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5 - Be Free

What does it mean to be free? This episode explores the Jewish concept of Freedom and introduces Dr. Carol Dweck's Mindset research with the acronym "BE FREE"


Hey, everybody. I'm Menachem Lehrfield. Welcome to Zero Percent, where we explore world-changing ideas from Judaism, ancient wisdom for modern living. The past few weeks, we've been exploring Carol Dweck's mindset research, and I'm really excited to jump into it, to understand where we see all of these fascinating earth-shattering ideas within Judaism. We'll explore Jewish thought, Jewish ritual, and Jewish custom. In our first episode, we talked about how Jewish success is not so much about the Jewish people as much as it is about Judaism. And I think this is where we'll really see it come to life. I like to say that we're looking at a 3000-year-old case study on the growth mindset, that if you spend 3000 years developing a growth mindset, this is the result.
It's not so much about just the things that we teach our children and teach ourselves. It's not just about the ideas that we study and we learn, which are crucially important. But even more so it's about how organically we give over this growth mindset research in our everyday lives. And that's why we're not just going to explore Jewish thought. We're going to then go into Jewish practice, our life cycle events. How do we mark the different parts of our lives and how through that marking do we not just encourage but really build that growth mindset? We'll then explore the different Jewish holidays and how each holiday throughout our year, we go through the cycle of the year and as we go through the cycle of the year, we are constantly focusing on and building that growth mindset.
To introduce Carol Dweck's research through a Jewish lens, I've created the acronym, BE FREE, six different points, six different steps that we're going to focus on in the coming episodes. Number one, the B stands for be curious. The idea of cultivating curiosity, the idea of when somebody has a growth mindset, they care about being smart, not just looking smart.
Number two is the idea of enjoying the journey, being process-focused instead of product-focused. Understanding that everything is a process that takes time, that takes effort, and learning to enjoy that process. Number three, the F, stands for failure is not a permanent condition. Understanding the importance of failure in our growth and looking at failure as a part of that journey, not this crushing, all-encompassing end of the process.
Number four, the R, is recognize the uniqueness of each person. Understanding that every person is different, every person learns differently, every person has different strengths, different weaknesses, and the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of each person. Number five is the E, is effort is the key to mastery, not a sign of weakness. The importance, as we talked about in the last episode, of praising process and effort, not the result. And lastly, number six, the second E, is everyone can change. Understanding that I'm not defined by my natural gifts or the way I am right now, but rather I can constantly change. I can constantly become better, more proficient, constantly I'm going through this process of change and why it's so crucially important to never praise natural ability. If I understand that everyone can change, then the way I am right now, or the way I was born, really has very little to do with the person I can become. And that's BE FREE. And we'll go through the next couple episodes going through each one of those six points.
Before we do, I just want to explain why I chose the paradigm, the concept of freedom to present this research. I want to spend the rest of our episode today just exploring the Jewish concept of freedom. What does freedom really mean? We, as Americans living in the United States of America, think we understand everything there is to know about freedom. After all, we're living in a country that was founded and is really all about freedom, that that's what America's all about. The land of the free and the home of the brave.
But what is freedom really? I always found it interesting, you never hear someone shout, "Hey, it's a free country," when they're doing something nice. You ever notice that? You ever see someone like hold the door open for somebody, and then as they walk in, they say, "Oh, thank you so much." You say, "It's a free country." People only talk about how it's a free country when they're being obnoxious and they're doing something they're not supposed to do. It's never like done with this, "Oh, it's a free country." It's always, "Hey, it's a free country. I can do whatever I want." And the reason is that that's the American concept of freedom, which is very different from the Jewish concept of freedom.
The American concept of freedom is I am free to. I am free to vote. I am free to bear arms, let's say. I don't want to get into anything political. I am free to practice my religion. I am free to do X, Y, and Z. There are many things that this great land affords me the ability to do. The Jewish concept of freedom is different. It's not just the ability to do X, Y, and Z, which I'm not saying is unimportant. Obviously, it's important to live in a place where I have the freedom to vote, to practice my religion, to speak, to fill in the blank. The Jewish concept is that I am free from. See, freedom is really about having the ability to do what I know is right, to do the right thing, and to be free from anything that's holding me back from that. Each one of us has the potential for greatness. Everyone does. But we get held back by all kinds of things. Freedom is the ability to break free from that which is holding me back and to become great.
You see, when you look at Judaism, in America, we're very into our rights, and rights are important. But when you look at Torah Judaism, there's not a single right overtly mentioned anywhere in the Torah. The Torah never says you have a right to anything. What it does say is you are obligated. You have an obligation. And if we each fulfill our own obligations, then everybody else has rights. I am obligated not to infringe upon your property. I am obligated to ensure that you're taken care of. I am obligated to fill in the blank. If every single person upholds their obligations, so then by default, we all have rights. The point is, where is the focus? Is the focus on me and what's coming to me, or is the focus on what am I responsible to make sure I don't do to somebody else? So we end up with the exact same rights.
In fact, we gave the entire world the concept of rights. We gave the world the concept of equality before the law. We gave the world the concept that every human being has inherent value and should be treated as such. We gave the world those concepts. We gave the world the value of rights. But we did so by focusing on responsibility. Victor Frankl writes that we should have on the West Coast a statue of responsibility to counterbalance the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. And together, they would create this equilibrium, so to speak. Because we live in a world where we're so focused on our rights that we forget about our responsibility. That might be a point of semantics, but the semantics are very important.
The analogy I always give is Halloween versus Purim. So on Halloween, what happens? Children go knocking door to door, threatening people and saying trick or treat, which essentially means either give me something or I'm going to do something bad to you. That's literally what it means. Trick or treat. Give me a treat or I'm going to play a trick. So you teach your children to go knocking door to door, taking and say, give me, give me, give me, give me. And then at the end of the day, they have a bag full of candy. But what do they do? That entire day was reinforcing selfishness and taking. Purim, we go door to door. But instead of taking, we spend our entire day giving one another. At the end of the day, the child who celebrated Purim and the child who celebrated Halloween have the same amount of candy in their bag, because one child spent his day giving and one child spent his day taking. It's all a matter of perspective.
So we can spend our lives focusing on our rights, mine, mine, mine, me, me, me, or I can focus on my responsibility, my obligation. When we look at real freedom, freedom is the ability to act independent of what everybody else thinks. The freedom to act independent of what I used to believe about myself, about the world. Freedom means that I have the ability to grow as a human being. And just because I was one way yesterday, doesn't mean I'm stuck being that way forever. [inaudible 00:10:30] Noah Weinberg used to say, and I quote this often, "Never be afraid to discover that the real you is different from the current you." I am not defined by who I am right now. I am not defined by the natural way I came into this world. I am not defined by the way you define me. That is real freedom. That's what it means to truly be free.
That's very different from I'm free, I can do whatever I want. No. In fact, in order to really be free, you need limits. Without those limits, I actually lack freedom. Which, again, goes against the grain of what we're taught as an American. In American culture, the ultimate freedom is the ability to do whatever I want. In Judaism, we're taught and, again, I'm sure this will come up again, the word that's used to describe the tablets is [Hebrew 00:11:25], which means etched. Which is the same word as the word [Hebrew 00:11:29], which means free. The idea being that the Torah, the 10 commandments, those commandments that are etched in stone, they are the means by which we become free because they represent the ability to break free from things that are holding me back from greatness and to become better.
I can look at Shabbat as enslaving. I can look at Shabbat as extremely freeing. Here, I have 25 hours where I can't do 39 specific types of action. Where I can't answer my phone. I can't check my emails. I can't go for a drive. I can't go to work. All these things I can't do. And I can look at it and say you're enslaved. Look at all these things that are controlling you. Or I can look at the exact same situation and say the person who's keeping Shabbat is keeping it in a way that makes them truly free.
Because when the sun sets tomorrow night, I look at the world and I say, "You don't control me. I control you."
My phone dings. No matter how much I try, it's almost impossible for me not to think, "Well, what was that? How important was it? Should I stop and look now and see what it was? I'm being controlled by a ding. I am being controlled by a device. On Shabbat, I have the ability to say, "I'm turning you off." And no matter what happens, no matter how important I think it is, if it's not life-threatening, it doesn't matter. That's it. I can't imagine any experience of being more free.
And I can totally understand how somebody can look at that exact same situation and say, "You're entirely enslaved. Look at all the things you can't do." It all depends on our perspective of freedom. Is freedom merely that which I'm allowed to do? I'm free to speak. I'm free to vote. I'm free to bear arms. Or is freedom, freedom from. The ability to become free from whatever is holding me back from greatness. I'm free from social pressure. I'm free from my own preconceived notions of the way the world ought to be. I'm free from my immediate impulses and need for instant gratification. That is real freedom.
But it has a price tag and that price tag is responsibility and self-restraint. I can look at an Olympic athlete and say that this person is enslaved or I can look at them and see that they're free. If you want to be an Olympian, you can't just wake up and become that. You have to work hard and follow very strict rules and recommendations by your coach. When you wake up, how you eat, how much, and what you practice and exercise and everything is restricted. Before becoming a doctor, you have to study for four years to earn a degree. Then you have to do well in the MCATs to get into a good medical school. Then go through another four years just to begin your residency. But at the end, you earn the title doctor and the freedom that it affords. You cannot achieve a goal without work, practice, and restrictions. These restrictions bring a person to the ultimate freedom.
The problem is our children today don't want to hear this. They're a product of a culture that shuns putting in effort, that shuns delaying gratification. Everything in our children's world is instantaneous. I don't know about you, but I remember going to Blockbuster on Saturday night and you'd have to get there as soon as you could just to get the new release. Because if you didn't get one of those few new releases, they were gone and you had to just roam around the store trying to find something else to watch. Today, our children don't even understand the concept. Think about it. We even call it on demand. Yesterday, I wanted to see the movie. Today, I demand to see it. What do you mean the Amazon package is going to come tomorrow instead of the same day? I want it now.
That is what our society has become. And it's not just the children. It's us as parents. It's much easier for us to give in to the instant gratification and give the children what they want instead of having to put up with them crying and fighting. It's so much easier to give in instead of enforcing the necessary rules and limits that they need. It's much easier to protect our children from life's challenges than it is to allow them the room necessary to try their hardest and allow them to make mistakes and fail. But children need us to be their parents, not their friends. They need us to be the people that are going to set limits, that are going to give them rules to give them security and the comfort that they crave, even though they may not know consciously and would never admit that they need it. Children need us as parents to allow them to become independent and free. They need us as parents to teach them that self-restraint builds self-respect.
So as we go through the next few weeks focusing on these six aspects of the growth mindset research, we're going to do so through the framework of freedom. Because these six things allow us to become free. They don't give us permission. They give us freedom. They give us the ability to tap into the resources that we have to access our true potential and maximize that potential to become the people we can be.

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