In the beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshat Ve’era, Hashem instructs Moshe to relay the following message to Am Yisrael:
ולָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֘ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָה֒ וְהֽוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֨חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵֽעֲבֹֽדָתָ֑ם וְגָֽאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים
Therefore, say to the children of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will take you out from under the suffering of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their labor, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.
It is in these words that the Ribbono Shel Olam lays the foundation for the path from exile to redemption, from slavery to freedom. Hashem promises to take out Am Yisrael from their סֵבֶל, their suffering under Egyptian rule.
In Hebrew the word סֵבֶל does not only mean suffering, it also means tolerating. An example of this is found in the common saying “אני יכול לסבול את זה” – “I can handle it this” – I can tolerate it. The dual meaning of the word סֵבֶל sheds insight into the psychology of suffering. As long as a person can tolerate something, no matter how painful it is, they won’t ask for it to stop. A person who believes they have the capacity to handle whatever difficult or painful situation they are in will find themselves stuck there, they are not able to move beyond it. In a sense, it is a paradox, because it means that a person’s threshold for their pain is also what is preventing them from moving beyond it!
So how does one move beyond their suffering and enter the process of Geulah?
The key to this is found in the language of redemption used by the Torah. We are all familiar with this language from the Pesach Seder, where we detail these four levels of redemption.
והוצאתי – I shall take you out,
והצלתי – I shall rescue you,
וגאלתי – I shall redeem you,
ולקחתי – I shall take you.
If we look at the first level of redemption, G-d says: והוצאתי – I will take you out, but what is G-d taking us out of? Is it just our physical suffering, relocating us out of Egypt into the desert, or is it something deeper? What is the first step necessary for the process of redemption to begin?
Both the Ger and Ishbitz Chassidic dynasties address this question at great length. They explain that although Hashem has the power to take us out of a million Egypts, as long as we are willing to tolerate suffering, we will never truly be free.
The first step of redemption is an internal shift, it is when we come to the conclusion that we are not willing to tolerate being in exile anymore.
We’re not willing to tolerate being disconnected from our Neshamos.
We are not willing to simply go through the motions.
We are done with that.
We want more.
Once we stop tolerating our exile, we are ready to begin being free. The possibilities are open to us, and with an outstretched arm, Hashem can take us exactly where we need to be, not just our bodies, but our hearts and minds too.
May we all be privileged to reach the point that we no longer tolerate any trace of Egypt that remains in our lives and have the courage to take the first true steps towards freedom.