More Passover questions | Maya's Gifts

More Passover questions


It’s only been recently that I learned to view biblical stories with a new lens.  As I prepared for becoming a Bat Mitzvah in early 2015, I grappled with my D’var Torah (literally word of the Torah, or lesson, otherwise known as “the speech”).  I went to others for guidance.  Friends shared that I ought to go deeper.  Don’t be so literal, they’d say.  Use the stories as a metaphor.  “Elise, what do these stories mean for you at this time?”  Or “what do they mean for our culture now?” This opened so much up for me.

The portion of the Torah that I read was the story of the exodus.  During Passover, this story is retold.  While this is a legend about freedom, like so many, I was stuck on the Egyptians drowning.  How could I make sense of this?  During the last days of Passover, I was reminded to reflect on this.  I struggled as I prepared for my Bat Mitzvah and I continue to struggle.  Who are the Egyptians to me?  Who or what is enslaving that in me which needs to be free?  What is it here and now, in my grief that needs to shift and soften?  What in this culture needs to change so that we are living with more love?  How can I be more loving?

I know that you cannot answer these questions for me.  I invite you to share some of your personal reflections.


  • these are all good questions. I struggle with how to become more tolerant all the time… and part of the answer for me is to be kind to myself… no answers… just some random thoughts…

  • I have no answers. I do know that without love we are nothing, without forgiveness we are hollow and without acceptance we will continually fight with ourselves. Thoughts based on my own experiences and sent with love

  • We (you and I) sometimes feel enslaved by our repetitive, questioning thoughts but how problematic is that? For me, I’ve needed to retain those repetitive thoughts about our son, allow them to percolate over and over thousands of times with sadness and smiles till they have become a full part of me. Thoughts and love and tolerance of acceptance. Not over – I don’t expect it to ever be.

  • Hi Elise,

    My great interest is in understanding the great stories of myth and scripture as symbolic allegories that teach us about our inner spiritual life. Various stories may (or may not) have been based on something that actually occurred, but the event has been taken by spiritual adepts and used to create a myth that teaches us how to awaken the soul. So, for instance, in this story about the Exodus, here’s what I think it’s about (I really should say part of what it’s about: stories like this can be delved into for levels upon levels of meaning):

    The Hebrew word for Egypt, ‘Mitzraim’, means narrow, difficult straits. So the story is not literal: Egypt is not “a place over there.” Egypt is “a state of being in here”, that is, inside each one of us. In Scriptural language, to be ‘in Egypt’ indicates we are trapped psychologically in an inner state of limitation, bondage, and affliction. Thus, the children of Israel (who represent you and me and everyone) are in the dark depths of consciousness where shadows are mistaken for reality, where the soul is hypnotized by images and enslaved by illusions. This is what ‘Egypt’ means. The task that the story presents to us is to break the ‘spell’ (biblical Egypt was all about ‘magic’ – the manipulation of matter for purely material ends) and begin to see, borrowing Plato’s terminology, that what we take to be Reality is really nothing more substantial than ephemeral shadows of puppets on a cave wall.

    So the story tells us that in the land of Egypt the Hebrew slaves were forced to build great cities for Pharaoh (Pharaoh represents our Ego, whereas Moses represents the higher, intuitive, spiritual part of the mind), always constrained by their violent and murderous taskmasters, so that their mind, heart and spirit remained dull and empty, and even the wish to escape was nearly forgotten. Like worker ants, they were allowed to exist merely in order to labor for Pharaoh. These great cities and buildings, much like our own, bespoke the narrow worship of the material world and the glorification of human vanity. This is exquisite imagery teaching us about our life trapped unconsciously in mitzraim!

    After 400 years (in scriptural symbolism, multiples of four – forty days, forty years, 400 years – always means “a very long time”), “The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God.” So after a long time in the sleep of slavery, the children of Israel, symbolizing you and me, were beginning to awaken, to remember, to have a wish. God had been silent for all these years because the Israelites did not ask for anything. If we don’t realize that we are slaves to illusion, we can’t be ‘freed’, We have to start waking up and want something different, we have to want to “go home, to Canaan” – i.e., to the state of Being of Abraham and Sarah, who communed directly with God (i.e., a state of spiritual Enlightenment). [BTW, this idea that we have to ‘wake up a little’ before we can get help to really ‘awaken’, is related to the idea in alchemy that you need a little gold in order to make gold]. It was necessary to God’s plan that this material realm be fully experienced, but at last a limit to suffering had been reached and the soul (“Israel”) enslaved in the body (“Egypt”) began to cry out for help. “God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” – which was the Divine’s promise to the soul that after its experience of the material world it would be able to return ‘home’ to the realm of Divinity (which, imo, is why the Bible is not a ‘real estate contract between Israel and God’, and taking it literally is a huge mistake, as current events in the Middle East continue to make clear).

    So finally, after this long, long time ‘asleep’ in the realm of shadows and enslavement to illusion, the soul ‘awakens’. The soul must now rise above the level of ‘Egypt’ and begin the journey ‘Home’ (all the great stories of myth and scripture are about this Quest). So, after much effort (e.g., all the plagues and all the rest of Moses’ work) the soul leaves this level of Being at last, and, in the symbolic story, the Israelites pass through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea, where all the “sins of the body”, i.e., all the dreck of the long material experience, are ritually cleansed. (Also, ‘water, in the Bible, represents ‘Higher Truth’, so the soul is beginning to experience Higher Truth.)

    The Ego, however, does not like this at all! So Pharaoh tries over and over to prevent them from leaving: the Ego wants to retain its status and power! But Pharaoh and his followers cannot stop them and cannot ascend with them. They try, and they end up being destroyed. The Ego has to be destroyed as the soul awakens and begins to ascend. Fear at last fell upon them, and they cried, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt. [Of course! The higher power is on the side of the soul’s ascent.]” But it was too late. As soon as the last of the Israelites were on the far shore, Moses held out his arm and the parted waters crashed back together, and the waters now covered and destroyed the entire Egyptian army that had followed them into the sea, so that “not one of them remained.” This is because the Ego cannot bear Truth. Anyway, the ‘lower’ cannot penetrate the ‘higher’ by force.

    Nobody really died. It’s an allegory. The story takes place inside the soul.

    (PS. In one of those ‘other levels’ of meaning, a less-spiritual and more-social level, there is also a lesson about Love. When the Egyptians drowned, Miriam led the people in a song and dance of thanksgiving. According to a story in the Talmud, some of God’s angels began to sing His praises as well. But God thundered angrily, “You shall not sing while My other children are drowning!”)

  • Thank you, Elise, for asking these questions…and helping me to rethink and go-deeper. Passover is the perfect time to reflect on our inner fears, enslavement, grief, yearning for freedom and justice. How much more meaningful the family gathering would be if we had the courage to bring up these topics and share our feelings. As I write, I realize the love you speak of would blossom if we could learn to share and reveal our inner selves with each other. Compassion, understanding and love. And I realize – this is what your blog does for me – each passage brings up many emotions for me – it brings me to a place where I stop and think and reflect. Thank you Elise for sharing your love for Maya, family, the community. We love you.

  • I was always repelled by the joy that attended a recounting of the sea’s closing over the Egyptians. Of course, I understand that the Jews would have been killed, so I too would have rejoiced, had I been there. But the Egyptians were people too, and they felt compelled to obey their leader. In that sense they too were enslaved; they did not think they had the liberty to follow their conscience (probably a modern concept).
    I think that grief could be assuaged by people showing each other more love. We may feel it, but do we “radiate it out,” as I was once counseled? We are all Jews who are fleeing, and we are also all Egyptians, in the Buddhist view of many lifetimes. Our soul encompasses all the possible fates of a human life. (In words I sent before, “all of the infinite joys, all of the infinite sorrows”) (Rilke). If young people could only feel the support of the love that surrounds them from family, friends, community, it might give them strength. It does not diminish grief to realize how many others across the world suffer, but it somehow expands the web of supportive community. And you are so very gifted at creating community, dear friend.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Subscribe Here

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 611 other subscribers