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The Great Escape - בא

Thursday, 10 January, 2019 - 1:31 pm

The Great Escape

Let’s be honest about it, the Jewish people were not completely transparent and honest with Pharaoh. While they intended to leave Egypt forever and return to their homeland of Canaan, that is not what they told Pharaoh. In all Moses’s talks with Pharaoh never once did he mention that the Jewish people demanded to be free from their slavery and liberated from Egyptian bondage. According to what Moses told Pharaoh, all the Jewish people wanted was a three day break so that they could serve their G-d in the desert:  

Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, "So said the Lord God of Israel, 'Send out My people, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.'"

And Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the Lord, neither will I let Israel out."

And they said, "The God of the Hebrews has happened upon us. Now let us go on a three day journey in the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest He strike us with a plague or with the sword." (Exodus 5:1-3)

Granted, Moses did not say an explicit lie. He never said that the people would return to Egypt after the three day journey and festival to G-d. But why was he not  open and demand that it is the right of the Jewish people to be free for good? By the time the tenth plague came around Pharaoh’s resistance was completely broken. Being a first born himself, Pharaoh was frightened that he too would die in the plague of the first born, if, at that point, Moses would have asked that the Jewish people be completely freed, never to return to Egypt again, Pharaoh would have had no choice but to agree. Why then did the Jewish people  claim that they were only leaving for three days when in fact they intended to escape for good?

The Jewish people did not ask Pharaoh to free them, because, by definition, an oppressor can never free the oppressed. The oppressed must take the freedom for himself. If the slaves leave Egypt only because the Pharaoh allowed them to do so, then they are still subject to Pharaoh’s rule. The only change is that at first Pharaoh commanded them to be enslaved and noe Pharaoh commands them to leave. To be free, the oppressed must defy the oppressor. He must escape the oppression against the will of the oppressor.

The Exodus from Egypt is also a story of inner liberation. Before we can break free from Egypt we must break free from our internal constraints and limitations which hold us captive and prevent us from escaping the grip of our negative behavioral patterns.  

The Jewish people were not escaping from Pharaoh, mighty king of  Egypt. They were actually escaping from the negativity, from the constraints, within themselves. They were not fleeing from an  external Pharaoh but rather from the Pharaoh that was within themselves.

What does it mean to be internally free?

Some assume that in order to be free one must be liberated from negativity, tension, and struggle. They assume that to be emancipated is to live a life of internal tranquility, free of negative impulses. Thus, when they experience the pull of negativity they conclude that they are trapped by its seductive force, believing they have no choice but to succumb to their negative habits and desires. They long for liberation, but don't see a way to achieve it.

The story of the Exodus teaches us the road to true freedom. Freedom doesn't mean that there is no Pharaoh. Nor does freedom  mean that Pharaoh decides to release you. We cannot achieve freedom by waiting for the oppressor to leave us alone. We must take our own freedom by defying our oppressor and escaping. Freedom doesn't mean the cessation of temptation and negativity. Freedom is the ability to escape. Freedom is the recognition that despite the great force of Pharaoh, we can pick up and leave. That despite the raging temptation, we are free to “run away” and  take the right action despite internal struggle and hesitation.

When the Jewish people were commanded to offer the Passover sacrifice, celebrating the imminent liberation, while still in Egypt, the Torah provides precise instructions as to how the offering should be eaten:

And this is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste it is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord. (ibid 12:11)

We cannot wait until we desire to follow the right path with all our heart. We must be ready with our walking stick in hand, and we must proceed in haste. We must be prepared to escape the parts of ourselves that hold us back and take a step that will begin the journey to freedom. A journey that will ultimately lead to complete redemption, when there will be no need to escape the negativity inside of us in haste, for the negativity will be completely transformed to good. As the prophet Isaiah foretells of  a future when “not with haste shall you go forth and not in a flurry of flight shall you go”. (Isaiah 52:12).

(Adapted from Tanya Chapter 31)

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