Pinny Arnon

The Secret of Exile, and the Essence of Passover

Photo by Pinny Arnon

Passover is nearly upon us. The Season of our liberation has arrived. Yet as we gather at the seder to celebrate freedom and salvation, we cannot ignore the challenges that face Israel, the Jewish people, and all people at this tenuous moment in time. We must wonder why God allows conflict in His world. If He is indeed in control of His creation, then why does He conceal Himself and allow His children to clash and stumble?

In the context of the Passover narrative that we relate and re-experience at the seder, we are forced to ask why God subjected us to the slavery of Egypt if He wanted us to be free? And if He wants us to be free now, then why does He allow us to continue to languish in the darkness of exile? To answer these questions, we must explore God’s primordial motives and modus for the creation of the universe.

The Sages teach that God created darkness and concealed Himself in order to allow for the possibility of otherness. The very creation of the world was the establishment of “meitzarim/limitations,” because without limitations, there would be only God’s oneness, and nothing else could exist. In His desire for beings who He could give to and nurture, God therefore hid His infinity and constructed a realm of apparent limits. These confines were created in love, so that we seemingly individual and independent creatures could come to be. We lost sight, however, of the fact that the boundaries erected around us were only a framework for our existence. We forgot that there was a source and force of our being that was not truly constrained by the limitations, and that these limits were created only to allow us to perceive ourselves as distinct. We thus became lost and captive within the construct that was made to serve and support us. We became attached to the world and mired in it, forgetting that we were the very reason for its origin. This is what it means to be enslaved.

As time wore on, we became ever more blind to the nature of our ultimate reality. From the realm of “meitzarim/limitations” into which we were born, we eventually descended to the land of “Mitzrayim/Egypt,” a state of complete unconsciousness and bondage. It is one thing to be a soul that is housed in, and therefore constrained by, a body. It is quite another thing to identify completely with the body and forget that we are the soul that resides within it. At this point, we have become enmeshed, entranced, and enslaved by the material world. We believe in our powerlessness and in the ability of a mortal ruler like Pharaoh to control us. We have ceased to believe in our ability to be free. In such a circumstance of utter degradation and myopia, God determines that it is now time to rescue us and to take us out of Egypt in order to remind us of who and what we ultimately are.

He does so by breaking the system, so to speak. The Hebrew word for Passover is “פֶּסַח/Pesach,” which literally means “to skip” or “leap over.” In the Passover story, the “pshat,” or simple significance, of this term is that the angel of death “skipped over” the houses of the Israelites during the tenth plague, and he killed the first born only in the homes that did not have blood painted on the doorpost. Yet on a more mystical level, what was “leapt over” on this date were the boundaries of the orderly, limited conduct of the world. As the Chassidic Masters teach, this world is ordinarily governed by “Memale Kol Almin” (literally translated as “filling all worlds”), an aspect of God’s energy that is contracted to the extent that it is able to “fit” into the confines of the material world. This flow creates borders and systems. It crystalizes and vitalizes the creation without overpowering it. Yet at the time of the Exodus, God decided that the structure of the universe needed to be ruptured temporarily in order to remind His creations that they were not truly bound within it. He therefore “leapt over” the habitual and “natural” conduct of the creation by infusing a higher level flow, which is referred to as “Sovev Kol Almin.” This Godly energy, which literally means “surrounds all worlds,” is too powerful to be contained by the narrow framework of the creation, and therefore hovers, so to speak, above and around it. By directing this inordinate light into the world, God breaks the “meitzarim/limitations” of “Mitzrayim/Egypt” and allows the erstwhile slaves to leap over the constraints that have imprisoned them.

This then, is what occurred in the spiritual realms on Passover. On the first day of the holiday, which fell on the fifteenth of the month of Nissan, God overloaded the system, so to speak, with the infusion of an energy that it could not contain and incorporate. This resulted in a breach in the walls of reality that enabled the enslaved people to break free from their powerful captors. Yet this was not the end of the process. The infusion of “Sovev Kol Almin” enabled the people to leave “Mitzrayim/Egypt,” but it did not destroy “Mitzrayim” or the “metizarim/limitations” that it represents. Pharaoh and his forces soon pursued the nation into the desert. Though the people had left Egypt, Egypt still existed within them, so to speak, and therefore would follow them wherever they went.

As the mystics point out, there is slavery to an external master, and then there is an internal slavery whereby one may be physically free but remains psychically and spiritually bound. Such is the situation of most of us today. Though we are controlled by no whip-wielding taskmaster, we are shackled by the limits that we place on ourselves and the restrictions that we believe about our existence. It is as if Pharaoh and his army chase and threaten us even though we are ostensibly free. In order to be liberated from this type of servitude, it is not enough to leave Egypt, but the Egypt within us must be destroyed. This is accomplished by the splitting of the sea, through which “Or Ein Sof/infinite light,” an even greater efflux of Godly light than “Sovev Kol Almin,” is admitted into the world when the screen that divides between the realms of finitude and infinity is torn open. Such a profusion of God’s infinite light flooded into the world at that moment that the forces of “Mitzrayim/meitzarim” were overwhelmed and eliminated.

This, however, was not a permanent change to the creation. Soon after the sea split, its waters crashed down and once again covered the seabed. The boundary was sealed as it had previously been, and the “natural” conduct of the universe resumed. God’s intention was not to obliterate the finite world that He had established, but only to rupture its boundaries temporarily in order to provide His creations a glimpse of their transcendent essence and potential. For those precious moments that the veil was opened, the people were able to apprehend the “pnimyus/inwardness” of all things – they could see the spark of God that dwells in their core and the core of all of reality. With this vision and insight, the worldly forces that had dominated and crushed them instantly melted away. Afterwards, having armed His children with this new understanding of their sublime nature, God drew the veil over His face once again and restored the finite dynamics of the universe so that His relationship with His creation could continue.

While the extreme darkness and captivity of “Mitzrayim/Egypt” had been destroyed, the regular “meitzarim/limitations” of the world would persist. Throughout history from then on, the concealing nature of this world would cause us to forget that the limitations are created for our benefit so that we can exist. We would lose sight and awareness of the spark of God within our core. Therefore, we would speak of the Exodus daily in order to remind ourselves of our liberty. And each year on the anniversary of these events, we would once again be granted the ability to re-experience them on the spiritual plane, and thereby to maintain or connection to our ultimate divine reality.

— Excerpted from PNEI HASHEM, an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.