Becoming Free in Judaism

From the beginning of biblical time, man has struggled to break his binding ties in order to become free, independent, and fully human.

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becoming freeThe idea that man's task lies in the growing emancipation from the"primary ties" of incestuous attachment is also expressed in some of the main religious symbols and services of the Jewish tradition:

The goal of man's development is that of freedom and independence. Independence means the cutting of the umbilical cord and the ability to owe one's existence to oneself alone. But is such radical independence at all possible for man? Can man face his aloneness without collapsing from terror?

Not just the child, but even man the adult is powerless. "Against your will you are formed and against your will you are born and against your will you live and against your will you die…and against your will you are destined to render all account to the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He" (Rabbi Eleazar ha‑Kappar, Pirkei Avot, IV, 29). Man is aware of the risks and dangers of his existence, yet his defenses are insufficient. Eventually he succumbs to illness and old age,and dies. Those whom he loves die before him, or after him, and there is no comfort in either case. Man is uncertain; his knowledge is fragmentary. In his uncertainty he looks for absolutes that promise certainty which he can follow,with which he can identify. Can he do without such absolutes? Is it not a question of choosing between better or worse absolutes, that is to say, between absolutes which help his development and those that hinder it? Is it not a question of choosing between God and idols?

Independence and Obedience

Indeed, full independence is one of the most difficult achievements; even if man overcomes his fixation to blood and soil, to mother and clan, he holds onto other powers that give him security and certainty: his nation, his social group, his family; or his achievements, his power, his money. Or he becomes so narcissistic that he does not feel a stranger in the world because he is the world, there is nothing besides and outside of him.

Independence is not achieved simply by not obeying mother, father, state, and the like. Independence is not the same as disobedience. Independence is possible only if, and according to the degree to which, man actively grasps the world, is related to it, and thus becomes one with it. There is no independence and no freedom unless man arrives at the stage of complete inner activity and productivity.

The answer of the Bible and of the later Jewish tradition seems to be:Indeed, man is feeble and weak, but he is an open system which can develop up to the point where he is free. He needs to be obedient to God so that he can break his fixation to the primary ties and not submit to man.

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Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) was a psychologist and philosopher of the humanist school. He wrote on Jewish and secular topics.