From Enslavement to Freedom

Today begins the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover). For more than 2,000 years Pesach was celebrated as the holiday of freedom. It marks the liberation of the Children of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt. This biblical story about the slaves that became a free nation is the cornerstone of many liberation movements – starting from the Zionist movement, but also the Afro American liberation movement (note Bob Marley's famous song – Exodus) and others.

קאסר אל-יהוד (בערבית: قصر اليهود; מילולית: "ארמון היהודים") הוא המקום שבו, על פי המסורת היהודית, חצו בני ישראל את נהר הירדן בכניסתם לארץ כנען.

In spite of the story's profound impact, it's historical foundation is shaky. Most scholars believe that it never took place and it is probably a myth and not history.

Nevertheless the Exodus story has a more profound layer that may be the reason for its popularity for so many years. In a nutshell the story describes how the Children of Israel who were slaves in Egypt escaped from their prison and became a free nation after 40 difficult years in the desert. While in the desert, God was revealed to them and gave them guidance on how to live their lives.

The word Israel in Hebrew means a person who lives in the presence of God[1]  – a term that will probably be translated in our language as a spiritual master. Therefore the term the Children of Israel can be translated as the spiritual seekers.

The word Egypt comes from Greek and is a distortion of the Egyptian name of the city of Memphis. However the Hebrew word for Egypt actually means border, strait and also distress[2].

A different reading of the story of Exodus can be: the spiritual seekers were enslaved by their tensions (distress) and they became free by taking a long and difficult journey in (their own) wilderness, and in the process they gained spiritual enlightenment.

That, to my opinion, is the universal (and the more interesting) meaning of the story of Exodus – it describes the path to inner freedom which is open for every human being.                            

[1]  וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי שָׂרִיתָ עִם אֱלֹהִים וְעִם אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל. (בראשית, ל"ב, כ"ט)

[2] גָּלְתָה יְהוּדָה מֵעֹנִי וּמֵרֹב עֲבֹדָה, הִיא יָשְׁבָה בַגּוֹיִם, לֹא מָצְאָה מָנוֹחַ; כָּל רֹדְפֶיהָ הִשִּׂיגוּהָ בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים (איכה א, ג')


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