Although I was only nine years old, I recall the moment I heard the tragic news that President Kennedy was assassinated. I cried and was instantly transformed into someone who had to cope with the realities of death and evil.
We all experience transformative moments. For some, it is the death of a parent, friend or sports hero, and for others, the birth of a child. In the blink of an eye, we go from one reality to another.
King Solomon recognized the power of transformation when he proclaimed, “I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:13). When light is introduced into a dark room, the transformation is instantaneous.
The Jewish people experienced instantaneous transformations while in Egypt. For many years they lived a life of freedom and plenty, Then, with the wave of a hand, the “new” pharaoh plunged them into slavery which lasted for 210 years.
We learn of another transformative moment in this week’s Torah portion of Bo (Exodus 10:1–13:16). When all seemed lost, Moses arose and led the Jews to redemption and in a split second the Jews were transformed from slaves to God’s chosen people.
There is a saying, “it is easier to take the Jews out of Egypt than to take the Egypt out of the Jews.”
Egypt represents domination and a lack of control. It is one thing to free our bodies and another to free our minds and souls. The spiritual counterpart of the Egyptian slavery is when our mind loses control of our passions which dominate us. Ultimate freedom is when we use our wisdom to dispel folly and direct our actions to transform the world into a better place.
This is why, in the midst of the Exodus story, the commandment of wear tefillin on the head (mind) and arm (opposite the heart) is mentioned. The spiritual message of tefillin is to tap into our mind and soul to control our heart’s emotions in order to act properly with moral clarity and kindness.
The redemption from Egypt is a foreshadow of the messianic redemption. Not only will we be redeemed physically from exile, God will transform us spiritually and remove the hold our passions have over us, as it says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove your heart of stone ad give you a heart of flesh And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and, to carefully observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36;26-27).
As with other transformative events, our sages say this can happen “in the blink of an eye” when totally unexpected.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz