Out of Egypt
The story of the Exodus or freeing of a people from years of bondage is a narrative, to some a myth, that impacts a lot of ways of seeing the world. My family tells the story often, if not at least once a year, and it has me wonder: Why do we retell it yearly? Aren’t we free men now, after all?
But looking at this world, its fast pace of swirls, its commotion, our never-ending goals sometimes bypassing our true passions, the pressings of technology expanding our attention as much as it can constrain it if not used carefully, and the skewed priority of how we tend to attend to our values, it becomes quite clear: We aren’t free men at all. We are often slaves to the dictates of our external environments and its ongoing diversions and demands.
The seminal story of one’s people exodus “out of a land of bondage” who crossed desert into “a Land of Milk and Honey” has meant so much to so many peoples around the globe and across the ages, if not at a mythic level no matter the faith. The miracle that an unhelpful system of life can indeed be overturned sparks the imagination. But was it really an external force that solely made it happen?
This legendary story, at least to me, is not just about a slave people meeting an external pharaoh and being repeatedly confined by its omnipresence. It is more about a slave mindset losing its status and a people transcending one’s own internal pharaoh and choosing instead to believe more is possible. After all, the Egyptian Pharoah is pretty inflexible to change, quite adamant and pleased with his stance, and doesn’t really ever change his mind when asked “to let my people go”. He is actually intolerant to the very idea to the end, so much so that he loses his one heir son and his own cavalry drowns. Yet they are let go anyway. In fact, the people wanting to be let go became ready, able, and more receptive vessels to their own story anew at the very point that they realize that they can mentally begin to free their own enslaved thoughts they have had of themselves to start. The joy for people across millennia, you see, is at hearing that louder miracle: that people, first at an individual level, soon gathering momentum to a collective one, could do it—— and if they could do it, so can I.
Turning around a slave mentality includes overturning a doubt in things and replacing it with a true faith in things being okay and that you can handle it whatever it is. It would take a while for the protagonists of this story to realize that the autopilot of a slave mentality working on survival mode created an automatic impasse and prevented them from crossing further seas on a metaphoric level beyond the literal miracle they had imbibed. More, it isn’t just about seeing the glass as half empty or as half full to make change happen. It is about deciding to fill it! In the Exodus story, a people were being asked and made to see that more happened when they decided to fill the glass, and fill it with new helpful thought.
Historically, and according to Talmud sources, 80% of the slave population were so disbelieving of change that they stayed behind of their own choice. Imagine. Their mindset, it seems, was too coloured by pessimistic, untrusting or negative thoughts as a means of protection to get through things. And it isn’t that they much liked their situation. It was that their inability to move past their comfort zone proved stronger such that they felt suffering in a familiar discomfort was the safer route. Only 20% decided to trust the unknown. Of which subset are you?
The power of this story is that a brave subset agreed to believe in another way and not wait for someone to change for them to make it happen. They did it anyway. Miracles began to happen for them when they opened to that conceptualization of accountability of their own thoughts and their own action, regardless of what others did or did not. At the moment that they agreed to themselves that they wanted to do the hard work, a divine power carried them out in a very literal way. It is no less a power for us today when the miracles are not as literal.
But a few weeks ago, a beautiful person I know in life asked me a terrific question: What vegetable or fruit would you mentally adopt for a season as a symbol to best represent the value from the Exodus story you would most like to see at your family table and to take home? Something in me rounded and grounded at being asked that. In that immediacy of openness, something within amplified my deeper exploration of what it means for me personally “to no longer be a slave in Egypt”, and I quite enjoyed the feeling. It is a beet, my heart center said. It is a beet to have remember my need to “beet” out what mental habits do not best serve me and so enslave me away from my true inner peace and my own door or passageway to an immutable freedom within and that I, in my humanness, cannot turn overnight.
On Passover, it is said that the Israelites crossed the sea. Yet, as a people, they complained routinely their desert years. They kept at it no matter they received a guide book in the ten commandments of a higher ethical thought. Along the way, they often slipped away from humility, they often got bored with the mundane of things and became mentally lazy, they became annoyed at their new reality and rebelled against it, they became selfish and blameworthy beings in their greediness to attain quick and clear results and a finish line, they routinely doubted things could be good. It took much practice, as much as a lifetime of forty years, to adopt key lessons of helpful mindset, and so a considerable time for them to integrate the most of that which got in their way. Only then, things still being imperfect, could they better enter the Land of Milk and Honey on a note of a surer, helpful confidence and faith.
Moving away from a state of mental slavery to one of mental freedom does not come overnight. Indeed, it is hard work. And let us remember that freedom comes about because of change in a situation but that it isn’t the pharaoh who changes. It is the person being freed.
The parable for us is that we, too, have a choice in our task and that it is an ongoing practice to be mindful and to be mindfully kind to the stranger in a strange land, including the one within ourselves. Negative thought is every person’s daily challenge. It is what makes us quintessentially human. Most stories we tell ourselves are negative without even noticing. Imagine if we took more conscientious care of our thoughts. Imagine if we caught more of them when we noticed our minds fishing for them and then “let it go” from the net. Imagine simply if we told ourselves stories that are more positive!
To beet or not to beet— that is the question that stirs for me. A beet is hard to cut and pungent with red when cooked. It stains, positively to decorate or negatively to ruin clothes. It even colors what you expel once ingested. As I went to bed musing further on that friendly exploratory question, my visual mind noticed that the beet is shaped like a heart! Put in the hand in my imagination that way and connecting and freeing the dots, I felt all the more how that inner grounding beyond what can enslave me is all up to me.
The way I look at it, if some greater force has that much confidence in me if not by the sheer miraculous mechanism that I breathe, surely, too, I must have as much a faith in my ability to live up to my best in all my humanness and command my way away from an inner slavery to a peaceful inner freedom no matter.
Cherishing my freedom is a year-round matter. A little beet’s red heartedness in picture form is now my mental spark or short mnemonic to embrace my gratitude for what life brings. Whatever it is, it is wise to thank it — thank life— and to take confidence in the challenges that lead me to be a mentally strong but loving upon self-loving mindset first. For a friend of mine, the flash reminder to her belief in freedom is a carrot, as in to care or to rot. For another, it is a pear.
So, I will pass on the question now and ask you: What fruit or vegetable would you bring to your table or pack in your bag to help better free what mental habits enslave you?
May we each trust our heart of freedom.
Bless what May.
Photography by Marina Mashaal