True Freedom – Being Liberated from the Angel of Death

“Harut (carved) on the tablets”; do not pronounce it Harut (carved), but rather Herut (freedom), to show that they are liberated from the angel of death.

Midrash Shemot Raba, 41

To understand the sublime concept, “freedom from the angel of death,” we must first understand the concept of freedom as it is normally understood by all of humanity.

It is a general view that freedom is deemed a natural law, which applies to all of life. Thus, we see that animals that fall into captivity die when we rob them of their freedom. This is a true testimony that Providence does not accept the enslavement of any creature. It is with good reason that humanity has been struggling for the past several hundred years to obtain a certain measure of freedom of the individual.

Yet, this concept, expressed in that word, “freedom,” remains unclear, and if we delve into the meaning of that word, there will be almost nothing left. For before you seek the freedom of the individual, you must assume that any individual, in and of itself, has that quality called “freedom,” meaning that one can act according to one’s own free choice.


However, when we examine the acts of an individual, we shall find them compulsory. He is compelled to do them and has no freedom of choice. In a sense, he is like a stew cooking on a stove; it has no choice but to cook. And it must cook because Providence has harnessed life with two chains: pleasure and pain.

The living creatures have no freedom of choice—to choose pain or reject pleasure. And man’s advantage over animals is that he can aim at a remote goal, meaning to agree to a certain amount of current pain, out of choice of future benefit or pleasure, to be attained after some time.

But in fact, there is no more than a seemingly commercial calculation here, where the future benefit or pleasure seems preferable and advantageous to the agony they are suffering from the pain they have agreed to assume presently. There is only a matter of deduction here—that they deduct the pain and suffering from the anticipated pleasure, and there remains some surplus.

Thus, only the pleasure is extended. And so it sometimes happens, that we are tormented because we did not find the attained pleasure to be the surplus we had hoped for compared to the agony we suffered; hence, we are in deficit, just as merchants do.

And when all is said and done, there is no difference here between man and animal. And if that is the case, there is no free choice whatsoever, but a pulling force, drawing them toward any bypassing pleasure and rejecting them from painful circumstances. And Providence leads them to every place it chooses by means of these two forces, without asking their opinion in the matter.

Moreover, even determining the type of pleasure and benefit is entirely out of one’s own free choice, but follow the will of others, as they want, and not he. For example, I sit, I dress, I speak, and I eat. I do all these not because I want to sit that way, or talk that way, or dress that way, or eat that way, but because others want me to sit, dress, talk, and eat that way. It all follows the desire and fancy of society, not my own free will.

Furthermore, in most cases, I do all these against my will. For I would be a lot more comfortable behaving simply, without any burden. But I am chained with iron shackles, in all my movements, to the fancies and manners of others, which make up the society.

So you tell me, where is my freedom of will? On the other hand, if we assume that the will has no freedom, then we are all like machines, operating and creating through external forces, which force them to act this way. This means that we are all incarcerated in the prison of Providence, which, using these two chains, pleasure and pain, pushes and pulls us to its will, to where it sees fit.

It turns out that there is no such thing as selfishness in the world, since no one here is free or stands on his own two feet. I am not the owner of the act, and I am not the performer because I want to perform, but I am performed upon, in a compulsory manner, and without my awareness. Thus, reward and punishment become extinct.

And it is quite odd not only for the orthodox, who believe in His Providence and can rely on Him and trust that He aims only for the best in this conduct. It is even stranger for those who believe in nature, since according to the above, we are all incarcerated by the chains of blind nature, with no awareness or accountability. And we, the chosen species, with reason and knowledge, have become a toy in the hands of the blind nature, which leads us astray, and who knows where?


It is worthwhile taking some time to grasp such an important thing, meaning how we exist in the world as beings with a “self,” where each of us regards himself a unique entity, acting on its own, independent of external, alien, and unknown forces. And does this being—the self—appear to us?

It is true that there is a general connection among all the elements of reality before us, which abide by the law of causality, by way of cause and effect, moving forward. And as the whole, so is each item for itself, meaning that each and every creature in the world, from the four types—still, vegetative, animate, and speaking—abides by the law of causality by way of cause and effect.

Moreover, each particular form of a particular behavior, which a creature follows while in this world, is pushed by ancient causes, compelling it to accept that change in that behavior and not another whatsoever. And this is apparent to all who examine the ways of nature from a purely scientific point of view and without a shred of bias. Indeed, we must analyze this matter to allow ourselves to examine it from all sides.

|- for further reading, one may find more to glean from The Freedom” article by Rav Yehuda Ashlag, available @

-from Kabbalah 8, class one

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