Lazer Gurkow
Lazer Gurkow

Between the Gates

As the Jacob and his family entered the gates of Egypt, Yocheved, the mother of Moses, was born between the gates. The Torah tells us that seventy Jews traveled to Egypt. Yet, if you count the names of all the people listed in Jacob’s party, you find sixty-nine. Our sages explained that the number seventy includes Yocheved who was born between the gates.

There were several gates around Egypt. As Yocheved’s mother passed through the first gate, before she got to the second gate, she gave birth to this special girl. Yocheved was not listed in the traveling party because she was still a fetus while her mother was on the road. She was born inside Egypt’s outer gate and was part of the party that entered Egypt’s inner gate.

Jewish mystics taught that this odd birth timing, which must have been extremely uncomfortable for her mother, was fortuitous. Moses needed to be born in Egypt to take the Jews out of Egypt. But he also needed to have antecedents outside of Egypt because, as our sages often said, “prisoners can’t release themselves.” Thus, Moses, Israel’s redeemer, needed roots outside of the great prison called Egypt, to free the Jews from Egypt.

Therefore, Moses was raised by a mother who had one foot in Egypt and another foot in Israel. She was conceived in Israel and born in Egypt. As such, she lived in Egypt but was never fully captive in Egypt. Moses was raised by someone who did not belong to Egypt. She had Israeli roots, Jewish roots, freedom roots. Thus, he was able to redeem the Jews from Egypt.

Between the Gates
Moses could have received his antecedents even if his mother were born in Egypt proper. Why did she have to be born between the gates, a place that was surely not conducive to birth?

Allow me to suggest that Yocheved was never really a captive precisely because she was born between the gates, Egypt had two gates. The outer gate was the gateway to freedom, the inner gate was the gateway to Egypt. The space between the gates is no man’s land. It isn’t Egypt, proper but it isn’t quite outside either. (Hence Yocheved’s designation as born in Egypt).

To me, this zone between the gates represents the realm of free choice. The Egyptians can beat me and strike me, but they can’t take my freedom. They can’t make me become them. I was not born in Egypt proper. They have no hold over me. I was born between the gates. In a place where I can choose my direction. I can pass through the inner gate and become one of them or I can pass through the outer gate and be different from them. I have free choice and I am not giving it up.

Being born between the gates, empowered Yocheved to feel free. To not cower in fear. To not allow the power of Egypt to invade her mind, her psyche, her sense of self. When Moses saw his mother face down the Egyptians and their way of life, valiantly and without cowardice, he knew that he could do the same. The day would come when Moses would stand before Pharaoh without fear. It is perhaps his mother’s between-the-gates-personality that gave Moses the sense, that he too was immune to Pharaoh and his clutches.

Are You Between the Gates?
I believe this concept has relevance for all time. Life is filled with behavior and attitude traps that we can fall into or avoid. Once we fall into them it is hard to extricate ourselves. Until, that is, we remember that we don’t belong to the trap. We have a choice. We are between the gates.

There are many kinds of traps. For example, the tempter trap. Some of us know that we are quick to anger and no matter how hard we try to avoid it, we react when we are triggered. We want to be more patient, but we feel trapped.

Some of us are manipulative. Every time we see a weakness in another, we exploit it. We use it to get ahead. We use it to tease others and put them down. We throw them off their equilibrium to give ourselves an unfair advantage. We can’t stand it. We want to change. But we feel trapped.

Some of us know that we are stern and demanding with our family and even our friends. We know that our demeanor comes across as overbearing and we shut people down rather than hear them out. We want to change, but we feel trapped.

Some of us have addictions that we would love to leave behind. It might be tobacco, overeating, unhealthy use of the computer or smartphone, and many others. We know that these addictions are hurting us, but we don’t know what to do. We feel trapped.

There are many such examples in life where we feel unable to maneuver. It is as if the internal and external pressures of life have conspired to imprison us in the grip of what feels like an iron fist. But the truth is that we are not creatures of the trap. We belong between the gates. The inner gate represents unhealthy behavior, the outer gate represents healthy behavior. We can choose, at any time, to step in or out. The choice is ours.

That we are creatures from between the gates empowers us to say no. To stop the slide into negative behavior, make amends, and establish a strategic plan for returning to healthy positive behavior. It is a matter of choice. When we think about this choice it can seem overwhelming. But if we break it down into short intervals, it becomes manageable.

I might not be able to change my negative pattern for the rest of my life, but I can change it for five minutes. And if I can do it for five minutes, I can possibly do it for five more minutes. But we won’t discuss the next five minutes until we have completed the first five minutes. This is how we can slowly build up resistance to the inner gate and reclaim our space between the gates.

Moses Was Born in Egypt
It is true that once we are on the inside, we feel as if we forfeited our position between the gates. However, remember that Yocheved gave birth to a redeemer while she was in Egypt. She was in Egypt, but she wasn’t trapped. She retained her ‘between the gates’ status and freedom.

You are Yocheved. In the past, you were between the gates. Now, you are in an Egypt of your own making. But even in your Egypt, you can return to your roots between the gates and give birth to your own redemption. Remember who you are and where you come from. Buy into your true self, your authentic identity. Ask G-d for assistance and step out of your trap.

You are not trapped. You are between the gates.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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