"Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go." Everyone knows the words of the old spiritual. But in the Torah, the words are a bit different. Say to him: Adonai, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you to say: Let My people go so they may serve Me in the wilderness (Exodus 7:16).
In American history, freedom has always seemed to be freedom from something. From the British crown, from the masters of Southern slavery. In our classic American literature, freedom means liberation from unreasonable social norms, or even from adulthood itself (think Huckleberry Finn or The Catcher in the Rye).
But in the Torah, freedom is always freedom toward something. Moshe reminds Pharaoh and the people that they seek freedom to go to Mount Sinai -- where they will be free to hear God and to take on new responsibilities.
In Judaism, freedom leads necessarily to obligation. What responsibilities do you choose? Who do you choose to be bound to, not just today but for the long term? On a simple level, commitments make you less free. But on a higher level, commitment to Torah adds to freedom. Without some higher purpose to strive for, we can be awash in so many choices every day that we could hardly move. Moving freely toward Torah, we move away from the unreasonable masters that can control our lives.
Then, we can face the choices of the truly free. How do I make time today for the people in my life and for my important work? Of the many unheard voices in the world, whose will I try to respond to? What will I do to nourish and protect my soul, so that I do not wear out or fall into cynicism? This is the freedom we are working toward, even after we are freed of the Pharaoh of Egypt.