Thoughts adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbes teachings
Defining Psychological Freedom
By Yosef Y. Jacobson
The Torah introduces the final phase of the Exodus: When Pharaoh sent the people, G-d did not lead them along the Philistine highway [along the Mediterranean coast], although it is the shorter route
G-d made the people take a roundabout path by way of the desert to the Red Sea.
Then, in a fateful turn of events: It was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled. And the heart of Pharaoh and his servants turned against the people, and they said: 'What have we done, to release Israel from serving us?'
The Torah states that Pharaoh sent the people. Not only did Pharaoh consent to allow their departure; he actually insisted and pleaded that they leave. As it is written:
Pharaoh rose at midnight
He called Moses and Aaron and said, 'Rise! Go out from my people -you and the Israelites! Go! Worship G-d as you demanded! Take your sheep and cattle, just as you said! Go and bless me too!' The Egyptians also urged the people to hurry and leave.
The Hebrews did not escape in an underground way or exit via a backdoor. Pharaoh officially sent them off.
Yet, only several verses later, the text reads: It was told to the king of Egypt that the people fled.
How could Pharaoh think they were fleeing, when he himself begged them to go?
Three-day retreat vs. Total liberation
As usual, the Torah text itself hints at the answer to this question. Pharaoh chooses his words carefully when urging Moses to leave: Rise! Go out from among my people -you and the Israelites! Go! Worship G-d just as you demanded! Note the words: Just as you demanded. Pharaoh allowed the Hebrews to leave by the conditions that Moses set.
Throughout their encounters, Moses never asked Pharaoh to fully liberate the Hebrews, only to allow them three days off. The first time Moses visits Pharaoh, he asks:
Allow us a three day journey into the desert so we can celebrate to our G-d.
As the drama unfolds after the fourth of ten devastating plagues that befell Egypt, Pharaoh summons Moses and declares: Go! You have permission to sacrifice to your G-d here in the land. To which Moses replies: We must make a 3 day journey into the desert where we will make offerings to our G-d as He will tell us.
All this leads us to an intriguing conclusion: Moses and Aaron never demanded complete liberation. They only asked for a three-day religious retreat, following which they would return to slavery in Egypt!
Clearly, when Pharaoh finally consents to their release, saying, Rise! Go out from among my people - you and the Israelites! Go! Worship G-d as you asked! the king consents to Moses' demand for a three-day holiday in the desert. Not a day more. Pharaoh was under the impression that they were leaving Egypt for only three days.
Now we can make sense of the strange shift in the story. When three days passed and the Hebrews didnt return, Pharaoh suddenly realized that they had fled Egypt, contrary to Moses' assertion that they would be gone for only three days.
Why the deception?
This raises a disturbing question. Why was Moses deceivingly ambiguous? At the onset, when he was first approaching Pharaoh, we can appreciate a strategy of demanding a small gesture to win Pharaoh's approval. But after ten crushing plagues, when Pharaoh rose in middle of the night begging Moses to leave, Moses could have certainly told Pharaoh the truth that the Jews had no plan of returning to his country, where children were drowned and men were tortured by slave-labor!
At this stage, after the death of every Egyptian firstborn, and fearing his own death, Pharaoh was subdued (if he hadn't been, he would have refused even a three-day departure, as until this point). It is clear that Pharaoh, at this stage, would have agreed to any demand. Why did Moses feel compelled to manipulate his mind?
Clearly, Moses felt that it was necessary that the Jewish departure from Egyptian exile occur without Egyptian approval. If Pharaoh would agree - under pressure - to full Hebrew liberation, the mission would be incomplete. Pharaoh needed to be deceived and betrayed. Why?
The Egyptian exile and exodus, like all Torah stories, is more than just a historic tale about physical bondage that transpired 3,300 years ago. It is also a psychological and spiritual drama about the inner dynamics of slavery and freedom, serving as a metaphor for the timeless quest for emancipation.
The Hebrew term for Egypt, Mitzrayim, means straits and constraints, the forces that obstruct and impede a person from becoming who he/she really is. Every one of us professes our own inner Mitzrayim, those voices or powers that prevent us from a truly meaningful life.
It may be anxiety, fear, addiction, arrogance, loneliness, despair, insecurity, laziness, dishonesty or envy. It may stem from negative experiences such as a dysfunctional family, broken relationships, health problems, mental challenges, financial defeat, or, G-d forbid, loss of loved ones.
These challenges cause a state of psychological exile, in which we remain stuck in the quagmire of torment, paralysis and hopelessness, never discovering our inner calling and potential.
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, symbolizes the king of obstructions - that inner voice or power ensuring that we do not leave our inner Egyptian exile; that we continue in our enslavement patterns, habits, inclinations and behaviors.
In contrast, the story of the Exodus embodies the human potential to liberate itself from physical, mental and spiritual slavery. It captures our power to transcend the barriers that obstruct the heart's inner glow; our ability to encounter a beacon of freedom beneath the stratums of the psyche; the courage to discover our inner power and dignity.
The Great Mistake
Here is the big question: How much inner harmony must we achieve to obtain psychological freedom? Must we first gain the full consent of our inner Pharaoh, our inner demons, to be free? If part of your psyche never consents to your liberation, should you still make the attempt? Can such a fragmented condition be defined as freedom?
Some may abandon their battle for inner freedom, since after all their toil they never rid themselves from the opposition. Freedom, in their minds, equals complete inner integration, a psychological utopia, in which every bone of their body and chord of their psyche embraces a life free from all evil, ugliness, pain, anxiety and struggle. Since they never attain this state, they surrender to quiet desperation (in Thoreau's famous expression), filled with inner conflict and strife.
In its noble insistence that every person is capable of genuine freedom, Judaism postpones this absolute vision of emancipation to the Messianic era. In the here and now, redemption does not require the obliteration of all negativity and darkness within us.
Freedom requires not a spirit free of fluctuating moods and dispositions. Disassociation from the path of addiction, promiscuity, selfishness and emptiness, even prior to the sublimation of these forces, constitutes an authentic expression of human triumph and emancipation. The experience of escaping evil, even without transforming it, is a feat worthy of celebration.
The Hebrews of the Exodus were not completely transformed souls. Their inner Pharaoh resisted their liberation. They did not fully rid themselves from the voice urging them to remain in exile. The physical, concrete story of their exodus, involving the betrayal of Pharaoh's full consent reflected the spiritual story of their exodus, in which there is always a demon who will tell you why you ought to remain an addict.
Freedom is the ability to celebrate the fact that notwithstanding the inner battles compelling us to remain in the abyss, we profess the vision and courage to fight for Truth. Human liberty is not about holy people doing holy things; it is about unholy people doing holy things.