Updated: Jan 24
There are times in life that we feel limited and restricted. We can’t always do what we want, go where we want, or have what we want. Life is full of do’s and don’ts, laws that require us to behave in certain ways and avoid various activities. Many restrictions are good, since discipline is important to be able to properly function in society. When people around us understand society’s limitations, usually everyone benefits and things run smoothly.
But not all restrictions are beneficial. Often, we feel that we would function better and achieve more without the limitations placed upon us. We can have the urge to break free and not conform to the rules around us. When that happens, we must examine within ourselves whether these limitations we are trying to shrug off are indeed external, or perhaps they are internal restrictions, placed upon us by our own inhibitions and uncertainties.
Once we discover that the only factor in preventing us from growing and accomplishing great things is our own self-imposed restrictions, we can then focus on breaking free of them and going all out. This doesn’t mean breaking rules, it means breaking norms and expectations. Yes, some of these norms and expectations come from beyond our own selves, but they can only affect us if we choose to allow them to. The fear of being different and not conforming starts and ends within ourselves and only you and I can decide to break free of it.
The first time this concept is mentioned in the Torah is in the context of actual bondage. The Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, and G-d sent Moses to set them free. The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim,” and Hebrew being a language with many layers of depth and meaning, the same letters also spell the word “meytzarim” – boundaries. The root of that word is “meytzar” which can mean constriction or narrowness. That’s what boundaries do, the constrict and narrow one’s space to a very limited area.
So when the Jews were finally freed from Egypt, they not only left their physical bondage behind; they also managed to break free from their spiritual restrictions and limitations, which prevented them from functioning as a full-fledged Jewish society. And once they achieved that, they passed this ability on to their descendants, Jews throughout all generations and this attitude became a permanent Jewish quality.
Sure, living Jewishly in today’s contemporary society has its challenges. Keeping kosher can be difficult, not to mention costly. Avoiding forbidden activities on Shabbat seems to be impossible and extremely limiting. Making time to pray every day, even once a day and not to mention three times a day, is really burdensome. And there are many more examples.
But these challenges can be overcome with one simple step: You decide to free yourself of them. Once you recognize that these inhibitions come from within rather than being imposed on you, you can decide to focus on breaking free. And when that happens, when you make the initial choice to not allow the world to prevent you from being the best Jew you can be, everything else will begin to fall into place.
Making big changes in life doesn’t happen overnight, but the initial resolve to be free can happen at any time. That’s the biggest step; and the more you continue to leave your inhibitions and restrictions behind, the freer you will be.
And even more, the happier you will be!