Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Two voices, enter into each other

The nineteenth of Kislev (today), 1798. Rabbi Scheur Zalman of Liadi, one of the founding lights of Chabad Chassidut and author/revealer of the Tanya, sits in a jail cell, reading the 55 Psalm. As he arrives at the nineteenth verse, he is told that he has been freed, by order of the Czar.
The nineteenth verse of Psalm 55 reads:
Podah beshalom nafshi, meekrav li, ki berabim hayu eemadi

Redeemed in peace my soul
From my those who assailed me
because in multitudes,
they were with me

At the close of his autobiography, Nelson Mandela reflects on three decades in prison:

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not take the final step of the journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made many missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.

Chabad Chassidim celbrate today, the day of Reb Schneur Zalman of Liadi's liberation, as the Chassidic new year. He taught of that verse in psalms, that his redemption came only in peace, when his assailants were with him, that he and those who imprisoned him were redeemed together.


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