There are many ways to think of the drama that took place between Pharaoh and Moses in Biblical Egypt. Some think of it as history; others see it as folklore, and still others see it as an allegory to teach us morals. The wisdom of Kabbalah has a completely different take on the story of the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. It views it as a process that leads to one’s defining moment in life: the liberation from the ego and the entry into a new reality, where the ego is the servant and care for others is the king. This is why today, when egoism is our sole ruler, it is so important to introduce the concepts of the wisdom of Kabbalah, since only caring for others will prevent the world from exploding into pieces.
In Kabbalistic texts, Pharaoh represents the ego, our inclination to focus on ourselves and strive for superiority over others. The period that humanity is in today is indeed a “Pharaoh” period. These days, Pharaoh, people’s untainted and unhinged egoism, is coming to the fore. It controls our lives, organizes them, and we have nowhere to run from its control. Even when we realize that it is not good for us to let Pharaoh govern and enslave us, we opt for “bread and circuses” since we feel helpless against it.
Nevertheless, bit by bit, the realization that our situation is not as it should be is forming within us. Gradually, we are realizing that the endless pleasure hunt leaves us empty in the end. We are born, mature, get a job, perhaps a career, have children, grow old, get sick, and die. Why do we go through these cycles? If in the end we die and stop existing, then why be born in the first place? The little pleasures we have in life, if we have them at all, alleviate some of the pain we experience the rest of the time, but if there is nothing left of our lives when they end, then what is the purpose of living, and what is the purpose of the suffering?
When we begin to ask these questions, and today more and more people are asking them, it is a sign that we are beginning to disagree with Pharaoh’s governance over us. This is the beginning of the emerging of the Moses within us—a new perspective on life that wishes to pull us out of the shackles of egoism and deliver us from the metaphoric land of selfishness: Egypt.
The wisdom of Kabbalah does not relate to physical locations or to flesh and blood people. Every persona in the drama is a force within us, and every land, a type of desire. Egypt represents the desire for self-indulgence, concentration on oneself, while Israel stands for the desire to give, to care about others, to connect with their hearts. Both “lands” exist in every person in the world; therefore, every person can choose with whom to sympathize: the inner land of Egypt, egoism, or the inner land of Israel, giving.
When Moses begins to grow within us, we begin to feel our stay in Egypt as pressing and oppressive. When the Passover story tells us that the people of Israel were in exile in Egypt, it means that they began to want to free themselves from the shackles of egoism, but Pharaoh, the kernel of egoism, would not let them go out free. After some time in that state, the Moses force within us begins to gain strength and makes all the pleasures that the ego offers seem pointless and tasteless. It isn’t that we suddenly fall from riches to rags, but that the same riches that felt so good before, feel pointless and meaningless, and we lose all joy from having them. But in the absence of having any other pleasures, we feel it all as emptiness and hunger. Worse yet, since we are not yet free from egoism and must still serve it, though we no longer want to, we feel that we are slaves, enslaved to Pharaoh.
Today, many thousands of people already feel like that. They are especially common among younger people, who grew up seeing their parents’ lifestyles and simply do not want them. They find no pleasure in them, but they also find no pleasure in anything else. This is why so many of them turn to substance abuse to forget about life, or to extreme sports or violence, frantically searching for something that will excite them and give them a reason to keep living. These youngsters are not failures and they are not fools. They are actually very bright and very honest with themselves, and cannot pursue a goal that doesn’t seem worthwhile.
This transition period we are in can be long and painful. The struggle between Pharaoh and Moses happens within each of us, but it also has social, national, and international ramifications. The Bible describes the time of hesitation whether to go Pharaoh’s way or Moses’ way as the ten plagues of Egypt. But in the end, the ego, namely Pharaoh, surrenders. Now we are approaching that point of choice on the global level. We can choose to experience the plagues, as well, or we can choose Moses’ way before the plagues land on us.
We know that in the end, Moses will win and we will build a united society, where people care for one another. Therefore, the sooner we head in this direction, the faster we will achieve this blissful state. In the process, we will avoid Egypt’s afflictions. Now is our time to make a choice which way to go, toward the land of Egypt, and suffer, or toward the land of Israel, the land of unity and love.