If you look up the word “freedom” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary or Dictionary.com you will find many definitions. The Cambridge Dictionary defines freedom as “the condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think etc. whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.” Also, “a right to act in the way you think you should.”
However, the Torah has a much different approach to defining freedom, as seen in the Medrish Rabba of this week’s Torah portion of Chaye Sara. “Rebbe Yossi ben Rebbe Dosa said that Canaan was Eliezer and because he served this righteous person [Avraham Avinu] with integrity he escaped the fact that he was cursed and entered a state of being blessed, as it says, ‘came the blessed of Hashem.’ Rebbe Yaakov said in the name of Rebbe Yochanan of the House of Govrin when he parted from speaking a Torah lecture, ‘Just as Eliezer who served the righteous one with integrity left his accursed state and became blessed, Jews who do kindness with those greater and smaller than them all the more so’” (Breishis Rabba 60:7).
The Yefe Toar explains that the subjugation to gedolim (great people) is in itself freedom and liberty; indeed, the fact that Eliezer served Avraham with honesty and integrity caused him to be taken out of slavery, which is the curse, and into freedom, which is the blessing. So, if Jews do kindness with their hands, a referring to giving charity, and with their feet, which refers to running to do good, all the more so. This kal vachomer (fortiori) from the servant of Avraham is similar to one found in the first chapter of Brachos 5a, where we learn that suffering is an atonement. For just as a slave goes free if the master knocks out a limb, like an eye or a tooth, all the more so, suffering that effects the entire body will atone for all of one’s sins. And here we learn a kal vachomer (fortiori) from a slave that kindness and truth redeem a person from all sorts of suffering and distress. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Maharz”u points out that one shouldn’t think it is too farfetched that Canaan, Cham’s son, be the servant of Avraham, though they were 8 generations apart, for Shem the son of Noach in fact lived 600 years until Yaakov was 50. Canaan who was cursed by his grandfather Noach chose to cling to Avraham at the end of his life which completely changed his life. With absolute dedication and honesty, he not only was Avraham’s right-hand man, but he imbibed all of Avraham’s teachings, and subjugated himself to the will of his master who was the greatest person of his generation. Because of his dedication and integrity Hashem transformed him into a blessed person and took off the curse that Noach gave him. This blessing the Yefe Toar refers to as freedom.
This freedom was not the right to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, whether good or bad. On the contrary, he was still in the service of Avraham Avinu all the way to the end. Rather, what set him free was his honesty and integrity towards the leader of the generation when doing his bidding. Why is that freedom?
The truth is that one’s performance in life, when done in an honest way without any deceit, is in fact genuine freedom. This is especially true when what you are doing is helping someone so great and close to Hashem as was Avraham Avinu. This is because the further away one distances himself from the façade of the physical world with all its trappings and lies, the closer he is to Hashem who is completely truth and is free to do whatever He wants. Certainly, by surrendering yourself to the will of a great spiritual leader in order to serve him and to learn his holy ways, a transformative effect will occur to bring you closer to Hashem. This was true to the extent that Canaan who was literally cursed with being subjugated by his brethren and their future generations broke out of the curse by honestly clinging and emulating Avraham Avinu, the closest person to Hashem in the generation.
We can learn a lesson here that if we act as free people by choosing to emulate Hashem with doing acts of kindness with the utmost of honesty and integrity to others whether greater or inferior than us then we will certainly be free from any suffering and iniquity.
The ability to emulate Hashem who is free to do whatever He wants is the real definition of freedom.