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The Meaning of Freedom in the Passover Story
by Ariel Bar Tzadok
Copyright © 2015 by Ariel Bar Tzadok. All rights reserved.
The Biblical story of the Exodus is the foundational story of human freedom from bondage, and oppression. Freedom is Biblically portrayed in overtly political and social terms, the nation of Israel was freed from its oppressive bondage to the nation of Egypt. If all there is to this story is a history lesson, then it would be well worth leaving it in the past, mentioned only in history books, like all other major ancient events.
A story of the past belongs in the past. Yet, the Bible is very clear in that it wants this story to be remembered, and even to be mentioned daily. Why is there such emphasis of importance on a long ago ancient event with no present day relevant significance? After all, what form of human bondage, and oppression face us today from which we seek our own freedom?
In viewing the Exodus in only a historical light, one fails to focus on its true essence. The true message of the Exodus is not one of political freedom, a message related to past history. Rather, the message is a psychological one, and is thus a message of perennial value, for all peoples, everywhere, for all times.
We fail to properly focus on the greatest enslaver of our individual persons. This slaver is not a government, a society, or a culture. We are not held bound today in chains, with whips. Today, as in the past, our bondage is a state of mind. Essentially, it is our minds that are held imprisoned. It is our minds that need to be freed from the modern day Egypts of modern day ignorance.
Ignorance is the great enslaver. Ignorance imprisons the mind, forcing the mind to serve the forces of darkness, fear, emotional imbalance, and lack of mental clarity. Remembering the Exodus today, therefore, is transformed into a modern exercise of transformational psychology, wherein which each individual can symbolically redeem oneself from one's own personal, internal, psychological Egypt. Once one recognizes that one no longer needs to be a slave to dark, inner forces that haunt one's own mind, one can then begin one's own march to the psychological promised land, where one can be psychologically free.
The path towards psychological freedom, mirroring the ancient historical event, makes its first stop at Mt. Sinai. In ancient times, the Israelites stopped at Sinai to there receive God's law for creating the proper society. In psychological terms, as we walk our own path towards inner freedom, and enlightenment, we too make a stop at our inner Mt. Sinai to there receive our own internalized message from our higher, yet unrealized potential Self, that both inspires us, and motivates us to continue along the road to enlightenment.
The Exodus from Egypt is transformed from an ancient historical event into a perennial psychological quest. This quest has taken on many different forms, and symbols over the many centuries of the story being told. Within the Passover Seder, observed by members of the Jewish faith, as their physical fulfillment of remembering the Exodus, one of the Sages is quoted as saying that one who does not see oneself as if he or she is personally redeemed from Egypt has not fulfilled one's obligations in the telling of the Passover story. The only way that one can see oneself as being personally redeemed is by looking at the story in is perennial psychological form, as opposed to looking at it as an isolated, ancient historical event.
One of the more profound examples of this is to be found in the Kabbalistic meditations of the Ari'zal school that have been associated with the ritual observances of the traditional Passover Seder.
The Kabbalistic meditations revolve around the focusing of the mental powers of intellect (the sefirat Binah, also called the sefirotic face, Imma, mother), and intuition (the sefirat Hokhma, also called the sefirotic face, Abba, father). Specifically during the Seder rituals of drinking the four cups of wine (juice), and the eating of the matzah, the meditator contemplates the movement of spiritual energy represented by these two faculties of the human mind. These sefirotic forces are contemplated growing, and maturing as a result of God's mighty Hand bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.
There is unfortunately much confusion, misunderstanding, and even misinterpretation of this meditative process by those who interpret it to be something quite literal, and having a relationship, and an effect only upon other dimensional planes of being, outside the human mind. In reality, the Passover meditations are psychological in dynamic, and are designed to get the meditator to focus on what the real message of freedom is all about. Freedom is about the coherent, rational, and clear awareness of one's internal mind being free from outside oppressive, and dominating forces.
The slavery in Egypt served as an archetype of the human mind imprisoned in its own jail of emotional imbalances, and mental confusion. The Exodus serves as the archetype of full psychological emancipation, which is defined by the Kabbalists as being the harmonious integration, and balance between the academic/intellectual, and intuitive/emotional parts of the human mind. Only when each individual is freed from one's internal slave masters, and self-made demons, is one said to be truly free. The Kabbalists understood this profound psychological lesson, and incorporated it directly into the meditations of the Passover Seder, in that form which is unique to Kabbalistic language.
The Bible commands that the Exodus from Egypt be remembered throughout all generations. The Passover Seder is a ritual way in which this Biblical commandment is fulfilled literally. Yet, it took the words of the Talmudic Sage, and the later Kabbalah to open up the actual meaning of the story, and lay it out for all to see. God's interest in us remembering the Exodus is not historical, it is psychological. God did not redeem Israel from Egypt merely for historical reasons. God redeemed Israel so that the episode, and its perennial remembrance would serve as the psychological model that we now know that it is. From the beginning, God's intent was not limited to the historical concerns of only Israel, God's greater concern was for the psychological well being of all humanity.
In this light, Passover, and the Passover story is translated from being merely a Jewish holiday, with only ethnic interest, into a universal metaphor and archetype, with message and meaning for everyone. Essentially, Passover is a ritual form for a universal message. While the ritual form is exclusively Jewish, the universal message is for everyone, everywhere. Human psychological freedom, and internal emancipation from oppressive external forces is the duty, and mission of each and every human soul.
By approaching life with clear, rational thought, we gaze upon all things, without fear, or other emotional turmoil. At the same time, we recognize that deep within the mind there is an unconscious place that senses more, and knows more than the conscious rational mind alone. We do not allow this to frighten us, or disturb our equilibrium. On the contrary, through meditation, and self introspection, we endeavor to delve into the murky waters of the unconscious, to extract from it pearls of wisdom, from that place where God Himself spoke, our personal internal Mt. Sinai.
Overcoming internal fears, confronting our own prejudices, seeking to understand ourselves, and why we are the way we are, enables us to discover, and expose the greatest mystery of all times. This internal march to the psychological promised land leads one to discover one's own truth about oneself, and one's own essential identity. The inner quest brings one to discover one's true inner Self. It is the discovery of this inner Self that is the great step that one takes towards that next step, which is to discover God within.
God's Presence imbues all life. This is a lovely theological statement that few people ever realize the full extent of its meaning. This full extent is both an academic concept, and a psychological reality. It is only when the powers of personal intuition (the sefirat Hokhma in Kabbalah speak), is activated, and combined with intellect (the sefirat Binah in Kabbalah speak), that one comes to that revelation of mind that unites the inner senses with the outer senses. The physical world around us becomes transformed when we look upon it with eyes that equally see our individual internal realities. We begin to sense God's Presence in all, and we develop the inner awareness of the movement of His invisible Hand in our lives.
When we see God in all, then we recognize the value of all that which God has made. This includes the value of life itself, be it in every human being, or be it in every other form of life. This lesson of the respect for all life is even echoed in the Passover story. The Exodus story mentions how God saved Israel from Pharaoh's pursuing army by drowning them all under the crushing waters of the sea. The Bible relates that upon seeing this miraculous salvation Israel broke out into spontaneous song. The Midrash states that upon seeing Israel below singing God's praises, that the angels in Heaven also began to sing. Yet, God hushed the angels, silencing their song. Sadly, God said to the angels, how can they sing praises to God over the death of the Egyptians, were they too not also God's children?
The value of life, and the mutual respect for all human beings echoes from the Passover story, transcending the limits of the historical events of the time. Realizing this, and living it, is what the Passover, and the Exodus is all about. Those performing the ritual should keep in mind the real purpose of what it is that they are doing. Everyone else should keep in mind, and in the heart, the true message of human freedom and dignity, and live it to the fullest.
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