By Rabbi Ora Weiss
The glorious energy of the month of Nissan is a breath of fresh air, a time of birth, of new starts, a spring-time for the spirit and soul. The invitation of this month, which begins this year on March 26 of the Gregorian calendar, has been called “the first of months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2). Ramban, the medieval scholar and kabbalist, explains that although Nissan is not the beginning of the year (which is in Tishrei), we are alerted that there is a primacy of this month. Just as we count the days of the week with respect to Shabbat, we are to count, order and orient our year around Nissan. The reason? It was during this month that the Israelites made their exodus from Egypt, which journey embodies and symbolizes the energy of redemption.1 We are on notice: redemption is the prime directive for our lives.
Redemption is the ultimate freedom. It is a process, a difficult process, one that most of us have yet to understand, let alone achieve. It is an internal state of being. We can access this state, even as we may feel trapped by voluntary or involuntary quarantine at this time. As so wisely observed by Antoine de St. Exupery 2 “I know but one freedom, and that is the freedom of the mind.” We see in our exodus story that even with the divine energies and Moshe urging the peoples to leave Egypt/Mitzraim (the place of constriction), some did not leave. We had, and always have, choice as to our internal state of mind, state of being. We have guidance, and help, but it is up to us.
The challenging process of attaining ultimate freedom can be broken into four steps. These steps were enumerated, according to Torah, by God explaining to Moshe what was to happen in the exodus: v’hotzeiti (I will bring you forth from Mitzraim); v’hitzalti (I will rescue you from slavery); v’ga’alti (I will redeem you); and v’lakakhti, v’yad’atem (I will take you to me, and you will know) (Exodus 6:6-6:7). Let’s review these steps, which I will translate into the language of the people’s internal states.
V’hotzeiti: I will bring you forth from Mitzrayim – from the place of constriction. This is the very first, basic step to freedom: recognizing one is not free, that there is some aspect of enslavement – and a desire for release, even if there is no conception of what that might mean. Harriet Tubman, a slave in the United States who fought to help others escape through the Underground Railway, said “I helped hundreds to escape. I could have helped hundreds more, if only they had known they were slaves.” There are ways in which we are not free and not aware, or only dimly aware, and not courageous enough to face our lack of freedom. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before a crying out comes, almost unbidden, from the depths of our souls. We awaken to a shrieking from our divine aspect: there is something gravely wrong, your soul is endangered. And so the Israelites after many years of enslavement, cried out, a wordless cry that reached the highest places (Exodus 2:23-2:24).
V’hitzalti: I will rescue you from your enslavement. This is a process of releasing ourselves from our attachments that keep us from even seeing that we are constricted, and then from taking steps to win more freedom. The attachments are cemented in our being starting from birth, through teachings of our society, our tribe, our family. Often, the attachments are to ways of existence that are the very ground of our being, things that we take so much for granted that we don’t even see them, even when we are put to a question. It is like asking the goldfish in the bowl, how is the water today? and she responds with confusion, what water?
And so we have the teaching of Abraham, being told Lekh Lekha, go on an internal journey, walk away from your land, from your birth place, from your father’s house (Genesis 12:1). In order to find himself, to learn to listen to and be guided by the God-self within, Abraham first had to have some clarity. For this, Abraham had to distance from all of the distorted teachings of his youth, to be able to see that what he had been taught was not the greater truth.
We, too, need a distance in order to learn to trust when we hear that inner voice, guiding us. We must stop ignoring the counsel from our God-self, despite our culture, our tribe, our parents telling us that it is fantasy, or even arrogance, to think we are being counselled. We must have the courage to detach from the things that have supported us, in order to have a more powerful, truer support. Oh, this is so hard.
V’ga’alti: And I will redeem you. Redemption, at last, is to be free to be fully who you are. To do the work, the tafkid, that only you can do. And, most critically, to recognize that you are indeed part human, part divine. That you have been running the show from the human part alone, to your detriment. That your God-self, or Source-self, has been waiting and longing to be your partner, to counsel and guide you if you would only loosen the reins. That if only you would allow the wisdom and guidance to flow, constantly connecting with that divine part of you, there would be such an expansion of your capabilities and wisdom. If only.
This is the teaching of God/Source, explaining to Moshe why Moshe would succeed in persuading Pharoah, and the Israelite slaves to rebel and leave: “I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that I sent you” (Exodus 3:12). That is, Source is telling Moshe that Source is inside, guiding and directing. You will not see me, but you will feel and hear me inside, I (as always) will be with you. But Moshe continued to resist, saying I am not a man of words, my speech is slow. And God responds that “I will be with you as you speak, and direct you in what you say” (Exodus 14:10-14:12). That is, if you allow my presence to operate within you, you will be fine. As it turned out, Moshe still refused to allow his higher self, and so at first his brother did the talking to Pharoah. But Moshe’s God-self wins out in the end as Moshe learns to allow his God-self to partner. Then, seamlessly and without further ado, Moshe speaks, at great length and with great results, first to Pharoah, and for another 40 years to the Israelites.
Moshe’s struggle demonstrates how very difficult it is to allow our God-self to work with us, how much we resist giving up the things that we “know”, and resist letting go of having our intellect control our lives. After all, no one will understand, or believe us. Maybe we should just ignore that voice urging us on. Of what consequence is that voice – I still feel alone. Yes, all of this. This freedom is hard-won.
V’Lakakhti li l’am: I will take myself to be one with the people. I am one with each of you. We are one. V’yadata and you will know the I AM, the Source within you. The final freedom is to know at your core who you are, that your direct access to Source/God is within. This is the realization that each of us can tap into the power that is greater than we knew, for wisdom, for strength, for counsel. That each day, each task/tafkid, will be richer, deeper, more accurate if we are constantly checking in with our God-self, if we allow the flow of divinity to help us in all moments. If we allow the balance of human-self and divine-self in our lives.
This freedom is a crossing of the bridge that has separated us from our divine aspect. We are to finally heal the split between our human part and our divine part. This is God telling the Israelite people, at the end of their 40 year journey toward freedom “You have seen all of the signs and wonders [of the exodus] but until this day you have not had a heart-mind to understand, eyes to see, ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:1 – 29:3). In other words, we have to be ready, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, to take in this final freedom. It is a long and arduous process, symbolized in the Torah story by a 40 year journey.
I believe that as a people, and indeed as a species, we are on the cusp of readiness to take on the responsibility required to know and operate as full human/divine beings. To have wisdom and abilities beyond what the human aspect alone can offer. To be at all times in a place of great love, and to act at all times from a place of great love.
Are you in?
Rabbi Ora Weiss is a member of the Hazon Rabbinical Council.
1 Ramban, commentary on Exodus 12:2.
2 Better known for authoring “The Little Prince”