Coming out of Mitzrayim – the psycho-spiritual journey we travel every time we say Shema

  “In every generation [and every day] a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had [that day] come out of Egypt” (Mishna Pesachim 10:5)

“This refers to the release of the divine soul from the confinement of the body, which is called the “serpent’s skin”

So that it can be absorbed into the unity of the light of the blessed ain sof (infinite light), by engaging in the Torah and commandments in general,

And in particular through accepting the sovereignty of Heaven during the recital of the Shema, wherein the person explicitly accepts and draws upon himself G-d’s unity, when he says; “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” …

This [dynamic within a person’s soul] is a form of “Exodus from Egypt”

Therefore, it was ordained that the paragraph concerning the Exodus from Egypt be read specifically during the recital of the Shema….

For they are actually the same thing.”

Lessons in Tanya by R’ Levi Wineberg, chapter 47 

Blogpost Mar 2018


I don’t know if you’ve ever done the flip test. When you are holding a book in your hands for the first time, considering whether to read it, and randomly flip and read one line, to get a taste of what’s inside. That’s what I did about a year ago when I wondered what was inside the holy book of Tanya.  And I came to that line, the one quoted above  – that when we say Shema Yisroel we are redeemed from our perpetual bondage within the metaphoric confines of Egypt every day of our lives.

Needless to say, I didn’t know what this meant.

Yes, I knew what the words meant, and at a stretch, was the concept was saying, sort of … but I still had no clue.

I thought it would be a nice time, being the month of Nissan  – to “unpack” this excerpt and experience its haunting beauty and penetrating insight just before Seder night.


I heard a classic piece of chassidus  – (my new found love, or perhaps an old love, making its official entry into my life through access to the original Chassidic texts [1].  As a south African born, north American mid-western raised Bais Yaakov girl of 100% pure-bred Litvish descent, I will never forget the quizzical look on my teacher Geveret Leibowitz’s face, the BJJ legendary teacher, when she asked me after reading my papers; “eh are you chassidish??”.  “No,” I replied, “but I have a Chassidish heart.”

Perhaps what I love about Chassidus is the unashamed relationship it has to the mystical layers of our Torah and how it applies its esoteric wisdom to our hearts, minds and lives.)


Here is the main idea:  all the “players” in the “coming-out-of-Egypt-story” carry deep resonance when it comes to getting a grip on our inner lives.

This does not mean that the “pshat”/ simple meaning/ of the story is no longer relevant.  No.  אין המקרא יוצא מדי פשוטו – the explanation of Torah never departs from its surface meaning, only its deeper meanings are embedded within the simple meaning much like a well packed onion.

In fact, the depth of the simple meaning and the simple meaning of the secret layer are one and the same and cannot be separated (R’ Dessler, Michav M’eliyahu).


So, who are the players in the Pesach story?

Let’s start with Moshe.

He is the “player” who is sourced in Hashem Himself so to speak and is called “איש האלוקים” – a man of G-d. 

Moshe, the one who filled the house with light upon his entry to the world and was given the name “Tuvya” – G-d is good.

Moshe, the man/ Divine messenger and redeemer who was so transcendent from human normal functioning that he couldn’t even speak and needed Aharon his brother to act as his spokesman.

Moshe, who needed neither food nor drink for 40 days while he lived in Heaven and brought down the eternal Torah to the people. 

Moshe was truly a messenger of G-d and redeemer of our people.

משה – spelled backwards – says השם – G-d – literally “The Name”, our common term of awe and love for our Creator.

As such, Moshe represents the holy intellect, the seat of truth, and the seed of redemption.


Next – let’s look at Paroah. 

Whatever Moshe represents on the side of holiness Paroah reflects the side of impurity.

פרעה – same letters as ערפה – the sister of Ruth the Moabite – the one who, unlike Ruth, turned her back to all that is holy. (The meaning of the word ערף literally means the back of the neck; and represents the backside of consciousness.)

Paroah – the one who lived in self-delusion – who went down early in the morning to relieve himself of his bodily functions so no-one would see his humanity and so that he could perpetuate the illusion of himself as a deity.

Paroah – the one who enslaved a people for 400 years, who refused to see G-d’s hand at play, even when it was impossible not to see it, who by the end of the Egypt story didn’t even hold onto his free will.

He was not only the representation of evil, but somehow the king of it.


The fulcrum of the story; the Jews.

The Children of Israel- בני ישראל – as they are referred to through the account of the exodus.

Let’s look at the word Israel – ישראל – can be broken up to ישר – א-ל – straight to G-d.

While Paroah is corrupt and convoluted, the children of Israel hold onto their “straight line” to Hashem through Moshe their leader and “place holder” of holy intellect, and as such, are children of Redemption.

On a deeper level, the children of Israel literally means “the offspring of Israel”, ie. of Moshe; and as such, they represent the emotions of the heart. Since Moshe represents pure intellect, the Jewish people represent the emotions, as guided by Moshe Rabbeinu.   It is common understanding today that we are not a victim of our emotions but rather we create them through the thoughts that we think, and there-in lies our control.

As the Rambam said (centuries ago), all emotions are born from the intellect and the thoughts of our minds.

When the children of Israel are able to take their input from Moshe and discard the messages (subliminal and explicit) from Paraoh, the stirrings of the exodus begin to reverberate in the land of Egypt.


The Land of Egypt; ארץ מצרים.

Mitzrayim literally means a place of confines and restraint. 

A place where you can’t move, can’t see the way out, and are in fact too mute to express your feeling of stuck-ness.

The first shift was a groan of the people, “and Hashem heard their sighs”.  Ironically their knowledge that they were trapped in the land of Mitzrayim was the first step to the possibility of their ever getting out.

When Mitzrayim hurts – we know we are getting ready to leave. When the situation of our bondage to Paroah is no longer tolerable – we know we are ready for an exodus.


Now let’s plug this in to the simple meaning of the story and then take our newfound understanding to better understand the Tanya and what that means for us.

The Jewish people were serving Paroah in the Land of Mitzrayim.

Apply the above formulae to this statement and we get; the emotions of the heart (children of Israel – emotions that in their highest potential express the values of Hashem and truth but when they fall to their default setting, as they had in Egypt) were serving Paroah – the evil dictator who represents self-deception, corruption and falsehood – in the land of Mitzrayim – and the fact that they didn’t realize their unspoken agreement to adhere faithfully to Paroah’s values system means that they saw themselves as victims in the deepest sense with no option of release.

They groaned.

This was the magic moment.

The unseen internal shift that precipitated all events to follow.

Slowly, the awareness that life was never meant to be terrible takes roots in their minds and they become intolerant to being slaves to Paroah in Egypt.

Moshe comes and acts as the messenger of Hashem – as their moshiach – and redeems them, to serve Hashem instead of Paroah.

You see, whether you realize it or not – you are serving something.

The emotions of the heart have miraculously cut ties with their former boss, Paroah, and jump ship instead to Moshe, the vehicle of truth of holiness in the world. 

The rest is history – Paroah can no longer contain them in the land of the slaves and Hashem performs miracles for them, confirming their relationship as ישראל – the people who have a straight line to G-d, and ultimately bring them to ארץ ישראל – the Land where this essence is manifest most tangibly.

Nothing stands in the way of the Jewish people, and despite the trauma of 210 years of heavy persecution and suffering, they emerge with the visceral knowledge of their mission for all time to come.

Hashem brings them, through Moshe, to receive the Torah, and they are en-route to the holy land, the permanent setting for their redemption.


Psycho-spiritually, this can be rendered into the following terms;

Our consciousness is always the results of the inner working of the soul and psyche – things are never just as they appear, there is always a reason for the state we are in, the thoughts we have, feelings that live in our hearts, and behaviors that we choose.

We are trapped and confined to our inner state of exile when we subscribe to beliefs that are simply not true.

The land of Mitzrayim is the land of false beliefs and alien G-ds.

The problem with this state of affairs that it is impossible to redeem ourselves from our plight, for as soon as we would know our false beliefs aren’t true we would be released from their grip; that means that our very acceptance of those beliefs is what puts us firmly under their mercy.

In other words, it is our belief in them that keeps us trapped.

Our mistaken ideologies manifest immediately in emotions of the heart that further perpetuate our commitment to those very same “Paroahs” – false beliefs systems – and our exile deepens.

So how do we get out of this conundrum if it is our state of awareness that is the key to change and yet it is exactly our state of awareness that is not seeing the difference between Hashem and Paroah, between truth and lie?!?!  How do we release ourselves from the inside??


אין החבוש יכול להתיר את עצמו מבית האסורים – (Midrash, Shir Hashirim); “a prisoner cannot release himself from his own prison.”

Therein lies the irony. How can we escape our personal exiles?  How can we be healed from our restricted consciousness and the emotions of despair and depression that come in their wake?

The answer is: Moshe was never part of the problem to begin with.  That is why he can be the redeemer!

He was never enslaved by Paroah.

He grew up giggling on Paroah’s knee as his benign adopted grandson that his daughter Batya brought home one day from the Nile.

Moshe was always the man of truth, the ambassador of Hashem.

It was he that was able to take the people out.

True, they couldn’t release themselves from their prison, but Moshe could release them.


Let us return to our section from Tanya.

“In every generation [and every day] a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had [that day] come out of Egypt” (Mishna Pesachim 10:5)

This is a spiritual journey that is happening to us every single day.

In the yearly cycle, this happens most poignantly on Pesach. 

Through our telling the story of our redemption, seeing the events that happened at he time of the birth of our people through a transcendent and divinely inspired perspective, we become immune to the dangerous and devious ploys of Paroah – the Paroah then and the Paroah of now.

“This refers to the release of the divine soul from the confinement of the body, which is called the “serpent’s skin””. [2]

The body is our present day Mitzrayim.  It does not see the world from a Divine perspective but rather from a self-centered one.

A self-centered perspective is the viewpoint of Paroah – because it is simply not true.

We are not here for our bodies; for our personal success stories, for our attainment of pleasure, wealth or honor.

If we believe we are, we are serving Paroah, the king of delusion, the king of falsehood.

We are here for something greater.

We are here to serve Hashem.

Moshe, through the Torah, tells us this all the time.

When we listen, we start to feel this, and we are impervious to being trapped in the “skin of a snake”, our little and limited bodies, that make us believe that there isn’t much more to life.

We need to become non-complacent with this false message that has us believe that there isn’t a bigger picture.

Let us say Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad – acknowledge and attach ourselves to the unity of Hashem and serve G-d, not Paroah.

Therein we find our freedom.


“Therefore, it was ordained that the paragraph concerning the Exodus from Egypt be read specifically during the recital of the Shema…. for they are actually the same thing.”

We can serve ourselves, our egos, our pursuit of pleasure, our false beliefs and alien G-ds.

Or we can serve Hashem and see the world through the prism of His Unity.

The choice is ours.

The difference between one and the other is the difference between exile and redemption.

When we see the world as an arena for redemption, all of our experiences, aspirations and activities are expressions of Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad – then we cannot fall into the descending spirals and lose ourselves in the tunnels of darkness and doom.

And when we do fall into them – as we will, sometimes – many times – because we are susceptible to the murky playing fields that is our inner psyches – all we have to do is send down “Moshe” – our inner voice of truth – into the complex and remote regions of our hearts, and by doing so we take ourselves out of our Mitzrayim, and we know that Hashem is One.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

[1] I was inspired to write this piece after taking R’ Doniel Katz’s Elevation program.

[2] no wonder that snakes predominate Egyptian culture