Last night I went to a hip-hop concert. In a small club, overfilled with 18-20 year olds, two bands – from Holland and Russia – performed their songs, spreading uncontrollable emotions over the excited crowd.

Standing above the crowd in the club, with a great view from the DJ’s booth, I felt this sensation of union and freedom, that only a good artist on stage can generate. A new song started and hundreds of fists went in the air. “YOU–AND-ME-GOT-TO-BE – FREE!” screamed the tall singer from the stage, making everyone in the club join him in one excited howl. And just when I heard that, I observed each and every face in the crowd below, thinking, “Do they know what they are screaming about?”

Freedom is cherished and praised almost as much as love. But just like very few people realize what love is, even less understand the true meaning of the word “freedom.”

Simply put, we think of freedom as the ability to fulfill our desires. But have you ever asked yourself where do our desires come from? Why do we want certain things and not others? And do we really become free by simply fulfilling the desires that emerge within us? Is this really our choice?

Kabbalah gives a straightforward reply to this question – no, this isn’t where our choice lies. Kabbalah introduces a completely new approach to the question of gaining and maintaining personal freedom.

Freedom is Not What It Seems

To us, being free basically means “Nothing should stand in the way of me getting as much pleasure as possible.” But it so happens that in order to achieve this goal, we often choose to suffer. As children, how many times have we eaten vegetable soup in order to get a candy afterwards? From our first days till the very last, we balance between the things that we actually want to do and the things that we have to do to get what we want.

But even as we try to find the balance between suffering and pleasure, somehow we usually feel that we suffer much more than we actually feel satisfied and happy. And that’s when we may start thinking, “I’m trapped. I’m going around in circles and have no way out.” That’s when we start realizing that we are not in a position to choose very much.

And Kabbalah explains that in fact, we’re not in a position to choose anything. Whether we like it or not, we all depend on our society, our culture, our genes and our hormones – and all our choices are completely affected by these factors.

From my DJ-booth at that hip-hop concert, I could see a VIP area and a man, around 50 years old, who was jumping around and screaming, maybe even louder than the crowd on the floor below. Was he drunk, I wondered, or just inspired by the emotion that was coming up from the floor? Probably both, but he certainly wouldn’t act like this at, say, a classical music concert – even a very energetic one. Why? Because the surroundings would be different. He would be surrounded by different perceptions, traditions, and tastes. There, he would act like everyone else, because just like all of us, he values other people’s opinion.

How many times have we heard, “Oh, what will people say?” What others think is very important to us and we can’t go on if we are surrounded by those who do not accept us, who criticize or even hate us. And when we make our “free choices,” those choices are in fact determined by traditions, habits and opinions of other people.

Hence, Kabbalah says that true freedom doesn’t exist in our world, but it does exist in the spiritual world. And we can use the way our society influences us in this world to develop faster towards the spiritual world.

Kabbalists explain that one can surround himself with a society that appreciates spirituality, and thus advance faster towards revelation of and connection with the Upper Force—the source of life. And since this source does not depend on anything to sustain it, the more you connect with it—the freer you become.