This week’s portion, Beshalach, shows us the aftermath of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. Last week, you were asked to consider what Egypt represents to you, in other words, what evil entraps you in your own life? Is it anger, impatience, jealousy? Whatever shape the Pharaoh takes for you, this week is a reminder that you must leave him and you must do so definitively. Be prepared, because evil will not let you go without a fight. (Even at the very last minute, the Pharaoh tried to retrieve his slaves!) But you, like the slaves, can escape. The first step is to commit to change.
As human beings, we have a very complicated relationship to change. We prefer to invite change only when we feel we can completely control it. Think about it: the only difference between chaos and adventure is our level of control over the situation and how confident we feel in a safe, positive outcome. In a theme park, the adventure is fun because we know that after all the fear and excitement we will be ok. Chaos is terrifying because of the uncertainty. However, our faith in the Divine should empower us to approach the chaos of life like an adventure, too.
In this portion, the slaves escaped Egypt, so you’d expect them to be celebrating their liberation. After all, they are free at last! Yet this isn’t the case. Why?
Because the slaves don’t respond well to change. In fact, they almost long to return to the familiar, despite the fact that it was a toxic and abusive dynamic. This is a very human trait -- the attachment to what we know, whether it’s good for us or not. These slaves did not believe better things could happen for them. They lacked the faith required to see the positive in their situation.
Beshalach reminds us that circumstance alone does not define a slave; a slave is defined by a mentality, too. Even when liberated, the Israelites remained slaves. They remained chained to their reactive natures and in the thrall of their lowest impulses. Who embodies this slave mentality in our world today? Someone who always has to be right and always has to prove themselves as better than others. That’s someone who has no faith in their own strength and value. They live in defensive mode, ready to answer the call of every passing emotion.
This theory comes alive in nature. After all, who is the most powerful in the jungle? The lion, of course. And he doesn’t have to show that to you. He doesn’t need to convince you. His quiet confidence alone demonstrates that he knows his worth. If you watch the lion in a zoo or on television, quite often, he will shrug off petty annoyances: he knows that he has the power to destroy those around him, but he doesn’t feel the need to flex his muscles. Ask yourself, how could you be more like this lion and less like a slave? Where are you still desperately seeking external validation instead of trusting your inner power?
Successful people in this world are able to look at their circumstances objectively and see what works and what doesn’t. Then they commit to changing what needs to be changed. This is quite unlike the slave, who hated being a slave but was even more terrified to be free. Have you noticed there are people who complain over and over about the same things, their job or their relationship or their home? Have you ever asked them what they’re going to do to change it? Often, the question actually offends them! Because they have no intention of changing. The bad situation and even their default setting of complaint and dissatisfaction has become comfortable for them.
Are you one of them, or are you really ready to leave slavery behind? Think about when you have enjoyed the safety of the same-old, same-old, even when it wasn’t serving you. Maybe you are someone who has convinced themselves out of their dreams, and you’ve convinced yourself that was noble. This is surprisingly common. Hiding behind a fake humility, people tell themselves that they don’t need to take the lead, they don’t need to be seen, they don’t need to draw attention by fulfilling their potential. This isn’t humility; it is pure ego! What they don’t want is to fail in public. If this is you, at least be honest with yourself.
Moses didn’t have an easy job leading the Israelites. Even when he freed the slaves, they complained to him. He couldn’t do anything right! However, he continued in the name of G-d. It’s ok to not be a leader right now if you really don’t know what to do, but don’t be like the Israelites and follow your leader begrudgingly. Commit to a teacher or a mentor and really follow their advice. Or else why did you ask for it? Arguing with the guidance you receive from a chosen teacher is like arguing with a satellite navigation system -- you were the one who put in the destination, it makes no sense to resist when you’re told how to arrive there.
In Beshalach, the sea can be seen to represent Hell. We are each chased there by our evil inclination, but that doesn’t mean we should see it as a punishment. Instead we should see it as a service to us. In Hell, we are cleansed of our sins. The evil that has attached itself to us is removed, preparing us to ascend to the next level. This is important because it reminds us that evil is not actually “us” -- we have spent time in Egypt and we have been contaminated, but it doesn’t belong to us. It clings to us. The Pharaoh stays in Hell but we do not, because we have the ability to detach from our evil acts.
When thinking about the things you struggle to change, like your propensity to anger or your habit of speaking badly about others, it can be helpful to think about your negative trait as belonging to the Pharaoh. It is not you and it does not define you. So don’t claim it for yourself! Instead, return it. Yes, you can free yourself from slavery, but only if you’re truly committed to the change. So make the decision. Release the need for control and the familiar. Follow your teacher’s wisdom, and have faith in G-d’s plan. Show you’re ready and willing to ascend. Claim your potential and commit to it.
Remember, Moses had to jump into the Red Sea before it opened. You too can take the leap.