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Straight Out of Egypt

03/30/2023 08:30:18 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman -Weiss

Why do I get stuck? Why am I mired in frustration, or regret, or the stories about me that I imagine other people believe?  Why is it that after 53 years, with more than 20 as a Rabbi, more than 25 as a parent, and close to 30 as a husband, can I so easily get lost in self-doubt, critical of the whole of me, when I receive feedback that isn’t what I want to believe about myself? The ease with which I can tell myself stories to “make it okay,” in order to set myself upon the very long road back to self-forgiveness–this is the topography of my psychological enslavement in the land of Egypt – my own personal Mitzrayim (Egypt).  

On Passover, we are invited, each one of us, to see ourselves as if we came forth out of the land of Egypt. Not because we need to pretend to have done so, but because we have…if we have ever experienced any kind of escape from a narrow place.  Because none of us gets to be truly free if we haven’t ever experienced and succumbed to the slavish thoughts of “not good enough-ness” and survived.  Passover is filled with invitations to explore our own “private Egypts.”  It's an invitation to me and it's an invitation to you, to ponder, “Where is my Egypt today? What keeps me there?  And what does it take to escape?”

If you’re curious about the meaning of the theme of our recent retreat, “Exiting the Straits,” this is it: The Exodus isn’t actually about the Israelites, any more than it's about you and me– unless it really is about you and me, and then, yes, the Israelites do matter.  The stories of the Torah, our traditions, and rituals, are not so much about our ethnic or religious ties to an ancient near eastern people.  They are not about maintaining the traditions of Kashrut or Shabbat or Torah Study lishma (for its own sake)-- those are just the artifice of it all. They are the delivery mechanism for things far deeper and far grander: God is not made happy by Israel “performing” Shabbat; God is made happy when people make a Shabbat mindset a regular part of their life at least 1/7 of the time. A Shabbat mindset is one that frees us of our need to control, to be at greater ease with the vicissitudes of life, and to slow our reactivity in the face of uncertainty and worse.  Anxiety isn’t a modern creation: I imagine it started the first time a Neanderthal had to think twice about the safety of his child stepping outside the cave, or maybe when God threw us out of the Garden of Eden because we were never going to be able to stay there AND grow into becoming God’s partners. Perhaps in this moment, and in every moment since, God has needed Shabbat too, to remind God to step away, at least once every seven days. 

Passover is just around the corner.  And the spiritual chametz* that has built up since last year is getting thick. You are in Egypt, as am I, much more often than we’d like to admit.  Mitzrayim is the space of the narrows, where we need to practice a far greater expansiveness than usually seems to be at hand.  And yes, we will do another retreat (as I am sure you are thinking to yourself, “Darn, I wish I had gone”).  In the meantime, pay attention! Pay attention so you know when you’re stuck, so you can ask yourself the toughest questions of all about the belief or beliefs which are holding you back: “Is this true?” and “Can I really know this is true?” And then, with kindness, gentleness, and patience, let yourSELF answer.  Don’t chase the question into a hiding place; answer it and sit in response. Only then will you have a better handle on the truth; will the Promised Land be at hand; and will Egypt, at long last, be in the rearview mirror (even if only temporarily). 

*Chametz = the food we are not to eat during Passover.

Sun, September 24 2023 9 Tishrei 5784