Freedom

“There is a famous allegory in the writings of Rabbenu Yona:

‘Prisoners in a jail effect an escape – they dig a tunnel under the wall of their cell and squeeze through.  All except one: one prisoner remains, ignoring the avenue of escape.  The jailer enters to discover that his prisoners have flown, and begins beating the one who remains.’

This is a difficult allegory to understand.  Why is the one who remains being beaten?  He appears to be the one who is acting properly; after all, he is the only one obeying the law. What has he done?

The meaning is this: in remaining, he has escaped more profoundly than those who have fled. The escapees have broken jail; it no longer contains them, that is true. But the one who remains has redefined the jail: when he shows that he is there voluntarily, he shows that this is no jail at all. While the cell was intact, he appeared to be imprisoned; but now that it is clear that he has no desire to leave, he reveals the jail never held him. A jail is a place that holds those who wish to be free; those who wish to be there are not held by it. The jailer is angry not because this inmate has done something as simple as escaping, but because he has declared the jailer and his jail to be entirely irrelevant. The others have left the jail; he has utterly destroyed it.”

– Rabbit Akiva Tatz, Letters to a Buddhist Jew

January 12, 2018