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The Exile of Awareness

Jewish potentiality- Shemot 5783

This Shabbat, we’ll open the book of Shemot, the second of the five books of Moses- what is commonly called the “Torah” in the strict sense of the term.

Shemot, or the Exodus as it is called in English, is famous for the dramatic Yitziat Mitzrayim, literally the “going out’ of Egypt.

Under Moses’s guidance and protected by the “outstretched arm” of god, they walk away and leave Egypt, crossing the red sea towards their promised land.

Yet for the Hasidic masters, leaving Egypt goes way beyond any objective or historical reality into the realm of the mystical.

Joseph and his coat of many colors

It is to be contemplated as a spiritual event, an internal “crossing” between the inner lands of consciousness, a passage from a slavery mindset to that of free men and women.

We are Free

This is a powerful reminder that our state of consciousness, whether we feel enslaved or free, has nothing to do with external reality.

Some people in prison have a freer state of mind than people living normative autonomous lives. Freedom of the mind is a personal choice.

The Haggadah, the ritual narrative Jews read around the Seder table each year during the night of Passover (Pessach), seems to allude just to that:

Each Jew, it says, is invited to experience for themselves, ‘as if he had personally gone out of Egypt.’

What does Egypt mean, then, symbolically, as a land of inner slavery? And how can exploring this can be relevant and useful to our daily lives?

In his commentary on the Torah, the Meor Einayim has quite an interesting take on the symbolic meaning of “Egypt.”

The Exile of Awareness

To him, Egypt is not just a country, it also represents a state of mind. He talks about Galut-Ha-Da’at, often translated as the “exile of awareness” (Da’at being awareness).

Being enslaved in Egypt means being in exile from our own awareness. Although Da’at can be translated as awareness, it derives from the same root of the word knowledge; to “be aware” and to “know” are two very close verbs.

The first time Da’at is mentioned in the Torah is when we are told that Adam, the first human being, “knew” his wife, Eve (Hava).

In that context, the biblical Da’at is more than making love: it means to become one with something or someone. So to really know something is to be one with it, to embody it.

It is a movement of profound encounter, a state of consciousness that brings together the somatic and the spiritual sides of intimacy: the body, sensations, emotions, consciousness, connection, union, playfulness, and creativity.

By knowing each other (i.e., making love), couples embody some of the divine experience of creation; they emulate the primordial act of creation of Life.

The Divine Within You

Without explicitly referring to this episode in Genesis (Bereshit), the Meor Enayim seems to connect to this aspect of creation:

“This is the essence of awareness: to know that all of one’s power and vitality are the blessed creator.”

In other words, for the Meor Enayim, awareness means to know that the creative power of life (God) is within us; that whatever life force we have inside us is the source of all life itself.

Let’s pause a minute with that.

How powerful and how humbling!

When I feel the life force in me, I connect to something so much greater than me.

When I feel separated from the rest of existence, I isolate myself from Life itself.

This is exile. This, in Hasidic terms of the reading of Shemot, is being enslaved in my own personal Egypt.

Overcoming this type of existential alienation is not only possible but, in a sense, is our quest; we are all reliving the exodus on a daily basis.

The Jewish meditative and spiritual practices help us to bring our awareness back from its exile.

Setting Your Awareness Free

To be free from this illusion of separation, it takes just a simple movement of awareness. Turning inward and witnessing the life force that is right there within us.

We can pause, close our eyes, take a deep breath, and be in touch, just for a moment, with the source of life within us and bring awareness to it.

Regardless of your feelings about yourself, your life, and your environment at this moment, try to see how it feels, to notice that you are connected to something so much vaster than yourself.

Whether you feel it or not right now, you are part of the Life Force that runs through everything that is alive.

Much of the Jewish meditative traditions are about listening and paying enough attention so that we can become aware of what is there already.

Egypt is always here, lying in wait. We go right back there when we fall back into the constructed-ness of all types of separating thoughts we are familiar with; self-deprecation or aggrandizement, envy, judgment, and so on.

But freedom is also always there, available, waiting for us to just look at it. All it takes is coming back to ourselves and connecting intimately with our awareness (da’at) to the Life force within.

This is a powerful meditation practice; all it takes is an instant of quiet presence. Every time we bring our attention back home, we are free again.

Welcome home, enjoy

Last Places Available in our online course: The Potential of Shemot

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