The current Torah readings are walking us through our ancient journey from exile to redemption, from slavery to freedom. Baruch Hashem we’re all wise and understanding. We all know what the Tzaddikim have taught us – that the Torah is eternal and is relevant to all people, in all places and at all times; that the stories of the Torah are not just a review of historical events of the distant past – but are lessons that are absolutely relevant to us. This is actually an explicit commandment of the Torah, “In order that you should remember the day of your coming out of Egypt all the days of your life.” The Torah commands us to ‘live’ the exodus from Egypt every single day. So many times a day we come across the words, “a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt,” in our prayers and Mitzvos.
Yet, here stands a Jew with full sincerity and asks, “What can I do? I just don’t relate to this story. It doesn’t do anything for me. I hear the Torah reading every week and every time I try again to find some personal relevance and connection to the story. I’ve tried learning the Medrashim, I’ve studied different commentaries, I’ve even managed to clearly visualize for myself everything that happened back then. This is all well and good, but it hasn’t helped to make any of this really permeate into my life, into my moment-by-moment reality. I can’t say that I’m fulfilling the command to feel “as if he himself came out of Egypt.” I just don’t feel it…”
What is the source of this problem? Why doesn’t the recollection of our redemption bring us to a sense of grandeur? Why aren’t we inspired by it? Why don’t we feel the need to dance and joyfully thank and praise Hashem for our salvation?
If we look deeply, perhaps we’ll discover that it’s our conception of ‘freedom’ and ‘redemption’ that’s the problem. We’ve come to accept meanings for these terms that are far removed from their true meaning. These concepts have become so twisted in our minds that they have no power to arouse us.
We’ve come to understand freedom and redemption in the way in which they find expression in the world. A nation lives in peace and contentment until one day a cruel dictator arises and takes the reign of power for himself. He piles on taxes, deals harshly with the citizens, destroys the state institutions, turns everyone into broken and crushed slaves, and the sun of optimism and positivity that once shone in the populaces’ lives is eclipsed. He rules for many long years. Generations are born, live and die in miserable slavery. Then, one day, some mighty warrior arises, conquers the state, removes the cruel dictator and takes over the reign of power. The slaves see light, the iron shackles are removed from their arms, and overnight they become free men. Understandably the day of the revolution becomes a national holiday; the populace flood the streets, dancing and crying out in joy, caught up in the stupor of freedom. Everything suddenly seems so wondrous and expansive.
But when a generation or two have passed, what’s left of that initial experience of freedom and redemption? No doubt the day of the revolution itself will remain a national holiday, celebrated in every corner of the land, but will the descendants of the original slaves experience even a minute amount of the feelings of freedom that their forefathers experienced? Will that joyous day have much relevance to the lives of the coming generations? Most probably not. And who knows when the next dictator may arise, even worse than the first one, and again turn the country upside down?
This is the way of the world. Today it’s like this, and tomorrow – who knows what will be? Such freedom certainly doesn’t bring much relief or meaning to the present moment.
If this is how we view the Exodus from Egypt it’s no wonder that our recalling of it, despite its many signs and wonders, does nothing for us.
What is True Redemption?
For sure it’s true that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and “The Lord our G-d brought us out from there,” and performed many miracles and wonders for us. And if Hashem hadn’t taken us out of Egypt, then we would, to this very day, be a nation of gypsies; a nation of downtrodden slaves.
But this wasn’t the essential redemption. Freedom from physical servitude and the redemption of the honour of the nation are not the most important points. The principal redemption from Egypt was the redemption of Hashem’s honour, whose name is bound up with our name; and the redemption of the souls from the forces of impurity and concealment that had settled upon them in Egypt. It’s almost impossible for us to understand what the Exodus from Egypt truly was – because true freedom and redemption are concepts we don’t understand. Only in the words of the Tzaddikim do we find the true meaning. For example, our Rebbe teaches us (Torah 7, Second section) that the Egyptian exile was a lack of faith. Egypt had trapped the Jewish souls into the realm of nature, astrological influence, black magic, impurity and a spirit of iniquity. The noble Jewish souls had been enveloped under a thick, unbearable veil of evil and dullness.
When Hashem saved the physical bodies from the physical walls, he more essentially redeemed the souls from their spiritual shackles. The Creator figuratively sent his hand right down the throat of Egypt and removed from its murky depths the people who had almost entirely acclimatized themselves to the coarse and sordid Egyptian way of life. He took these souls and peeled off the garments of slavery that enshrouded them – a shroud of coarse physical earthiness. He tore off the blanket of concealment that had enveloped their minds. He embraced them and proclaimed: “This is My people; these are My beloved children,” – the slaves who had long ago resigned themselves to their downtrodden state and who were so far away from a sense of closeness with Hashem and of serving the King.
All of a sudden it was revealed to them that they were actually the ones closest to the King of Kings. Hashem shined into them the loftiest awareness so that they understood, and could even feel, how in every move, Hashem is there, and how His glory is clothed in each and every act, however seemingly mundane. The bodies which had adapted themselves to harsh physical labour realised that their limbs were chariots for the revelation of Divine glory, that their bodies had become sanctified with great holiness. They suddenly understood that they were beloved children, and that with just one word, one sigh, one cry out, their Father is right there with them, by their side, delighting in their turning to Him to request His help.
The redemption from Egypt was the rebirth of the Jewish soul; the rebirth of awareness and faith. The redemption showed the Jewish nation what the world truly is, and what true perfection is. Israel saw and understood that a Jew has nothing to do with servitude and sorrow, and that the inheritance of Israel is Providence and light; songs and praise all day long.
Midrashim teach us what happened during the Redemption, but if we want to understand the deeper reality of what took place then, and the eternity of the freedom that we gained, we have to study the teachings of the Tzaddikim. This is what the Rebbe wants to give us – an understanding of what redemption really is, and what it means to live our lives with our souls truly free.
To learn this takes time – awareness isn’t acquired in a day. A person has to put his mind and heart into this, and through this expand and develop himself – this takes time and effort.
This is why we start learning the parshiyos that deal with the Redemption from Egypt in the month of Teves. This gives us plenty of time until Pesach to be patient and to attempt to arouse our hearts; time to seek to learn from our Rebbe’s words the light of awareness and the channels of thought that will bring us to see past nature and instead, see only Providence; time to learn how to find comfort and faith even in times of constricted consciousness and confusion.
When we merit starting to build our awareness, we can then approach the days of Pesach as befits them, and be prepared to receive from them the abundance of good and the enlightenment of awareness that they contain.
So long as we don’t merit grasping in our hearts the awareness that the Tzaddikim want to reveal to us; so long as creation looks to us as ‘just nature’ – the Sun and Moon shining as purely physical phenomenon, and the trees blossoming as just actions of nature; so long as sorrow and bitterness take up space in our world – we are still trapped in Egyptian darkness.
The redemption from Egypt was redemption from nature and the recognition that the world is run with constant miracles and wonders. It’s impossible to view the redemption from Egypt as a historical event – it’s eternal. When the mind is truly freed from Egyptian servitude the senses get swept up in serving Hashem, and the world automatically inspires us to be excited, to sing and give praise.
True, we’re not capable of keeping up this level of awareness constantly. Faith and awareness are revealed and expressed to each individual differently. But the fact is we all did come out of Egypt together. The redemption from Egypt is an absolute reality that held true even after tremendous descents like the sin of the Golden Calf. At the redemption from Egypt we went out forever from the state of exile, and received awareness as an everlasting acquisition, even though it may not always shine for us, and even though our faith may not always be so strong that it permeates through to our senses.
What we can now do is forge a bond with the redemption from Egypt through our connection with Tzaddikim. Sins create concealment, to the extent that a person can find himself so far from awareness and faith that he can’t feel the most the remotest sense of redemption. But when we connect to our Rebbe, and seek his teachings, we find an abundance of awareness and a ‘source of fresh waters.’ The Tzaddikim know how to permeate our hearts and minds with the awareness that we truly were redeemed from Egypt; that we are free; that we’re not bound by nature and that with prayer we can achieve everything good – both physically and spiritually. All we need to do is strengthen ourselves with joy, remember the Exodus from Egypt, and sing and praise Hashem for our redemption and freedom.
The way to attain the light of awareness is principally through the fulfilment of the Mitzvos which are ‘in order to remember the Exodus from Egypt,’ but the strength to merit this light of awareness we receive principally through learning the Rebbe’s books and Likutei Halachos. Through this, we can merit to enter into a life of true awareness, and to sing a new song for our redemption and the redemption of our souls.