Parshat Shemot: Real freedom as true redemption

“And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.” (Exodus 1:7)

In the second book of the Torah we see the children of Israel turning into a populous nation, we may say with the highest number it ever had in our history. Our oral tradition says that previous to the Exodus from Egypt the Jewish population was over 20 million, and that 80% of them perished during the plague of darkness. Their increased growth was an omen of the greatness that awaited them in their future, in spite of the also increased oppression.

“But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they [Pharaoh and the Egyptians] were afraid because of the children of Israel. (…) And they made their lives bitter with hard labor, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of labor in the field; in all their labor, wherein they made them work with harshness.” (1:12, 14)

This situation invites us to see it as paradoxical, if not incredible. Oppression as the pressure to destroy can’t produce an opposite outcome, for destruction is its goal. Hence, instead of a paradox we must see it as a miracle, for it goes against the natural human reaction before imminent death. The children of Israel surely knew this, and also expected another miracle to be saved from their suffering under Egyptian oppression.

Let’s compare this situation to our present-day reality. Under slavery in Egypt the children of Israel were exceedingly (disproportionate) multiplied. Now living under the slavery of ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions the Jewish people, more so in the State of Israel, exceed disproportionately (multiply) in the scientific, medical and technological fields. In Egypt was about multiplying Jewish lives, now it is about saving them to make them longer and better.

The more anti-Semitism (oppression) we see in the world, the more prosperous the Jewish people become, still we don’t see our final redemption as close as in Egypt. Speaking of redemption in our times, we also have to cry out loud to God’s love to free our consciousness from the oppression of futility, vanity, consumer society, light culture, useless accumulation of material goods, out of the self-centeredness of ego’s fantasies and illusions.

Hence we cry out laud to love’s ways and attributes to bring our hearts and minds to being and doing goodness as the threshold of our real freedom. In Egypt we were turning ourselves into bricks and stones, and now we become heart hardened and indifferent as stones, and indolent and uncaring as bricks.

Our crying out must be against living under the negative traits and trends of selfishness such as haughtiness, anger, lust, envy, coveting, indifference and indolence, which represent the seven Canaanite nations we have not been able to remove from our consciousness. Thus God’s love will hear our hearts, for we are calling Him to bring us to the goodness of life as the land He promised to our forefathers.

“And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them.” (2:25)

As we take the steps to return to love’s ways and attributes as our essence and true identity, and also as our common bond with God’s love, He will bring His final redemption to us. Our sages teach us that Pharaoh is the epitome of ego out of control, from which we know is not easy to walk away. The same thing goes with attachments, addictions and obsessions, triggered by the mirages of ego’s fantasies and illusions, out of unfounded beliefs and feelings of lack.

“And I know that the king of Egypt will not give you leave to go, except by a mighty hand. And I will put forth My hand, and smite Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in their midst. And after that he will let you go.” (3:19-20)

Thus we have to embrace goodness as the cause and effect of life, as the origin and purpose of life, for goodness is God’s mighty hand with which we are redeemed from the evil ways and trends we submit our consciousness. Goodness is the way to smite and subjugate ego’s powerful driving force into the positive ways, means and qualities derived from love as our primordial common bond with our Creator.

“And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said: ‘Lord, from where have You dealt ill with this people? Why have You sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt ill with this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all’.” (5:22-23)

As we have mentioned often in our commentaries on the weekly portions of the Torah, Moses represents our highest knowledge of God’s ways and attributes. Moses personifies our best judgment to approach life in the material world, for he pursues only goodness for all facets and expressions of life.

This utmost awareness of goodness is not as powerful as we can expect to subdue ego’s negative traits and trends, for it needs the transforming redeeming power of love, which is the kind of love that will reign in human consciousness in the Messianic era. This particular kind of love is the one that our Creator will reveal as we begin to embrace goodness as the prelude to our final redemption.

“And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for by a strong hand shall he let them go, and by a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land’.” (6:1)

God’s strong hand was so for our time in Egypt, and it is also so for this transitional stage when we cry out laud to Him for our complete redemption from materialistic fantasies and illusions. These are relentless in their constant fight to keep us in the darkness of a meaningless life, away from the total freedom of love’s ways.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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