The Price of Freedom
by: Rabbi Yisrael Baron

(Published July 15, 2013 Sunny Isles Beach Community Newspapers)

Since our childhood, we have always wanted to exercise our own free choice. As children, we do not want to be told what to do. We want freedom from the “tyranny” of adults telling us what to eat and when to go to sleep. "Eat healthy" and "go to sleep early" is what those “totalitarian” adults would tell us.

The truth is that free choice holds the key to power: power to become something truly great or power to self-destruct. The power we can access through our free choice can be used for good or bad. The best case scenario is to use that freedom of choice to generate something truly great. However if we don't make mindful choices, that freedom can also destroy us. It can open the floodgates of all sorts of crazy behavior and addictions. This can cause individuals who have seemingly unlimited freedom through their wealth and power to be forced to surrender that freedom.

On a global scale, throughout history, there have been many movements and even revolutions, seeking freedom. Freedom means freedom to choose what you want to do. Yet, those revolutions rarely sustained themselves in the span of history. Great superpowers who came to be in order to provide freedom, are often vigilant to maintain their freedoms by fighting the outside enemy, while ignoring deterioration on the inside. Removing the original boss is easy in comparison to the self-discipline needed to sustain freedom and not recreate the boss that we struggled to overthrow.

Freedom comes with a price tag. If we are not told what to do, we must be our own boss. Do we have the ability to use that freedom to soar, or will we self-destruct? It is easier to detest the boss than to be our own boss. Can we pay the price of freedom? Do we have the power to sustain the freedoms we are granted? True power is not expressed over someone else. Rather real strength is judged by the level of discipline we have over ourselves when we exercise our freedom.

In his book, “Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz argues that our freedom which provides abundant choices are making us less happy. He claims that they paralyze us to the point of no decision. He further claims that if and when we do choose, we are left wondering if we made the right choice.

Should I be doing this now? Or maybe I should be doing something else? Why am I wasting time doing this while, I could be doing something else? Yes, we can get paralyzed by too many choices. We want to feel significant in this huge world, which can swallow us up by its sheer vastness if we are not careful.

While I agree that there is a problem with abundant choice and no direction, as described by Dr. Schwartz, I disagree with his final analysis. Yes, a lack of purpose and meaning of life combined with having abundant choices does leave many people confused. People can be tortured by their many freedoms. However, the solution is to tap into a deep sense of purpose, a higher goal, where every life decision will be measured against that purpose. Then we experience what the Talmud says "There is no happiness as the removal of doubt."

In search of purposeful, meaningful activity, we want to know that what we do will make a difference. It feels so good to be doing exactly what you know with certainty and conviction is the right thing for any given moment.

The key to successful use of our freedom is utilizing the self-discipline which helps us preserve that freedom, lest we get swept away and lost in the abundant choices that freedom presents. Discipline can be achieved and maintained through strongly connecting to a defined purpose. The goal is to define your purpose, so that every deed you do is done with awareness and conviction. Of course, when that purpose is focused on something beyond our own personal comfort and pleasure, when we chose something that is for the betterment of ourselves, our families, our community, and the world at large, we can rest assured that when we personally feel weak or indecisive, we can still persevere for the greater good. Then, with every action you choose, you will know with certainty that this is exactly what you should be doing at any given moment.

Only humans have the capacity, through choice, to rise above the basic instinct of self gratification to become part of a larger mission. Human beings at their finest moments cast aside "the spirit of the animal which goes downward"and choose to be part of “the spirit of man ascends above” (Ecclesiastes 3:21). This is the highest expression of being human.

I am not suggesting a new movement or revolution. The truth is that freedom is granted to anyone willing to claim it. Deep within us, we may choose how to react to any experience. It's at that primal state, deep within us that we make our own decisions. No one has any power over our inner self. In that place, we have complete freedom. No one can stop us from expressing our choice of how to look at the world around us. These decisions, if made with thoughtful consciousness, will make us more happy, balanced individuals who can influence our surroundings in a positive and lofty way.