Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Special Torah reading for Shabbos Chol HaMoed
Witnessing the birth of a new idea is somewhat like watching a breeze blow an ember into a forest fire. Let’s analyze this process. The way to see it is to start with the Hebrew word for freedom, which is cherut. After all, we say that G-d brought us me-avdut le-cherut, “from slavery to freedom.” We call Pesach, the Festival of freedom, zeman cherutenu. So it comes as a surprise to discover that not once does the Torah, or Tanakh as a whole, use the word cherut in the sense of freedom, and only once does it use the word, or at least the related word charut, in any sense whatever.
There are two biblical words for freedom. One is chofshi/chofesh, used in connection with the freeing of slaves (as in Ex. 21:2). That too is the word used in Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, which speaks about “the two-thousand-year hope to be a free people [am chofshi] in our land.”
The other is dror, used in connection with the Jubilee year, engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia: “Proclaim liberty [dror] throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Lev. 25:10). The same word appears in Isaiah’s great words: “to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom [dror] for the captives” (Is. 61:1).
However, the sages coined a new word. Here is the passage in which it occurs:
It says, “The tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved [charut] on the tablets” (Ex. 32:16). Read not charut, “engraved” but cherut, “freedom,” for the only person who is truly free is one who occupies himself with Torah study. (Avot 6:2).
The reference is to the first tablets given by G-d to Moses just before the sin of the golden calf. This is the only appearance in Tanakh of root ch-r-t (with a tav), but a related word, ch-r-t (with a tet) appears in the story of the golden calf itself, when the Torah tells us that Aaron shaped it with a cheret, an “engraving tool.” The Egyptian magicians are called chartumim, which may mean “engravers of hieroglyphics.” So how did a word that means “engraved” come to mean “freedom”?
Besides which, why was a new term for freedom needed? If the Hebrew language already had two, why was a third necessary? And why this word – engraved? To answer these questions, let us engage in some conceptual archaeology.
Chofesh/chofshi is what a slave becomes when he or she goes free. It means that he can do what he likes. There is no one to order him around. The word is related to chafetz, “desire” and chapess, “seek”. Chofesh is the freedom to pursue your desires. It is what philosophers call negative liberty. It means the absence of coercion.
Chofesh would appear fine for individual freedom. But as humans, we do not instinctively grasp the import or ramifications of no rules. If we truly believe in and trust our Creator, YHVH Elohim, we need only look at the first example of what happened when there was but ONE rule for mankind not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Looking at the bigger picture, man does not live in isolation. We are connected to everything else in the universe in some way. The chofesh type of freedom reflects the secular humanistic society in which we live today. No rules, self- determination of what is right, for there is no wrong answers. The ramifications of chofesh do not constitute collective freedom. A society in which everyone is free to do what they like is not a free society. Many of us live in gated communities, no longer allow our children to play in the yard, no longer leave our windows open or doors unlocked. We no longer instinctively rush to the aid of someone on the side of the road and no longer offer someone a ride, lest we have our cars taken, are robbed and/or killed. We are the prisoners in our own society today; a society without the rule of law, with no effective government, honest police, or independent courts. The last verse of the book of Judges reads: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
A free society needs law. But law is a constraint on freedom. It forbids me to do something I might wish to do. How then are we to reconcile law and liberty? That is a question at the heart of Judaism – which is a religion of both law and liberty.
To answer this, the sages made an extraordinary leap of the imagination. Consider two forms of writing in ancient times. One is to use ink on parchment, another is to engrave words in stone. There is a marked difference between these two methods.
The ink and parchment are two different materials. The ink is external to the parchment. It is superimposed upon it, and it does not become part of the parchment. It remains distinct, and so it can be rubbed off and removed. But an engraving does not use some new substance. It is carved out of the stone itself. It becomes part of it, and cannot easily be obliterated.
Now consider these two ways of writing as metaphors for law. There is a law that is externally imposed. People keep it because they fear that if they do not, they will be caught and punished. But if there is no chance that they will be caught or punished if they are caught, they make break it, for the law has not changed their desires. That kind of law – imposed on us like ink on parchment – is a limitation of freedom.
But there can be a different kind of society in which people keep the law not because they fear they will be caught and punished, but because they know the law, they have studied it, they understand it, they have internalized it, and it has become part of who they are. They no longer desire to do what the law forbids because they now know it is wrong and they wrestle with their own temptations and desires. Such a law needs no police because it is based not on external force but on internal transformation through the process of education. The law is like writing engraved in stone. Deuteronomy 6:4-11 encapsulates this entire concept. The essence of Sh’ma in Deuteronomy 6:4 is to hear (physically and spiritually), internalize, and act upon (obey) G-d’s mitzvoth, laws, and rulings stated in Deuteronomy 6:1.
Imagine such a society. You can walk in the streets without fear. You don’t need high walls and alarms to keep your home safe. You can leave your car unlocked and still expect to find it there when you return. People keep the law because they care about the common good. That is a free society. Perhaps the closest we ever came to such a society was in the 1950s.
Now imagine the other kind of society, which needs a heavy police presence, constant surveillance, neighborhood watch schemes, security devices and personnel, and still people are afraid to walk alone at night. People think they are free because they have been taught that all morality is relative, and you can do what you like so long as you do not harm others. Unfortunately, this is a frequent message taught by Christian Clergy to their congregations. Examples are celebrating Easter and Christmas, worshipping on Sunday, eating forbidden foods, working on Shabbat and conducting “business as usual.” No one who has seen such a society can seriously believe it is free. Individuals may experience a false sense of freedom, but it is certainly not in the biblical context according to G-d’s definition. Society as a whole has to be on constant guard because it is at constant risk. It is a society with little trust and much fear. Many family members no longer enjoy the security G-d intended for close relatives in living together and caring for each other. Mothers are killing their children, children are killing their parents, and abuse of family members against their own is rampant; just as Yahshua said it would be (2 Tim. 3:2).
Hence the brilliant new concept that emerged in rabbinic Judaism: cherut, the freedom that comes to a society – of which Jews were called on to be pioneers – where people not only know the law but study it constantly until it is engraved on their hearts as the commandments were once engraved on stone. That is what the sages meant when they said, “Read not charut, engraved, but cherut, freedom, for the only person who is truly free is one who occupies himself with Torah study.” In such a society you keep the law because you want to, because having studied the law you understand why it is there. In such a society there is no conflict between law and freedom.
Where did the sages get this idea? Perhaps from their deep understanding of what Jeremiah meant when he spoke of the renewed covenant that would come into being once Jews returned after the Babylonian exile. The renewed covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt … This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time – declares the Lord – I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts…” (Jer. 31:31-33).
Many centuries later Josephus recorded that this had actually happened. “Should anyone of our nation be asked about our laws, he will repeat them as readily as his own name. The result of our thorough education in our laws from the very dawn of intelligence is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.”
To this day many still do not fully understand this revolutionary idea that is not revolutionary at all. This is the freedom Yahshua spoke of, reflecting the Old Testament concept of Adonai when He said in Matthew 11:30 “… my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Even the Old Testament states clearly in Deut. 30:10-14. Obedience to the Torah resulting in the ultimate cherut is reflected in these verses.
People still think that a free society can be brought about simply by democratic elections and political structures. But democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville said long ago, may simply turn out to be “the tyranny of the majority.” This is becoming more apparent as we watch human history continue in these end times.
Freedom is born in the school and the House of Study. Diligent study of G-d’s Torah and prayer for wisdom and understanding from above is the only way to true freedom. It seems a paradox, but when we learn to practice nullification of self (descend) we can grow in our relationship with G-d (ascend). That is the freedom still pioneered by the people who, more than any other, have devoted their time to studying, understanding and internalizing the law. Unfortunately, our Orthodox brethren added many of their own laws and traditions above and beyond G-d’s Torah. Traditions and laws that conflict with G-d’s Torah are those Yahshua and Sha’ul spoke against; NOT G-d’s Torah. Only when G-d’s Torah is engraved on our souls can we achieve collective freedom without sacrificing individual freedom. That is cherut – true freedom G-d’s way.
Fortunately for true believers, we take comfort in a hope of the future redemption provided by our Paschal Lamb, Yahshua, who will return in the near future. Then we will share the fourth cup with Him; the cup of which He did not drink during the Pesach Seder with his talmidim. What is the significance of our L-rd declaring that he would not drink wine again until he was with his disciples in the kingdom (Matt. 26:29)? First, Pesachim 10.7 declares: “Over the fourth [cup] He concludes the Hallel… Between these cups [i.e., between the second and third cups] He may drink [other, non-symbolic wine].” Thus the L-rd seems to be implying that he would not drink of the fourth cup until the kingdom age was begun (for had he drunk any wine after the third cup it would be interpreted as the fourth cup since the Mishnah prohibited non-symbolic wine to be drunk between these two cups). Second, when we relate these cups back to what they symbolized, i.e., the four verbs in Ex. 6:6-7, we may better understand why the L-rd did not now drink the fourth cup.
The third cup was drunk in connection with Ex. 6:6: “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” Thus, it symbolized redemption by judgment. The fourth cup was drunk in connection with Ex. 6.7: “Then I will take you for my people, and I will be your G-d, and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d…” Such language foreshadows the new covenant, particularly the words recorded in Jer. 31.33-34. Ultimately its fulfillment will not be realized until the millennium.
It seems, then, that just as the Passover as a whole was a prefigurement, a foreshadowing, a type of Yahshua’s death, so even such minute portions as the third and fourth cups were symbolic of all he would accomplish in his first and second advents. He drank the third cup, then, to symbolize his death on the execution stake for that, too, was redemption by judgment. And He did not yet drink the fourth cup because the redemption via the Lamb of G-d was not yet accomplished in reality. And since the fourth cup pictured ultimately Yahshua’s earthly reign he postponed the symbol to correspond with his postponing the reality.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart
• Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is given credit for part of the original Orthodox perspective of this article, from which I make application to the entire Bible, incorporating the concept of Pesach and the Paschal Lamb Yahshua HaMashiach who is both Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David.
Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue