Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for the ‘Bo’ Category

To Remember and to be Saved

Parshas Bo:

How do you connect to the exodus …what is so important about remembering it … and how does it all connect to what’s happening to us today?

Jewish history is paved with earth-shaking events.  Wars and exiles are entwined with miracles and deliverances.  It will be impossible to count the trials and tribulations that have gone over the eternal nation – but above all the experiences, one event stands out.  It is an episode that we, and the rest of our forefathers’ offspring, are commanded to speak of until the end of time.  We are told to remember it, speak of it, and embellish on its every detail.  In fact, we’re even commanded to relive it as if we were actually there.

“In every generation one must see himself as if he, himself, went out of Egypt”.  The Egyptian exodus was a decisive event in the history of mankind.  During the seminal exodus nature itself was bent, twisted, and just down-right ignored as Hashem smashed the gargantuan walls of the kingdom of defilement.  The exodus of slaves who were transformed into the chosen nation – that is the event every Jew must relive every single day.  And it must be a living, pulsating memory, complete with eating Matzos and Maror, the acquisition of the first born son and other mitzvos.

The mitzvah through which a Jew becomes connected to the exodus on a daily basis is, of course, Teffilin.  The Teffilin scrolls carry the eternal commandment to never forget, and forever actively remind ourselves of, the revelations of Hashem’s total mastery over the mighty nature of this world.  We are to connect our hearts to this remembrance when we put the Teffilin on.  Yet still, it is incredibly difficult for our stony hearts to return to that event in the distant past and relive the experience of salvation anew.

What is especially difficult to understand is what difference that would make in our lives today.  The world seems too different for that exodus to matter while we’re practically drowning in our own current troubles.

There are historians and archeologists who pour over books and evidence, gathering shreds of facts and legend alike.  They can pinpoint important dates with accuracy and seem to be more familiar with the roads of Pharonic Egypt than the welfare of their own families.  Still, they do not visit the past to relive the miraculous redemption.

Once – and forever

Yetziat Mitzraim is forever happening, simmering and bubbling in the very present.  The miracles that took place then have never been equaled.  It was the only time when creation as a whole stood astonished and shocked as it faced a total meltdown of all its preconceived ideas and perception of reality.

For a moment in time all nature’s laws were put on hold or categorically canceled.  The boundaries on substance were proven immaterial.  It is the moment when it became imprinted on the collective memory of mankind that a divine force, G-dly and boundless, oversees every detail in existence and the natural laws apply only – and only as long as He wishes it so.

This was the only time Hashem revealed Himself in such a manner.  And it is to this stunning determining event, that He commanded us to return every single day, in memory and deed.  The mitzvos He gave us as a “Remembrance of the Exodus”, combined with the directive to “See oneself as if he himself came out of Egypt,” brings us back to the time and place where Hashem planted the ability for the spirit to throw off the yokes of matter.

Ancient Egypt still exerts control over the souls of Israel – and has been doing so throughout the ages.  “All the exiles,” says the Medrash, “Are named after Mitzraim (straits) for they all squeeze (metzerim – מצרים) Israel”.  The exodus from Egypt is the lifesaver for the current exile as well.  Understand that miracles aren’t fairytales.  They are a revelation that exposes the inner truth that exists at all times, seen or not.  “As it was during the days you came out of Egypt, I shall show you miracles” – that is the promise that we, the decedents of the Israelites who came out Egypt, hold in our hearts as we travel through the generations.  The remembrance infuses us with life and hope.

Remembrance is connection.  By remembering the exodus at all times, the soul can connect to the innate ability to exit slavery into freedom in whatever it may be that enslaves us today.  This daily remembrance is the duty of every Jew.  It is said, “In every generation every person must see himself as if he, himself came out of Egypt” and Rebbe Nosson explains:

“It isn’t for nothing that Hashem has bestowed such an amazing kindness on us with such astounding miracles, taking us out of Egypt, giving us the Torah and drawing us close to the true Tzaddikim in every generation.  This is a kindness that shall exist for ever because the deeds of Hashem are eternal per definition.  So, too, he does with us momentous miracles by the very fact alone that we can snap up a few mitzvos every day such as Tzitzis, Teffilin and Krias Shma, and prayer.”

Tefillin – the resurrection of remembrance

The main remembrance of the exodus from Mitzraim is, of course, during Passover.  These seven holy days, the Seder, the Matzos, and the rest of the holiday’s mitzvos administer a life-giving elixir to our tired souls.  These remedies are awakened and “re-potentiated”, as it were, every day when we put on the Teffilin.  The eternal faith of “remember the day you came out of Egypt” is branded with fire on the sacred scrolls of the Tefillin.  By simply putting on the phylacteries we draw onto ourselves the holiness of the epic exit from Egypt.  It is that holiness of the ancient redemption that contains all the future redemptions in it.

When we talk of coming out of Egypt and “seeing oneself as if he himself came out of Egypt”, the modern mind tends to become entangled in needless inner debates as to how it should be done.  There is no need for that at all.  The secret of the connection is in simple remembrance.  One must simply remember the redemption and connect his mind to the miraculous deliverance and the fact that this freedom exists forever. Miracles … revelation of heavenly love … transportation on the heavenly wings of eagles … the abolition of nature … and the revelation of providential reality that smashes the boulders of material and terror – they all exist today as well.  When we live the exit from Mitzraim, the material yokes fall off and the shackles of doubt melt.  It is a renewal that inserts us into a world that is complete and total freedom.

We’ve had enough exile and enslavement.  We are spent and exhausted from chasing our daily bread and the confusions of our tormenting lusts.  Whoever redeemed us from Egypt has promised to deliver us again.  He revealed to us that whenever we get back there – just by using our memory – we will exist within the miraculous moment of redemption.  We can awaken the miracles with our Teffilin. All we need to do is renew the meaning and the memory and attach them to that miraculous time to be connected to the emunah that will make us free forever.

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“And I redeemed you …”

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.

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