Mitzrayim in Hebrew means “narrow.” We think of narrowness as a purely negative trait. Yet there are times when tighter is better: when we are held, for example. “Snug” is another word for narrow — because sometimes to be confined is to feel safe and to be released is to feel scared.
The Israelites as they left the desert were scared. They were dizzy with freedom. Why did they build the golden calf? Because as slaves they were used to being told what to do and having an authoritative voice above them giving them direction. They craved narrowness.
“Escape from Freedom,” as psychologist Erich Fromm wrote so powerfully, is a human impulse. One 19th-century rabbi said that when the Torah reads that God liberated us with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” that the hand was to take us out and the arm was to keep us from going back! Yes, the Jews wanted to return to Egypt. It was slavery, but it was safe.
We are about to be liberated from confinement in a very different sense. We too have to relearn to use it wisely, to be judicious and careful and kind.
From the narrowness of our homes to the wideness of the world — the journey is a slightly scary one, but also beautiful and full of promise.