Masada and the Sabbath – The sanctity of freedom over slavery

Separation from sin, and separation from that which enslaves us. The Sabbath is the covenant between the individual and one’s God.

Masada National Park (Credit: Yuval Dax)
Masada is a code word for the sanctity of freedom over slavery. Before the mass suicide at Masada, Elazar Ben Yair, the leader of the rebellion, gave a speech in which he emphasized the sanctity of freedom as a supreme value for the Jewish people. His speech became a model of values that has resonated for generations.
Since then, the term Masada has become well known in Western culture and has even reached the Far East. Many visitors from China and South Korea are aware of Masada and are moved by its message, which they take back to their countries.
In order to understand the debate on the final evening on the mountain thousands of years ago, we need to understand the essence of the concept of liberty. In modern language, liberty is defined as the freedom to choose, the freedom to vote, the freedom to express one’s opinion, the freedom to be who you are.
In referring to the Ten Commandments, Exodus 32:16 states: “The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing engraved (Hebrew: harut) upon the tablets.”  The Midrash comments, “Do not explain the word as ‘engraved’ (harut), but rather as ‘freedom’ (heirut). The true free person is one who engages in the Torah.”
According to Jewish tradition, a free person is one who can express a deep relationship with God. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of pre-state Israel, explained that freedom is an inner reality of man who is not bound by anything but his inner connection with his God.
The Sabbath expresses this freedom in the weekly life cycle, and the Passover Seder does the same in the yearly life cycle. When the Sabbath arrives, every Jew, no matter where he or she is or what condition they find themselves, is a free person. Everything is ready and prepared. There is no need to bother – all that is needed is to enjoy one’s favorite thing in a restful manner, with family, and with a deep connection to oneself and the Torah. Most of our connections to the things that enslave us daily (cigarettes, shopping, phone, computer and other daily matters) are prohibited. People are commanded to dedicate this day to their inner selves and their families.  In the Hebrew language, the word kadosh – holy – means separate. Holiness is defined as separation from daily, mundane pursuits.
Separation from sin, and separation from that which enslaves us. The Sabbath is the covenant between the individual and one’s God. 
The final evening in Masada was Passover eve – the Seder night, a night in which children are told about the great miracle of the Exodus of an entire nation to freedom. A night, in which each year the Jewish people makes a covenant with God. The covenant that is established every year between the people of Israel and God signifies the Exodus from slavery to freedom, from bondage to redemption.
On that holy day, on that sacred date, the warriors at Masada made their choice.
The Sabbath is the stronghold of the religious person and the rest of the world has been given the gift of a day of rest.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is open on the Sabbath. As a believer and as an observant Jew, this is not easy for me.  We have recently instituted overnight camping arrangements for Sabbath observers, with the aim of enabling people to connect with nature even on their day of rest, while respecting their faith and allowing them to keep the Sabbath laws.
Nature and Parks Authority workers are also entitled to a family Sabbath evening; we insist that employees finish work an hour earlier on Fridays, and we do not conduct activities at that time.
I believe that the Sabbath gives special strength to people and I feel that we are missing something if the Sabbath has turned into a shopping day, or a workday, depending on whether one is an employee or a customer.
Stay tuned next Friday for The Jerusalem Post Global Kabbalat Shabbat!

Shaul Goldstein is the CEO of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.