Jonathan Pollard and the Happiness of Freedom

Imagine how Jonathan Pollard felt this Shabbat, leaving jail after a 30-year prison term! How many times during those three long decades did he dream about being a free man: taking a long walk on a beach, meeting a friend in a coffee shop, embarking on a trip with his wife, taking a luxurious bath, praying in a beit knesset?

I’m sure those thoughts were constantly running through his mind, and yet most of us take our freedom for granted. When was the last time you expressed gratitude for your ability to go where you want, when you want? Although I can’t expect myself to feel the huge wave of freedom that I imagine Jonathan Pollard is feeling right now, I do want to work on feeling more gratitude for my freedom.

I also want to work on being more free. Of course I don’t mean to trivialize Jonathan Pollard’s situation, or the situation of anyone who is in jail, but I possess certain beliefs and behaviors that prevent me from being truly, 100 percent free. I’ve written about my challenges with disordered eating, for instance, which in the past have kept me trapped in a cycle of destructive behavior.

In The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot 4:1), we read, “Who is strong? He who subdues his personal inclination, as it is said: ‘He who is slow to anger is better than the strong man, and a master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city'” (Proverbs 16:32).

As pointed out by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, in his excellent book, Simcha: It’s Not Just Happiness, a person who is held captive to every passing emotion isn’t really free. This is one of the major lessons of Passover, a holiday that celebrates our escape from slavery.

Slavery is not limited to a despotic Pharaoh or a slave owner. A person can lose his freedom and be a slave to himself, to his habits and negative character traits. A person who cannot break free from cigarettes is a slave, as is someone who cannot break free from gambling, from excess food, from the Internet, and even from the office…Anytime one loses control of any aspect of one’s behavior, one is a slave” (page 108).

I wish Jonathan Pollard a happy and productive post-prison life. To increase my own simcha (Jewish joy), I am going to try to feel more grateful for my freedom and become freer by increasing my control over my emotional state.

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