Chaya Rivka Zwolinski
Joy is essential to your spiritual journey.

Passover: Leaving Our Exile

Pyramids in Egypt (Pixaby)

Imagine the scene. You’re leaving the Egyptian exile, which is all you’ve known your entire life. You’re leaving behind your home, most of your possessions, a familiar culture and landscape. It’s true, you are taking some of Egypt’s wealth with you—after all, you were told to do so by your Rebbi, Moshe. But you’re headed towards a desert while leaving behind the source of Egypt’s great agricultural wealth, the longest river in Africa, some say the world – the Nile. You are also leaving behind denial, the unconscious refusal to acknowledge the degree to which something – in this case the spiritual effect of exile – is negatively affecting your life.

The main opponent of this denial in our generation is Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. He opens our eyes to the tricks of the sitra achra, the side opposite goodness, and shows us that the power to choose is ours – if we believe in ourselves.

Rebbe Nachman says: If you want you do. (And if you don’t want, you don’t do.) But first you have to be aware something is wrong. In the current exile, as in all exiles, Godliness is often concealed from us. But this time around, we are experiencing hastara shebetoch hastara, a concealment within a concealment. Because of the negative pressures of this exile, so many people have stopped even looking.

Rebbe Nachman teaches us that when we make a choice that moves us away from the Divine Light, we create a concealment, a veil between us and God. The more we repeat this choice, the thicker the veil grows. What does this veil consist of? In our inner, psychospiritual world, this veil is the fermenting of our mind, the souring of our thoughts and feelings. In the coarse material world, this veil expresses as chametz, leaven, which is forbidden on Passover.

It’s hard work removing chametz from our homes and hard work removing the chametz in our minds and hearts. It’s as if we’ve created a different reality for ourselves, so much so that we believe in the veil more than in the truth it conceals. That’s why we need Pesach.

Even when spiritual truth is occluded, we are still able to still grasp that where we’re holding is not where we yearn to be. With a bit of ratzon, will, we can strive to come out of that dark place and lift back the veil.

But the society of the current exile tells us again and again that seeing is believing… that we need biologists to tell us that God created Adam and Eve…that good is bad and bad is good, so we choose the veil again and again. We end up falling into “the concealment within the concealment”. The veil itself is now veiled.

At this point the Torah of Light and Connection is so hidden from us that we are no longer able to see the difference between dark and light, broken and whole. Our vision is dimmed (if you’re sensitive, you may feel like you’re tied in a psycho-spiritual straitjacket). Bitter, numb, lacking hope, addicted, too. Nevertheless, says the Rebbe, “there is no such thing as despair.”

In Lesson 56 of Likutey Moharan Rebbe Nachman teaches: “Even when a person has fallen into the concealment within the concealment, there too, God’s vitality exists, but is cloaked. For without His vitality, absolutely nothing in the world can exist. Even the deepest forces of impurity…the concealment within the concealment—also receive their vitality from God.”

This is why we search for chametz. Chametz is not merely a symbol, it is a material expression of a spiritual reality. We clean out the cabinets and corners in our kitchens and our minds. We access those forgotten about, hidden places and remove the chametz. The fermented thoughts. The sour denial. Anger. Jealousy. Doubt. The sophisticated ideologies that drown us in secret despair. If you come to understand that there is no place where God is not, if you believe this – it becomes possible to seek and find Him wherever you are.

Clearing out the dark places requires light. What is the light? It’s simcha, joy. What is joy, really? The Rebbe explains, in Lesson 30 of Likutey Moharan, that the joy we experience on a chag gives us a share of Hashem’s Light. This Light shines into our soul and mind and it shines into our heart, giving us new life, helping us see that after all, Hashem is here, too. He’s so close to me and He really isn’t hidden at all. The simcha of a Yom Tov is in fact is unlike any other joy – it’s made up of all the mitzvot we’ve done throughout the year.  This joy is absolutely without measure or limit, because the joy we feel is only dependent on our own hearts.

Nachman has the same gematria as Pesach, 148, a hint that Rebbe Nachman’s teachings are uniquely qualified to teach us how to actualize Pesach, which is very much about leaving exile. And Pesach expresses, according to the Arizal, Peh Sach, a mouth that speaks. Speech is intricately and uniquely important to the process of this Yom Tov. Pesach takes place in the month of Nissan, and speech is the ruling attribute of Nissan. This month calls us to pay attention to what we’re saying (and listening too). When we rectify our speech, we leave an important aspect of exile, and when we engage in enlightened speech, we’re able to reach our goal on Seder night: Maggid of the Haggadah, the telling of story of the Exodus, telling it not merely as history, but because it’s our own personal story. We are able to speak our truth.

The exile that was Mitzrayim, Egypt, is related in Hebrew to the term for the narrowness of the throat, Meitzar Hagaron – think tzar, suffering combined with a groan. Speech is choked there, only groans and moans can squeak out. Our sages say that in Egypt, speech was in exile. That’s the speech of Pharaoh, who we’re running from. In Hebrew, Pharaoh, PaRoH, has the letters Peh, Reish, and Ayin of ORePh, which is the scruff or nape of the neck, a place where it is impossible for speech to come from. A PaRoH has a Peh Ra, a bad mouth. Those that have a Peh Ra today such as the media, politicians and philosophers, advertisers and advisors, spew lies and spread corruption and immorality. But a Jew on Passover rejects this speech. The Arizal tells us that Pesach is Peh Sach, a mouth that speaks – true speech. It’s not easy to live with Peh Sach in this world, but Hashem doesn’t give us something we can’t do. (If you want, you do.)

We have to believe in our personal power to truly actualize Pesach, to speak holy, uplifting, and kind words. On Pesach we have the opportunity to use speech to its full potential. This affects us all year long, actually. In lesson 66 of Likutey Moharan Rebbe Nachman teaches that our inability to take right action in life is due to stopped-up speech. Opposite this is speech in which we are able to articulate our positive desires as well as our spiritual regrets and yearnings through the process of hitbodedut. Hitbodedut, like all authentic prayer, is perfected speech. It’s when we talk to Hashem about whatever is on our minds and in our hearts. It’s when we articulate our positive desires, such as the desire to come closer to Hashem, to experience a joyous Pesach, to heal our relationships — even our desire to get every scrap of chametz out of our homes. When we do this, we are bringing our nascent desires from when they were glimmers of thought into the realm where action becomes possible, and this is essential to their realization.

The Talmud Sotah 11b, tells us that in the merit of righteous women the Jewish people merited to be taken out from Egypt. As women, we have a special gift. We know that speech is very powerful — it can harm or heal, separate or unite. Our chametz — our verbalized fermented thoughts (impatient, anxious thoughts; angry, jealous or depressed thoughts, and so on)— is the speech we regret. Now, while we are preparing for Pesach, we have our biggest test: Can we get through the admittedly intense preparations and remain positive? Can we remain calm? When the yetzer hara strikes, are we able to use words of kindness, light and joy?

Are we bearing a burden? At first glance it seems so. Certainly, no non-Jew cleans and inspects every crevice of their home the way a Jew does before Passover. Everything is turned inside out and upside down, regular mealtimes are forgotten, we still have to go to work, take care of families, shop, and, in the US at least, file our taxes, which are always due around Pesach time (as if we don’t have enough to do.) What’s going on here? When we’re in turmoil as we’re preparing to leave our personal constricted mindset, our Mitzrayim, the chametz of our thoughts and our cabinets, we are given a rare, but powerful opportunity to rectify our speech.

Instead of saying something is negative, say “It’s good because it’s a test.” Thank Hashem for the setbacks as these are truly made-to-order for personal growth. Say out loud, to whomever is around to listen, how happy and grateful you are when even just a handful of your articulated plans for Pesach prep are actualized. And say how it is also good when they are not.

Speech doesn’t just end after we put away the Haggadot. Starting from the second night of Pesach we count, out loud, the Omer every day until Shavuot. Each day for 49 days is another opportunity to recognize and rectify another aspect of our speech and our lives, starting with Chesed shebe Chesed, lovingkindness within lovingkindness. Again, no accident that we begin another spiritual ascent, counting down towards Shavuot and the receiving of the Torah with speech, and with loving kindness squared.

Rebbe Nachman tells us that Nissan is a month like Tishrei, a month of teshuvah, when we return to God and to our true, spiritual nature. But in Tishrei we make teshuvah with yirah-awe and fear. In Nissan we make teshuvah b’ahava, with love. In Nissan we speak and our hearts feel Hashem’s response.

On the last day of Pesach, Breslovers have a custom called The Baal Shem Tov’s seudah. It is an additional meal. During this last, special meal we tell the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s travels to Israel (spoiler alert: he didn’t make it all the way, but his great grandson, Rebbe Nachman, did). In one section of this captivating tale is a powerful reminder of the role of rectified speech in our lives, as the Baal Shem Tov and his fellow travelers (his daughter, Udel and his student Reb Hirsch) encounter cannibals on an island in the Black Sea:

“[After several ordeals, the Baal Shem Tov, his daughter Udel, and his Chassid Reb Hirsch made for the next island they sighted from the ship] and anchored offshore in order to set their feet on dry land again for a little while. The passengers disembarked and began to stroll along the shore and among the verdant trees, to recover from their distress.

The Baal Shem Tov and his companions walked until they found a nice shady spot to rest. However, they soon discovered that they had company. Out of the forest emerged a group of cannibals brandishing knives and spears. In a few moments, the cannibals had tied up the threesome and cast them on the ground.

Reb Hirsch, quaking in terror, asked the Baal Shem Tov, “Rebbe, please do something and save us from these savages!”

However, the Baal Shem Tov was silent.

“Why don’t you answer me?” Reb Hirsch exclaimed.

“Because right now, I don’t know anything!” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “Do you know anything?”

“Nothing at all,” Reb Hirsch stammered. “Just the alef-beis…”

The cannibals surrounded them, grinning malevolently. In a moment they would start getting ready for dinner…

“If you know the alef-beis, say it!”

Reb Hirsch began: “Alef!” And the Baal Shem Tov answered, “Alef!”



As they said the names of the holy letters, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly regained his supernatural powers. In the distance, a bell began ringing, the sound coming closer and closer. Alarmed, the cannibals hastily fled. Soon a carriage came into view, and the people inside [some say they were angels] freed the prisoners.” (Excerpted from

If you want to regain your spiritual powers, emulate those holy travelers: go back to basics, remember the power in the Alef Bet, the power of truthful simplicity—what is simpler than the Alef Bet or a prayer from the heart?

The goal for now is to reach Maggid on the night of the Seder—the telling of our story of exile and redemption, when Hashem took us – you and me – out of the Egyptian exile, and, in fact, all the exiles of all our lifetimes; and prayer is that He take us out of this exile with the coming of the Mashiach and a final redemption, may we merit to experience it in speedily in this one.

About the Author
Chaya Rivka Zwolinski, author of May You Have a Day: Making Every Day Better with the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Mashiach: Hope for Turbulent Times, and other books, is the leading teacher of Breslov joy and inspiration for women in North America today. She also speaks to and coaches students on six continents. Join her for her workshops, tours, live and Zoom classes, free daily WhatsApp mini-lessons and more. Visit her at and find more connections and peace in your relationships with God, other people, and yourself.
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