Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 11 July 2020 / 19 Tammuz 5780

The Morning Blessings: Blessing Seven: Free at Last

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who releases the bound.”

Blessing number seven thanks G-d for releasing us. But it makes no mention of what we are being released from. It is reasonable to think that if a person goes to sleep free, they will wake up in the morning just as free. In general terms, a person’s physical reality does not change intrinsically from one day to the next. And, yet, our Sages instituted a blessing thanking G-d for having “released the bound.” Like with everything that our Sages initiated, there is enormous depth to the blessing.

There are many different forms of being “bound.” There are so many things that infringe on our personal freedom, sometimes without our even being aware. For example, we are all addicted to things. As the wife of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (one of the foremost authorities in Jewish Law in the previous generation) famously put it, “My husband is like an alcoholic. It is just that he needs Torah instead of wine!” Hopefully, our addictions are nothing more threatening than a weakness for chocolate cake. But there is definitely a plethora of terrifying addictions out there that are extremely dangerous, both to our physical health and to our emotional wellbeing. A person who battles against such cravings requires an inordinate amount of inner strength. These desires are so deep-set that they can overcome a person’s very identity. And to conquer those desires necessitates both external assistance and a constant mental awareness that their addiction is not “them.”

During the 1970s, there were Jews in what was then the Soviet empire whose dream was to leave the “communist paradise” and to immigrate to Israel. Their desires came at a great personal price, because officially wanting to leave the USSR was regarded as subversive and it automatically caused them to lose their jobs.

Once they no longer had a job, they were labeled as “parasites,” and then the official harassment began. Often, they were arrested and relocated, or they were thrown into prison on trumped-up charges. In more extreme cases they were exiled to Siberia and put to work in labor camps. At one point, in Siberia, one of these Refuseniks (as they called themselves) was found guilty of a minor infraction and put into solitary confinement for nine months. Writing about his experiences afterwards, he related that he went through several different mental phases while he was there, some of which were agonizingly painful. But, at some point he came to the most astonishing realization that the Communists could take away everything from him, except for one thing — his freedom.

Because freedom is sometimes a state of mind and not a state of being.

We are all tied down to so many things in this physical world. These things can influence us, causing us to become obsessed and consumed by their allure. Sometimes this occurs to the point where we lose sight of who we really are. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who releases the bound.” It is G-d’s Torah and His commandments that give us the tools to combat our obsessions. They are not guarantees for success, but they provide the most effective method to help a person overcome “binding” obsessions. And, so, when I start keeping the commandments, I am tapping into an inner strength that gives me the ability to shatter the “chains” that are restraining me. G-d and His Torah help me disregard obsessive focus on the physical and to better focus on the spiritual. With this awareness, with this guidance from Above, I can truly release my “bound” self.

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