Passover is a little while away, and yet the lessons from enslavement and eventual Exodus are so clear and so relevant to what is going on for me right now. I was reminded of several of these lessons thanks to my Tanya study. And it all starts with the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim.
Mitzrayim also means limitation and constriction, and is often referred to as the neck. According to Chabad.org it means “narrow passage,” and so “the Chassidic masters explain the spiritual significance of Amalek: “Amalek” is the enemy that attacks the soul where it is most vulnerable, in the “narrow passage of the neck.”
According to this same article:
“Amalek does not attack the head—the head knows the truth and is impervious to Amalek’s falsity. Amalek does not attack the body—a body that is joined to its head and follows its lead can resist Amalek’s corrupting influence. Instead, Amalek attacks the neck: the juncture itself, the connection of the head’s knowledge to the body’s wiles and needs. It blocks the “narrow passage of the neck,” thereby subverting the soul’s “objectivity”–its ability to stand outside of itself to apprehend transcendent truths, so that it can then impart them to the subjective self—and recasting it as an Amalekite indifference.”
This was a revelation for me when I first heard it a while ago. When we think about the three garments of the soul, we realize that thought, speech and deed/action all require the neck to flow through. Think about all that passes from the head to the heart, and from the heart to the head. Signals need to move from the head into the hands and body in order to move and take action. If things get blocked at the neck we are trapped… words certainly can get trapped there.
Have you ever heard anyone say the words were stuck in my throat… or that they felt emotions stuck in there? The literal and physical, and the metaphorical tied together is a fascinating notion. And yet that is all over Torah, Torah stories, and our very history. The Alter Rebbe says that in every event in Jewish history there is a spiritual aspect and process that is “reflected in its physical counterpart.” To continue with the notion of Egypt is the obvious idea of enslavement. Just as we were literally and physically trapped in Egypt, so too were our good deeds, good notions and our mitzvahs. Just as we may be literally trapped now, enslaved in depression, drinking, or abusing drugs, so are we separated from our G-dly soul.
In Chapter 31 of the Tanya we learn:
“This form of divine service — in which the divine soul breaks free of its exile within the body, while the body and animal soul remain in their lowly state — is analogous to the Exodus from Egypt, of which it is written that “the people escaped.”
“The corporeal enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt reflected the enslavement of their souls by the kelipah of Egyptian impurity. Their Exodus from Egypt likewise represented a spiritual liberation from this kelipah. Since the spiritual Exodus was an act of escape — i.e., their soul broke away and “escaped” from the impurity of Egypt, while the body and animal soul were still in exile within the kelipah — therefore the physical Exodus likewise assumed the manner of an escape.”
Going back to the beginning… of this post literally, and of the beginning of Tanya we are taught this powerful and important lesson: “The Hebrew word for Egypt — Mitzrayim — can also mean a “limitation.” Our Yetzer Hora often tells us that we can’t do a certain mitzvah. Going out of Egypt in the spiritual sense, means breaking away from our own biggest enemy — our Yetzer Hora.”
We were slaves for so long because we were afraid to leave. Having a slave mentality means you are comfortable in your own imprisonment and because it is easier to stick with the pain you know. The fear of the unknown can be greater and even scarier, and so it keeps us trapped where we are. This is the case when we let the Yetzer Hora and the sitra achra (“the other side”) rule us, when we choose the animal soul over the G-dly soul.
The answer is clear… yell at the “other side,” the animal soul… fight it… bound yourself to Hashem with Tefillin, an irony not lost on me, where we are literally tying ourselves to something, which on the surface could look like constriction, but instead is the true way to freedom, where we balance the head and the heart and bring them together in service to G-d.
Let is do mitzvahs, study and pray… and let us escape… Escape from the natural soul and the natural world, to the G-dly soul and the world of holiness. And just know, that sometimes in order to escape we just need to run or take that plunge to freedom. Think about that this Passover.