I grew up at the tail end of an era that was famous for memorable lyrics. At the time, a song by Sammy Davis Jr. hit a chord in many and seemed to symbolize much of what the next several decades were all about: "I've got to be free …I've got to be me."
These words spoke to a generation of freedom seekers, and although some may have taken it as license to throw off the restraints of the past in favor of what they mistakenly thought would be full liberation, the phrase is actually a timeless piece of Jewish wisdom that holds the key to true freedom, ultimate self awareness and fulfillment. Let's see how.
Judaism teaches that we each possess a soul that is greater than even the angels. Our challenge (and opportunity) here on Earth is to harness the powers of the body to fulfill the highest aspirations of our soul. If we succeed in utilizing this power, there is nothing that we can't accomplish. Like a rider in full control of his powerful steed, we will arrive at our destination in fine form. However, left to its own devices, unchecked, our body will take us far a field.
So in Jewish consciousness, "free to be me" means the freedom to pursue the desires of the soul, the part of us that is driven to live to the max and experience life's deepest pleasures. But while the soul wants to jump out of bed and accomplish great things, the body wants to hit the snooze button!
This fight between body and the soul plays itself out constantly:
- "I want to get in shape, but I can't exercise on a regular basis."
- "I want a successful career, but I don't feel like working so many hours."
- "I want to get married and have kids, but I don't feel like giving up my freedom."
When we say I can't or I don't feel like it we are most often confusing genuine pleasure with comfort, opting for the painless quick fix instead of pursuing the more rewarding pleasures – love, family, career, making a difference – that require real effort (but generate an eternal rate of return).
So what is true freedom? "Free to be me" means to be free of my drive for comfort that is expressed in the language of "I can't" and "I don't feel like it," to be the master of my body's energy, and to harness its power to attain the deepest spiritual pleasures.
The Time of Freedom
Passover is the annual celebration of freedom from the Egyptian taskmasters. It also ushers in the seven-week period leading up to Shavuot (commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai). This time is most appropriate to work on true freedom. During these days, we work hard on our character traits, trying to become the masters of our physical and emotional selves.
Let's begin by using this special time to break free of the "I can'ts" and the "I don't feel like its" that we carry with us and that hold us back. Between now and Shavuot, commit yourself to at least one "I can."
Jewish wisdom gives us several tools to be successful:
Rabbi Noah Weinberg (the inspiration for this article) gives the example of a person who wants to get in shape and decides to jog. The first day out, he wants to run two miles. After a quarter-mile he is about to quit. His body (as it were) is yelling: "If I go any further, I'm going to die!"
Rabbi Weinberg suggests telling the body: "Okay, we'll stop, but let's just go to the next telephone pole." Then at that pole, push to the next pole, and so on… until eventually the person has completed the two miles.
The trick is to tell the body it's not "all or nothing." With a little cleverness, you can disarm the body's natural defenses.
Take a piece of paper. In one column, list the advantages of doing your "I can" goal. In the other column, and list what you will lose by continuing your present behavior -- the "I can't" choice.
Writing it down forces you to gain clarity on the precise cost-benefit. This clarity will help enable you to overcome the desire for comfort, by seeing how the goal -- in a deeper way -- serves your self-interest.
Review this list three times a day -- morning, noon and night.
God is our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Father in Heaven. His essence is in no way diminished by showering us with blessing and opportunity.
So once you've clarified your ambitions, ask the Almighty for help in overcoming your obstacles. With His help, there isn't anything that we are incapable of achieving. We might still get stuck in "I don't feel like it," but there is no such thing as "I can't."
The key to making this work is to trust that the Almighty will help you achieve your goals.
So we've come full circle. When we are in touch with our true purpose in life, we want to accomplish great things, and we know we can achieve them.
So make the next few weeks a time of true freedom. Free to achieve our deepest held convictions, free from the doubts and distractions that have sabotaged our efforts until now, and free of our desire for comfort and inclination to quit.
With cleverness, clarity and trust in God, we can each become truly "free to be me."
The "I Can" Campaign is in the merit of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the dean and founder of Aish HaTorah – a leader who exemplifies this "I Can" philosophy. With the same "I Can" attitude based on his unswerving trust in the Almighty, Rabbi Weinberg is battling a serious illness. We can help Rabbi Weinberg by joining this campaign in his merit and utilizing the time leading up to Shavuot to transform one "I Can't" into an "I Can."
Share with readers what you're committing to change in the comment section below.