By Rebbetzin Malkah
"I haven't ever really found a place that I call home,
I never stick around quite long enough to make it...
But if my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy
Well I deserve nothing more than I get
Because nothing I have is truly mine...
While my heart is a shield and I won't let it down
While I am so afraid to fail so I won't even try
Well how can I say I'm alive... " Dido from Life for Rent
These lyrics help bring out the mood of B'nei Yisrael. They are away from their homeland, lorded over by a merciless ruler who leaves them filled with hopelessness, have a raging lack of identity and motivation, and hardly the drive to believe in the promise given so long ago. As we embark on this week's parasha, we are greeted with the first word, va'eira. This word, meaning "I appeared," is a reminder to Moshe; Hashem appeared to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'acov as El Shaddai and remembers His covenant not only with them, but also with their children. In this new revelation that he gives to Moshe using the name Y-H-V-H, we encounter a new dimension about Hashem. The nature-defying retribution that is going to be played out through the plagues will not only be a further revelation of G-d, but a necessary act in the revival of the souls of the B'nei Yisrael. Not only will Hashem's intervention allow for B'nei Yisrael to claim their eternal inheritance and live with spirit and freedom, but it will be the motivating force for us today to examine our own lives and live more abundantly in Mashiach.
The Nature of the Soul
In the mystical text Sefer Yetzirah, we encounter the ten sefirot, or ten "lights" which are envisioned to comprise every human soul. These ten points of energy, reflected in the Divine, make up its inner personality. The premise is that the ten plagues that were ordered by Hashem and handed down to Mitzrayim were actually a mechanism not only to reveal the true nature of Hashem, but to also reverse the imbalance of the sefirot in the souls of Mitzrayim. Each individual in Egypt contained a spark of the Divine; however, due to the nature of Egyptian culture and Pharoah, the spark of the Divine was suffocated and morphed. The true nature and potential of the soul were obscured or mutated.
When Moshe arrived on the scene and spoke of redemption and of the G-d of Yisrael, the people were despondent and unable to perceive such a message. Insufficiency of spirit, according to Sforno, was the reason that the B'nei Yisrael did not give serious thought or consideration to Moshe's message. The hard work was considered a factor in their dearth.
"I shall take you to Me for a people and I shall be a d G-d unto you; and you shall know that I am Hashem your G-d, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt. I shall bring you to the land about which I raised My hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'acov; So Moses spoke accordingly to the Children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of shortness of breath and hard work." Shemot 6: 7-9
Haamek Davar speaks of the heritage given to Yisrael as more than an inheritance: it was an eternal possession despite never having seen it. So it remains that Jews in distant exiles have always yearned for Eretz Yisrael, whether they have seen it or not. Where did that love go for B'nei Yisrael? Had all the years of bondage removed their dreams, their hopes, their belief in a covenant promised to their forefathers?
R' Hirsch states that the listing of families in the middle of this parasha indicates that the leaders of the Jewish people Hashem has chosen have been people - not supernatural creatures. The potential for greatness lies within each one of us and the Divine guide can unlock that possibility within each one of us. The power for us to be freed from bondage and ascend to greatness for the sake of Heaven awaited B'nei Yisrael. However, due to their downtrodden state, measures needed to be implemented by Hashem, who revealed Himself anew, in order to shift the balance of power in a land which had grown too powerful and imbalanced.
"And Egypt shall know that I am Hashem." Shemot 7:5
Sforno poses that the first nine plagues were signs, not punishments, to prove that Hashem is G-d over all. This manifestation of power would not only prove His authority and Presence , but restore the balance of the souls: the souls of His people.
A Landlord Out of This World
As we remember, the plight of B'nei Yisrael was that they were in a land not their own. And because of this subjugation and harshness, they lost their desire to aspire after greater things. It says that Hashem saw and remembered His people. More fittingly, He sensed the disconnect in their souls. It was a beacon to respond before there was no pulse to be found. What would be required for such an exodus, however, would be a small act - a catalyst.
"And Moses and Aaron did as Hashem commanded them; so they did. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharoah."
Shemot 7:6 - 7
This idea, wide spread in Jewish thought, is that man must act in even a small way in order to open the gates for Hashem to respond from above. The Sages taught that Hashem says:
"Open to Me as the opening of the eye of a needle and I will open to you as the great entrance to the Temple hall" (Zohar 3:95a; Pesikta Rabati 15:6).
Hashem's first message to the Israelites was therefore that He would take them out of Egypt. This would be the most important for them since it was something that they considered impossible. And who but Moshe, not a young-fry, but an eighty year-old man would spearhead this mission! This model of obedience and perseverance speaks volumes to us when we feel inadequate or possibly not up to the task. All Hashem asked was that Moshe speak and carry out His commands. The rest would follow from his actions. The stakes were high as the Children of Yisrael waned and suffered in Egypt.
Hashem concluded by saying, "I will take you to Me for a nation, and I will be to you for a G-d. After you are free, you will come to Mount Sinai and receive the holy Torah. You will then realize why I took you out of Egypt and freed you from your harsh labor. The main reason for the redemption from Egypt will be for you to receive the Torah and become My nation." Me'am Loez
After hundreds of years in Egypt, many Israelites had likely accepted the idolatrous rites of Egypt as their religion. Although their physical condition was terrible, they possibly received some spiritual edification that might have made up for it. Losing that and their known life posed a threat - for what was in the unknown, whether good or bad, seemed worse for just that reason: it was unknown. This is possibly the reason for their halting responses toward Moshe when Pharoah adds to their labors after Pharoah's heart hardens. Their ability to believe in the promise and the dream was too far for them to grasp. Their spiritual lenses were clouded and their hearts were hardened as well. This lack of vision was robbing their collective memory of the covenant and their hope for the future.
We each have a negative inclination lingering within us. This thief constantly desires to take from us our inner goodness and spirituality. Yet many of us discover the motivation and the spiritual muscle to battle our thief only after he has fired all his bullets against us. Only after succumbing to unhealthy addictions and impulses which consume our lives, do we realize that they are deficient and void of life; thus we finally find the strength to suppress the thief and break out to take a more meaningful and wholesome path.
These ten characteristics, also known as the ten sefirot ("lights") in Jewish mystic thought, are found to have been corrupted in all of Mitzrayim. One meaning of the word Mitzrayim is ‘constraints.' This meaning paints a very grim picture of how the spirit of the land and the people of Mitzrayim led to the corruption of the sefirot and the consciousness of B'nei Yisrael. These manifestations of distortion actually were responsible for bringing down the plagues in all of their totality and, in effect, were the antidote to right the brokenness. Pharoah is a perfect illustration of how all of Mitzrayim and their sefirot were imbalanced. If one were to examine all ten sefirot - Malchut (kingship), Yesod (bonding), Hod (submission), Netzach (endurance), Tiferet (compassion), Gevurah (power), Chesed (kindness), Binah (knowledge), Chochmah (wisdom) and Keter (consciousness) - one would find that each plague addressed the behavior of Mitzrayim in their broken and distorted display of each light.
If we imagine for a moment that B'nei Yisrael is about to become a candidate for taking up the promise, then we would suppose that, in part, it is due to the fact that Hashem has paved the way for all ten of the sefirot to be expressed in harmony and splendor. The plagues, when they are finished, completely transform not only the religious standing of Pharoah himself, but also the spiritual nature of B'nei Yisrael and their ability to perceive the Divine. The sefirot go through a complete realignment in Hashem's people. Because of this, they not only recall the eternal covenant, they then buy into it and come out of their spiritual slumber. Hope is renewed and they are awakened to the journey that lies before their lives. Though they wrestle with it later in their journeys through the desert, they are at least in better straits to start the journey and be freed.
But what about the state of our lives today? How many of us are in a stupor that is either self-induced or society induced? Do we remember the hope and promises that await us if we seize the day? Just as all of Mitzrayim induced a despondent and apathetic condition upon our people, do the imbalances of the sefirot in ourselves and the people around us cause us to stagnate? Are we incapacitated because we are incapable of imagining a future beyond what exists today? And what is the remedy to zap us out of our ambivalence and confusion?
Each time we exhibit a behavior that is beyond the normal working parameters of a sefirah, then we experience distortion, dysfunction and chaos. Each and every personality is composed of sefirot that when harnessed properly produce a favorable outcome. However, when we choose to mutate a particular sefirah within ourselves, we experience abnormalities in relationships and a general decline in our fruitfulness.
When we fail to exert a sense of authority and purpose (Malchut) over our lives, then we remain a slave to our circumstances. When we lack the ability to maintain healthy and connected relationships (Yesod), then we are victims of fractured or defective associations with those around us. Perhaps we find ourselves struggling with status in the workplace or our personal lives at home (Hod). Do we endure through life's challenges or fall down and play dead (Netzach)? Do we enable people around us to a dangerous excess or placate them with half truths (Tiferet)? Do we strong-arm those we deal with in order to achieve our own means without regard for their needs (Gevurah)? Possibly we lack the ability to show true kindness and slather on the sweet talk just to have our way (Chesed). Are our skills and talents used wisely, or are they perhaps buried in the earth (Binah)? When we have inspiration, do we share it and spread it or do we use it only for ourselves to further our own causes (Chochmah)? And finally, when presented with our own consciousness, do we seek for a meaningful transmission of heritage and values to those around us or do we get lost in our neighborhood melting pots (Keter)?
Learn to Buy
No matter what the circumstances, there is a mechanism which can impel us out of our current state to a higher place. Just as Hashem sent the plagues in response to the litany of sefirot out of balance, so too can we rectify our current situations by applying the proper forces to correct our own sefirot out of balance. Only by recognizing that which is imbalanced can we begin the process correcting ourselves. Through the inspiration of Mashiach Yeshua, we remember we have something to own. We have a purpose. But it can only be achieved through action, motivation, and positive behaviors. It is only then that we will learn to inherit that which Hashem has promised to us and reaffirmed passionately through our Mashiach.
Just as B'nei Yisrael was forced to leave their slave mentality and conditions, we need to cease being renters. We need to own something - we need to learn to "buy." We must stop looking out the window and dreaming of how life can be different. By shutting out the thieves and distorters in our lives, we can open the door and walk freely into our own potential. No more are our lives for rent - they have been given, they are ours, and we are commanded to choose life.