Parashat Shemot

Our Spiritual Exile in Egypt

Where do we meet this week’s Torah portion in our lives?  In our soul.  Rebbe Natan of Breslov says: “all of the exiles are called the exile of Egypt, and the main exile is the exile of the soul.”  The exile of the soul.  A concept that once we come to recognize it for the first time, we begin to believe that there is also redemption.

slavery in egypt

Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 16th of Tevet, 5776


It is explained in the Chassidic writings that for all of the events which happened in the Torah, there is a parallel experience in our soul.  Everything that happened in the Torah- beginning from the creation of the world from the chaos and darkness that preceded it, continuing with the birth of the generations from Adam, the events and journeys in the desert, and concluding with the receiving of the Torah and the entry to the Land of Israel- all of these events happen to every Jew inside his soul.

So too the descent to the Egyptian exile.

“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Yosef…The Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel with crushing harshness.  They embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and with bricks, and with every labor of the field…” (Exodus, Chapter 1, Verses 8-14)  Here begins 210 years of enslavement and harsh labor, decrees and suffering; here the exile begins.

Hey!?  What does this have to do with us?  We are, thank God, in the Land of Israel and not in Egypt.  Pharaoh died a long time ago, and Pitom and Ramses we know of from the Pyramids, not from the slavery…

Correct.  The current Egypt is not the Egypt of the Torah, it is the exile of the soul, because “all of the exiles are called the exile of Egypt, and the main exile is the exile of the soul.” (Rebbe Natan of Breslov)

In order to understand what the exile of the soul is, we need to first understand what is exile?  Exile refers to a person who is not in his place.  He is far from his home, from his land, from his natural place, and not by choice.  This is really the definition of the exile of the soul- you are not in your natural place.  You are not where you need to be.  You are not where you want to be.  Distant.  A captive in a foreign land.

Of course, you can live in a furnished and designed beautiful apartment, with a large salary, a wife and children and all of the pleasures of the land of Egypt.  However, is your soul in its place?  Do you find yourself, inside, where you want to be, where it is fitting for you to be?

In truth, our place needs to be filled with love and light and connection and faith and happiness and excitement and honor and unity.  That is our true place!

Where do we find ourselves?  In loneliness, separation, disconnection, emptiness, depression, fear, lack of trust, lack of meaning, in pain…

Why?  How did this happen to us?  How did we lose our place?  How was love exchanged with alienation, connection with loneliness and trust with suspicion?  How where we exiled so much from our good, true, natural place?

Everything began when we were children.  We were born as children who loved and felt connected and gave 100 percent of our faith and we had will with nothing blocking it… then Pharaoh came, by each and every one of us he dressed up as a different figure, but for everyone he bothered us, he moved us from our original place, threw us into Egypt, enslaved us, and thus, in the end, we lost our true selves.  We learned to lie in order to find favor.  We learned to please so that we wouldn’t be hit.  We learned to stop wanting- because there was no chance that we would succeed.  We learned not to love- because what is love anyways!?  We learned to make ourselves small- so that others would not do it for us with more harshness… we withered, disappeared, constricted our abilities to zero, and forgot what we want.  In place of the true self who got lost, our external self developed, who represents our exile.  Despite the fact that he is called myself, he is a meager self; he is not really me.

This is our exile.  The exile of a person from himself.  The exile of the soul.

However, we have not been decreed to be slaves forever.  The same means which opened the way for the redemption of the Jewish people- with those means each and every Jew, not only can he, rather he is commanded to redeem himself from his own personal Egyptian exile.  To break through all of the barriers and to be free.

The first key is identifying the exile.  Someone who does not identify that he is in Egypt will never leave there.  To identify that the place which I find myself is not my true place, I’m just stuck there.  These clothes that I’m wearing are not me, they are just prisoner’s clothes which Pharaoh put me in in his great cruelty.  To identify that I’m faking it, I live a lie, I’m trying to please, I’m disguised like some kind of monster, I’m not myself!  Why is this the first key?  Because “when a person knows in his heart that he has sickness in his soul, after he has this knowledge he can sweeten the situation by way of this knowledge, and that is his healing.  What is not the case when he is in hiding… that he doesn’t know he is spiritually sick, then there is no healing for his blow” (The Baal Shem Tov, Keter Shem Tov, paragraph 25)

The second key is: “and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out.  Their outcry because of the work went up to God.” (Exodus, Chapter 2, Verse 23)  After you have identified that you are in exile- cry out to God, request, plead: “Master of the world, see what I’m going through.  Suddenly it’s become clear to me that I’m not at all in my place.  I thought that this was my home.  I thought that this was who I am.  Suddenly I reveal that I’m in Egypt, and this image in the mirror is a lowly reflection of who I buried when I was a child.  Hashem, I don’t know who I truly am.  I don’t know how to leave Egypt.  I don’t know.  But I know that I can’t do it by myself.  There is a scary Pharaoh.  There is noise and subjugators and blows.  Please, Creator of the world, take me out of here!  I don’t want to remain in this place!  I want to return to my original and natural place.  I want to return to the love and happiness, to the innocence and trust.  Save me!  Abba!  I want to be redeemed!!”  When a person cries from the depths of his heart, he also answered: “for if he shall cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his outcry.” (Exodus, Chapter 22, Verse 22)

The third key is Moshe.  Also after the Jewish people recognized that they were in Egypt and also after they screamed out to Hashem- they could not take themselves out of Egypt.  They needed Moshe Rabbeinu[1], who would be the mediator between them and Pharaoh, who would bring them the word of Hashem, who would lead them, guide them, and pave the way for them to escape the exile… like then also today, and always.  In order to leave your exile, you have to walk in the footsteps of the Tsaddik, the healer of the souls, fulfill his advice, believe in him, to lean upon him, to let him show you the way out from your personal Egyptian exile, to be redeemed, and to begin your journey to the land of Israel!

[1] Our teacher

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