said, I don’t personally have a problem with using some other term instead, if there is one that all circles understand to refer to That point in time. 😀

  7. naaria says:

    Does God ask Eve & Adam to “admit that they sinners” or tell them to “submit” to God? Nor is removing them from the Garden, God’s first thought. Genesis 3:22-23 “Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth…” But “knowing bad AND good” was not taken from them. God sends them out to the world, to continue the “mission to fill the earth” with beings in the “image” of God. Neither the “knowledge” nor the “image” was taken from humankind. Lest people forget, Gen 5:1-2, reiterates our basic, created nature. And later Noah & his sons are blessed. In the Tanach and in the NT, as well, people can be considered as righteous and even “perfect”. People are later commanded to be Holy as God is Holy. If God believes that we have the ability to be Holy (under our own power), why do some people persist in rejecting that as if they believe God is ignorant or that they know Man better than God? Sounds a bit like something of “the devil”?

    About “falling” and without mentioning forgiveness or mercy, Proverbs 24:16 says “Seven times the righteous man falls and gets up, While the wicked are tripped by one misfortune”

    Beside the usual “fall by the sword, etc”, fall in the Hebrew bible does not mean “a condition of humanity”. More often, instead of an attribute of Man, fall is used in other contexts, including that of “fall down & worship God”.

    In the Hebrew Bible, “covering” has little to do with blessing. Other then being” covered by the cloud in the wilderness”, covered most often means hidden (as in a covered face or covered by shame).

    Proverbs 26:25-26. “when an enemy speaks graciously, do not believe it, for there are seven abominations concealed within; though hatred is covered with guile, the enemy’s wickedness will be exposed in the assembly”.

    Quite often it is the Israelites themselves who are “doing the blessings” and most often they are blessing God. Yes, blessing is not a “one-way street”. Quite often there are no obvious pre-conditions to the blessings from God. And the blessings from God can come through the priests, as in Numbers 6:23-27. “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them”, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them”. In other words, God’s name is put upon the people (they are God’s representatives) by the Priests and then God blesses the Priests.

    • naaria says:

      In the “before” situation, we could do all the things that we now call sin, we just wouldn’t see “sin or evil” as bad nor could we know that it is better to do good (except in the sense that a young child or an animal might sense ‘good’). Instead of just created in the “image of God”, in the after “situation” we have become more “like God”. Is that a “bad thing”, a “step down”? Then perhaps God “loves a pig or a dog” more than God cares for humans, yet God still allows humans to master the world? Since we have a knowledge of good and that is a “step down” is worship from “sinful Man” a worse thing than what God “gets” from an ox?

      • naaria says:

        Freedom to choose, freedom to sin was a there in the Garden. And death was a possibility, perhaps a certainty, before eating of one tree (since eating is in itself a sign that life could not be sustained for more than a short period unless we were given “food” or cultivated this Garden). And “lest we eat also of another tree”, beside the normal ones; from another tree that could sustain us, but only(?) as long as we eat of the 2nd tree.

        • Sure, Naaria,
          My point was just that things were VERY different before the original choice to sin: no curse yet (not for man, not for earth), the still existing ability to eat of the tree of life, and so forth. And G-d said outright He was cursing man, woman, snake, and earth because of their sin. So there’s no mystery there. There wasn’t sin originally, the earth wasn’t yet cursed, and there was a tree of life to freely eat from (pretty different from how things are now). After they sinned, G-d banished them from the Garden and sent guardians to make sure they couldn’t eat from the tree of life anymore, cursed the earth, and tells in Scripture that now there is sin in everyone. That’s all I was saying (just reread Genesis chapters 3 and 4, and there are several Scriptures that say there is sin in everyone now). Of course He still loves and blesses us. That’s who He is. But there is no denying the fact that the original sin was a big, big deal that resulted in a lot of changes (already mentioned above).

          • BTW, the Bible talks a lot about humanity’s sinfulness now. Plus, to imply that there was death before the original sin is adding to the Bible; G-d said they could eat from the tree of life before they sinned, whereas after they sinned, He banished them and made sure they couldn’t eat from that tree. He wasn’t just kidding around when He gave them a command of what not to eat. Also, the verses you quoted up there don’t really address any of what I was talking about. The point is: there wasn’t sin originally; there is now. There wasn’t curses originally; there were curses directly following the sin (and G-d even said He was giving the curses because of the sin, so yes, He did mind). Anyway, I really don’t care whether we call it the fall or something else; the facts are the same. The uncursed earth and mankind were a lot different before sin than everything is now.

          • melissa33774 says:

            I agree with Naaria; everything that G-d created was created before Man. Therefore, the potential for sin was in the world before Adam, it just was not realized until Adam chose to exercise his free will.

    • Hmmm, sorry, but when David was talking about sin being covered in psalm 32, he was referring to it being a good thing (read the whole passage). And that was in Hebrew.

  8. cflat7 says:

    “…we all have a sin nature now…”   What does this mean? Did Adam have a sin nature before he sinned? Or did he get it afterwards? And if he didn’t have it before, then how was it possible that he chose to disobey?

    • melissa33774 says:

      Of course he had it before. The potential to sin is due to the gift of free will that man has been given. The free will to choose good or to choose evil. G-d desires that we choose good i.e., follow in His precepts. It makes life a whole lot easier. But there are those who choose to do it their own way. And G-d allows for that too. But it is man, in his capacity to sin, who gives G-d the most pleasure.

      • melissa33774 says:

        After thinking about it for a few moments, I would have to amend my comment and say that Adam was not created with a “sin nature” but more accurately, created with the opportunity to act in accordance with G-d’s desires or to act in defiance. But I would not define that as a “sin nature”.

    • Larry says:

      cflat7–where does your quote “we all have a sin nature now” come from?

  9. cflat7 says:

    So no one can explain “sin nature”. Is the idea supported in the Tanach, or is it merely something from the NT?

    • melissa33774 says:

      Just a guess here, but I think that “sin nature” sounds like a Christian idea. While we all are born with the capacity to sin, it doesn’t mean necessarily we will sin. See my comment just above; G-d gave man the gift of free will. That means we can choose to follow His precepts or choose not to. It just so happens that the overwhelming majority of us give in to self serving desires, love for the material, etc., which causes us to do nasty things sometimes. But I don’t think it is a given. I do not believe that G-d challenges us with anything that is not within our power to succeed. Life is a challenge to be sure. But it is not beyond our reach. The most precious thing to G-d, I believe, is for us to succeed in the challenge. We learn and we grow from each challenge we overcome. It is personally rewarding, and I think that gives G-d great pleasure.

      • melissa33774 says:

        P.S. Just an aside, Chassidus (the spiritual side of Jewish thought) teaches that even the tzaddik (completely righteous person) cannot stand in the shoes of the baal teshuva (the repentant person). In other words, it is far more precious to G-d for us regular people to struggle with our yetzer hara (evil inclination) and succeed, than it is for the completely righteous person who does not have that daily struggle with his yetzer hara.

      • David says:

        There was a change in Adam. He came to know evil in a personal way, his own evil. His eyes were opened and he “knew” of nakedness which represents his new knowledge of evil. There are two ways to come to “know” evil (and good for that matter), intellectually and by personal experience. God and knows good through personal experience and God also knows evil but only intellectually. That’s why God asked Adam the rhetorical question in Gen. 3:11: “who told you that you were naked”. It’s because if someone had told Adam (such as the serpent), he could have come to “know” evil intellectually instead of personally. Not that nakedness is evil, but it represents our-selves exposed. And if our thoughts and actions are not with God then those thoughts and actions are symbolically exposed through our nakedness. Then in the second part of Gen. 3:11 God says: Have you eaten from the tree…” And that represents the personal experience of “knowledge” of evil.

        This point is further established when God says “see, the man has become like on of us, “knowing” good and evil…” The problem is not that Adam “knows” good and evil, the problem is how he came to “know” evil. Again, Adam came to “know” evil through personal experience rather than as God knows it, through intellectual understanding. Therefore it became necessary to “drive” Adam from the Garden so that he wouldn’t “mix” the evil within him which he had through personal experience (instead of intellectual knowledge), with the “tree of life” which is good. God doesn’t want to let a person who has experimented and experience evil in his mind and body to live for ever.

    • David says:

      OT, Genesis 8:21″…the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth…” God says youth, so then the question is what is “youth”? I’d say that doesn’t mean infant.

  10. jasonannelise says:

    I think that the path to this freedom isn’t rigid. A lot of people would think that this saying in Avot 6:2 means that they should repress their feelings and needs and fit into a structure of life that is difficult and unattainable for them to achieve in reality. The truth is that we need many things during the day, including time to rest, reflect, create, relate with others, engage our five senses in nature and the created world we are given. And it is not easy to sit still and concentrate for long periods of time without a break. And study is a discipline that we need to train ourselves into gently and by finding our natural curiosity, confidence, and rhythms, not through guilt. And sometimes we are going through so much chaos that it’s hard to concentrate, or handling so many responsibilities that deeply and genuinely need our time. And there can be questions in which honesty tears us apart with uncertainty.

    I think that in order to really engage with the learning and study of freedom and goodness, we need to understand and engage with all these real factors in our being and experience, and care for ourselves. It is a careful balance between seeking out peace and seeking out learning. I go through the same thing while learning how to parent my toddler: I have so many questions to follow about how to do things best for her, and these have to be diligently researched, but then I couldn’t be a very present parent if I were always reading rather than simply living life with her. So there is a time for everything.

    I have a friend who is living with mental illness, who said that when he started to have therapy and medication it helped him in a way that all his years of striving to learn from religious books could not. He is now gaining the freedom to have a clearer mind and stronger heart that can live and learn the principles in those books…but it had to happen in the same order for him because his brain was starved of certain chemicals and support structures and in that state a person can’t learn.

    So the ideal of studying 24/7 may be an ideal to aspire to, but it is unreasonable and unneccesary to presume that this means sacrificing the parts of our lives that give health and sustainance… they are equally important. A well organised and committed life is one of ever growing balance, and the place of study within this bigger picture can then be one of quality that imbues all the rest of the times, much like Shabbat to the other six days.

    • Dina says:

      Hi Annelise,

      So nice to talk to you again! Did you know women are exempt from Torah study so they can take care of their toddlers? Enjoy yours! It’s a magical time, so savor every minute because your baby will never be this cute again.

      I agree that achieving a balance between our responsibility to ourselves and to others is something that must be considered. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the peace and serenity to be loving to those around you. Instead, you’ll be stressed and frazzled. So taking care of yourself is a gift to those around you, rather than a selfish endeavor.

    • jasonannelise How true and well said! 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

      • Alan says:

        It is very beautifully written and very true! I just wanted to let her know that the obligation to learn Torah is not 24/7/365 which is impossible to do. It could be a source of confusion and frustration for a person to think the commandment of learning Torah is so burdensome.

  11. Alan says:


    Why do you think the ideal is to study torah 24/7?

    • LarryB says:

      I like this from Chabad.
      A Jew is always studying Torah—24/7/365. We take breaks to eat, sleep, pray, make a living and reenergize. The remainder of the time we connect to G‑d through studying His wisdom.

      • Alan says:

        I don’t get it. A person can be “involved” with Torah 24/7/365 (e.g. even when sleeping if he has in mind to sleep in order to feel better the next morning to serve Hashem this is being “involved” with Torah). Learning Torah is included in being “involved” with Torah. There isn’t a commandment to learn Torah 24/7/365. And even to be “involved” in Torah 24/7/365, there is no actual obligation, but it is something very important to strive for throughout one’s life.

        • Dina says:

          Psalms 1:2
          Joshua 1:8

          • Alan says:

            Psalms 1:2 – the Explanation from Sinai is that day and night means a man has an obligation to set a time to learn some Torah in the morning (or day) and then one more set time before he goes to sleep. At the most basic level, I believe one fulfills this by reciting the Shema once in the morning and once at night (just the bare minimum).

            Joshua 1:8 – same explanation.

        • LarryB says:

          I think it points out “study” , do you think they might be implying involvement by mentioning “always studying but taking breaks.” How can one be always studying if they take breaks? It’s not bringing up your finer point of always being involved.
          “You shall teach [it] to your children and speak its words when you sit in your house, when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise”—Deuteronomy.

          • Alan says:

            I think they meant “being involved” in Torah, not learning.

          • LarryB says:

            Now I don’t get it.

          • Alan says:

            I think the Chabad piece should be changed to read as follows –

            “A Jew is always “involved” with Torah—24/7/365. We take breaks to eat, sleep, pray, make a living and reenergize. The remainder of the time we connect to G‑d through studying His wisdom.”

            How can we be involved in Torah through eating, sleeping, making a living, going to the bathroom, etc.? There are blessings/prayers we say for the food before and after we eat; when we sleep with the intention to be strong and healthy the next day in order to serve Hashem better; when we make a honest living, are honest with our customers and kind to our co-workers; when we have the intention to make money in order to support ourselves and to give tzedaka; we say a prayer/blessing after we use the bathroom. This is all being involved with the Torah (i.e. involved with serving Hashem).

            Does this help?

          • Dina says:

            Thumbs up!

          • LarryB says:

            That’s much better.

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