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BO: Our Egypt

Submitted by on January 6, 2016 – 6:27 pmNo Comment | 3,168 views


Have you ever felt pinned down, restrained and unable to rise? You struggle and writhe, but can’t wriggle free. I don’t mean physically. I mean spiritually. You want to trust that everything will be better, that you are in good hands with G-d, but you can’t rise above your fears, your problems, and your worries. One moment you believe you will be okay and the next, you panic. This is our Egypt.

Belief is so much easier than trust. You can believe in G-d and that everything that He does is for the best. But trusting in G-d to come through for you is a different kettle of fish. You believe it, but try as you might, it’s hard to trust it. How can you, when your future is on the line?

So you stop and meditate on the fact that the whole world sits in G-d’s lap and that if you must be somewhere, where better than in G-d’s embrace? G-d is the creator and everything depends on Him. Nothing can happen without His consent so if salvation is to come, it’s His decision and only His. You now feel like you can let go, and rest your head in His lap. But just as content settles in, just when you start letting go, just when you begin to surrender, along comes a pang of panic and jolts you out of your reprieve.

In The Sea

This inability to rest easy, in the bubble of G-d’s love, in the crooning cocoon of His care, is our Egypt. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim and if you break down that word you get the two words metzer yam loosely translated as restricting the sea. Like the surface of the earth, the sea teems with life. The difference between life on earth and life in the sea is subtle, yet critical. Life in the sea can’t survive for two minutes without the sea. Life on earth can survive for hours without the earth.

Being in the sea is a metaphor for a state of being. This is the state of keen awareness that existence and all therein is entirely contingent on G-d. We can’t breathe without G-d, who created our lungs and fills them with oxygen. We can’t stand without G-d, who pumps our heart, circulates our blood and delivers oxygen to our muscles and cells. The sun doesn’t rise and the moon doesn’t shine, the river won’t flow and the tree won’t grow, without G-d. Without G-d, we and everything around us is nothing.

To enter the sea, is to experience the fish. Just as the fish is intimately aware of its dependence on the sea for life itself so are we acutely aware of our dependence on G-d for our very existence.

Think of the Hebrew word yam, comprised of the letter Yud and the final Mem. The final mem is a closed box. Yam implies that the yud, the symbol of G-d, is locked inside the mem and does not escape.[1] This is a state in which we remain fixed in the mindset of dependence and attachment to G-d. Metzer Yam, restricting the sea, is the wrestling match, the struggle. The effort to rise, but the inevitable fall that follows. Meitzar Yam impedes our access. Even when we do access it, we soon fall back.


And you saw our ancestors suffer in Metzar Yam and their cries you heard at the sea of reeds. And you inflicted signs and wonders upon Pharaoh and all his slaves and his entire nation.”[2] G-d saw that we suffer, when our access to the “sea” is restricted. We don’t like it. We’d much rather enjoy unfettered access to the Divine state of mind. We prefer serenity of trust to struggles of doubt. We want to believe, even if it’s hard.

Suffering in Hebrew is Ani, a word that also means poverty. Thus one can translate the verse as “you saw our ancestors’ poverty at the restriction of the sea.” Our sages taught, “The daughters of Israel are beautiful, but poverty wears them down.”[3] Jewish mystics understood this proverb in a metaphoric sense. As a spiritual poverty. A lack of faith and inspiration. As our sages said, “it is revealed and known before you that we would rather do your bidding, but who prevents us? The yeast in the dough.”[4] The poverty of spirit is the selfish urge, the yeast that sours and inflates our dough, that G-d implanted in us.

The Wrestling Match

A Jew without these urges would be holy, believing and spiritual. G-d diluted our holiness by inflicting us with the terrible scourge of ego, jealousy, lust, insecurity; the entire spectrum of human emotions.[5] The question is this: Will these emotions control us or will we control them? Who is in the driver’s seat? Do we drive them forward or do they drive us backward?

Pharaoh is etymologically linked with oreph, Hebrew for the nape at the rear of the head. When you turn your back on someone, you have shown him your oreph. G-d gave us the gamut of human emotions. Are we driving them toward G-d or are they turning us from G-d, forcing us to show G-d our oreph? If we are turning away from G-d, we are in “Pharaoh” mode rather than “sea” mode.[6]

So you see, Pharaoh and the sea are diametric opposites, locked in perpetual battle. The prize – that’s you and me. Under ordinary circumstances we have freewill and control our own destiny by exercising choice. But sometimes we are confronted by challenges that defy us. Try as we might, we can’t relax and simply trust in G-d. Our hearts fill with foreboding and our minds with concern. Against our will, we find ourselves inexorably drawn from G-d. Turned toward the oreph. From the sea to the Pharaoh.

Do we enjoy this sensation? Absolutely not. It is not where a Jew wants to be. A Jew, even if he has sinned, he remains a Jew. The innate will of the Jew is to fulfill G-d’s will. [7] It is a foreign implant within us that has grown beyond our control that propels us to a Pharaoh that we don’t want to meet.

The Rescue

Along comes G-d and rescues us. He stands at the sea shore, where Pharaoh impedes our access, and inflicts signs and wonders upon Pharaoh and his slaves because He knows that that they have willfully abused us. They have toyed with us and confused us. A soul that wants to melt in the ecstasy of the Divine, has turned from G-d because of the undue influence of the wicked urge.

When we feel we have reached our limit and cannot prevail, it is appropriate to ask G-d for salvation. Though G-d gave us free will, He stands by the impoverished, to save their souls from constriction.[8] When we ask, G-d answers. We have our own Egypt. And just like G-d took our ancestors out of their Egypt, so too if we ask, if we pray sincerely and contritely, G-d will give us the moral, spiritual strength to prevail over our Pharaoh and leave our Egypt behind.

[1] Sefer Mamarim 5716 19 Kislev, 5677 p. 48 and 5672 p 268. See Siddur Im Dach 295a for a different approach.

[2] Nechemia, 9:10.

[3] Mishnah, Nedarim 9:10.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Brachos 17a. See Likutei Sichos v. 3 p 957. See also, Eruvin 41b.

[5] See Nechemia 9:9. G-d granted Abrham the seven Cananite nations, symbolic of the seven wicked emotions (Heicholtzu 5659). And it is in this context, that Jews suffer as they descend to Egyppt.

[6] Likutei Torah Arizal, beginning of Parshas Vayeshev.

[7] Sanhedrin 44:1. Referring to Joshua 7:11. See also Rambam Hilchos Gerushin, 2:20 and Yevamos 106a.

[8] Tanya ch. 13.