Passover and Leaving Egypt
By Menachem Levisohn
Passover, the time of liberation, did not just happen some 3500 years ago; it is supposed to happen every day. Each particular Jewish holiday is not merely a commemoration of an event that happened many many years ago that affected our national Jewish character and because of this G-d has commanded us to recall it. Unfortunately, that is the common understanding of a Jewish holiday, but if that is all it means to you, then you have been cheated in your celebration of the holiday. Each special holiday is really the time of the renewal of that special G-dly divine influx that gave the singular character of each particular holiday.
Each holiday has its special "theme". Shavuot is the time of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Succoth is the time that we sit in the Succoth. Purim and Chanukah also have their very special motif or theme.
What sets Passover apart from each holiday is that it is the time of leaving Egypt! More so, it is the celebration of our liberation and freedom from slavery. Well you might very well say, "I have known that for years!" True, but the deeper meaning is that it is with us in each generation at this special time. It is just that deep meaning that we must first explore and then utilize for our every day life experiences.
Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzriyim. The two Hebrew words Mitzriyim and Matzarim are spelled exactly the same in Hebrew but have different meanings. Although the letters are the same, the difference in pronunciation is due to the vowel changes. This gives each word a different meaning. Since each word in Hebrew which uses the same letters has a definite relation to the another, by understanding the word Matzarim, we can understand the essence of Mitzriyim, Egypt.
Matzarim means narrow straits and constrictive situations. Matzarim are those difficulties in life that cause us hardships and sorrow, pain and stress. Therefore it is logical to understand that Mitzriyim, Egypt, is representative of a state of hardship, pain, sorrow and distress. This was obviously what we felt as we struggled with those demanding and demeaning aspects of slave life. Egypt was not just a country but a mental set of constriction; it was a condition that precluded clear thinking and reflection. It was a state of constant stress and pain.
Leaving Egypt, Mitzriyim, meant not just becoming a free man who is able to determine his own future; it meant leaving those negative aspects which sucked the life from man, stress and sorrow, pain and constriction. Our leaving Egypt meant leaving those aspects of life that force a person into a un-natural state, a state of inability to perform those functions which are an essential external manifestation of his spiritual goal on this earth.
Each person, from the noblest to the lowest, has been put on this earth to perform a G-d decreed task. Inside his soul knows that he must seek and be "himself" to perform and perfect his personal spiritual task. When he is in a state which prevents him from acting on his divine mission, he is in a state of constriction and subsequently internally limited. It is only when the individual man is performing his proper divine task in this world that he feels contented with his lot. When he is prevented from this, he will be unhappy.
Leaving Egypt, leaving Mitzriyim, means leaving the state of constrictiveness. It means being free to be the person that G-d divinely created. It means being the real you.
The real message of Passover is not just that our ancestors left Egypt 3500 years ago, but rather it is possible for us to leave our personal Egypt, our personal Mitzriyim. We must leave our personal Matzarim which are those aspects of restraint which oppresses the fruitful revelation of our soul.
This process is comprised by two stages. Stage one is the knowledge that we are not yet utilizing our G-d given talents and our being held back by the externalities of life. To be free men means we must free ourselves from these negative elements which hold us back from utilizing our particular and special G-d given talents in His service. Stage one requires that we must rid ourselves of those constraining elements in our lives.
Stage two is the wisdom to realize that we can not possibly absolutely leave those negative restrictive elements that constrain our personal expression unless G-d will help us. Only through studying G-d's Torah, His book of instructions on how to live, can we begin to separate ourselves from these constraints which are imposed upon us in our every day life, whether it is from earning a living or merely the unconscious assimilation of the void and false cultural values of the society in which we have been placed. We must begin to study Torah to reach a true depth of meaning. That is why the holiday of Shavuot follows the holiday of Passover; it shows us that becoming free men is dependent on knowing what freedom is, and that can only be known from Torah learning.
So now as we begin the Passover season, the time of our liberation, we must focus on liberating ourselves from those forces with bind us. We must seek to escape from the false group and cultural values that are in opposition to and constrict our true being. We can achieve it, if we ask G-d to help us.
from the April Passover 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine