“Let my people go”

This very special Shabbat falls in the middle of Pesach when we celebrate and commemorate the Eternal saving us from slavery in Egypt.

Many of our sages call it the “festival of freedom” because it represents a “leap” from being slaves to being free. It is a moment when we rose from the lowest level of idolatry so that 50 days after we departed from Egypt, the Eternal could give us the gift of receiving the Torah, that is, we entered a process of elevation, which began with the counting of the Omer on Nisan 16 (April 23, 2024, in the afternoon).

It occurred to me that freedom is born out of a divine desire –“Let my people go”– and it’s a long process that gives us the freedom to decide responsibly. Ultimately, that is our life – it involves movement. For example, my heart can beat freely because it has an internal force that makes it beat and pump blood; living beings can make voluntary movements unless tied down. When we are granted freedom, it is as if the world around us recognizes it, and the battle begins daily, where we can be sure that a Pharaoh will rise to come after us and force us to be his slaves again.

We read that those who did not obey God’s command to place the physical sign of blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes, experienced the death of their firstborn sons. It was a death that the Egyptian nation had never witnessed before and the one that made Pharaoh finally give up and allow Israel to depart freely from Egypt, filled with riches to go and serve their God. According to the story, almost immediately upon seeing that Israel was now free, even without mourning his own dead, Pharaoh decided to go and chase after them to either annihilate them or force them to return to Egypt to be slaves again.

Today, after many years of living in the diaspora, Israel has returned to her land to live freely after being slaves to many other nations. This same spirit of Pharaoh has arisen once again seeking for us to return to being the slaves of other nations. In 1948, the state of Israel was established and even before its birth, problems with the neighboring Arab nations began, until it reached the trigger point where today Iran wants to destroy this nation so that they can no longer live in freedom. It is as if every time we “overcome”, “we grow”, “we rise”, and “we live free”, adversaries arise to try to make us return to being slaves.

I have recently been absent from services the past two Shabbats and I have not been able to meet with my community of faith on Tuesdays because I have been making a lot of bricks to build cities for others. Even though I am so grateful for having a good job and excellent bosses, I have been filled with worry, a lot of fatigue and stress. This experience is even more real for me because every time I want to dedicate myself to the study of Torah, a problem, an accident, an emergency, etc. arises that doesn’t allow me to be free; it’s as if Pharaoh’s spirit continues to wander the earth. That is why I have been meditating and my soul has been crying out: “Let my people go.”

In Shemot chapters 5 to 10 (5:1; 6:11; 7:2,16; 8:1, 20; 9:1,13; and 10:3) the phrase that orders Pharaoh to “let my people go” is mentioned nine times. So, I began to think, why let them go? What exactly is being released? It has been constantly on my mind that whatever is contained must be released in order to reveal its full potential.  For example, water is contained in a bottle, but when it is released, it can leave its confinement to become a drinkable fluid. Even water from the tap is contained until the tap is opened and the liquid pours out.

How many of us have lived contained for years…trapped within a paradigm? Every year we celebrate the freedom of the nation over 3,000 years ago, but we are still captives of a Pharaoh.

The word Pharaoh comes from the Egyptian “Par-o”, “great house”, which denotes pride at its finest. We read in Ezekiel 29 that his pride was so great that he fell into spiritual blindness from thinking that he had created the Nile, the source of life for his nation. He had forced the Israelites into slavery to build his cities, doing jobs to boost his economy and thus further elevate his pride. This caused him to lose his humanity so that he could no longer care about the suffering of another human being; his stubbornness grew, and he entered into the occult arts. Midrash Hagadol 7:16 says that he was an anti-intellectual i.e., he would not accept the opinions of others. The name also represents ingratitude towards God in that he recognized that God exists, but he did not understand this God, a God who is not bound to this earth, which is why he says in Shemot 5:2: “I do not know the Eternal (יְהֹוָה֙)”. However, in his dialogues with Moshe, Moshe refers to the Eternal by the name Elohim (אֱלֹהֵ֥י – Elohei), a God who IS connected to this material[1] world.  Pharaoh represents the “incarnation” of the modern world; one who recognizes that there is a force or higher energy, but who does not know Him nor does not desire a relationship with Him.

[1] [1] https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/379939/jewish/The-Power-in-a-Name.htm for a more profound understanding.

That is why our sages invite us to leave our Egypt, our Mitzraim (which depicts narrow-mindedness) because something that is narrow-minded strangles, suffocates, and does not allow us to breathe freely rather it generates despair. We all have a Par-o that makes us think that our mission in life is just to make bricks, that our mission is to be born, to grow, to live, to reproduce, to die as a slave, and ultimately to pass slavery down to our children. Today we all have something that contains us and does not allow us to demonstrate our INNER TREASURE, to expose it to the outside world.

How many of us have not been able to overcome fear? How many have not been able to quit an addiction? How many cannot behave freely in public? How many live with unpayable debts? How many cannot sing freely because they feel a lock in their throats? How many are not sure of their shelter or daily food? How many cannot express their ideas and thoughts? How many have not started their own business yet because they think they do not have the resources or they do not want to start from the bottom? How many have lost their family or have become dead to them? I could write a book of all the unfulfilled dreams, and as I write, more and more I hear the voice, “Let my people go.”

What has a stranglehold on you? What is your biggest fear? What is exhausting you?…… “Let my people go.”

The word Pharaoh can also be separated into peh (mouth) -rah (evil or crooked); it is as if it represents that part of us that whispers bad thoughts into our spiritual ear. Pharaoh represents those bad thoughts that come from, who knows where… from our hearts, from our essence, for example thinking “I am god”, “I make bricks so that I can stop thinking for myself”; or I have to double my efforts or neglect my family”, etc. However, Pesach is also composed of peh (mouth) – sach (speak). How? Is opening my mouth the cure for Pharaoh? Psalms 51:15 -17 says, “LORD, open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” Perhaps that is why on the night of Pesach we recite the Hallel to give thanks for our freedom. Mishlei 18:21 says, in the mouth is the power of life (peh-sach) or death (peh-rah). What do you hear coming out of your mouth? Is it life or is it death? Does your mouth make you narrow or suffocate you or does it broaden you?

Our Haftarah in Ezekiel 37 refers to a valley of dry bones, that is, bones with no life.

To make “a parenthesis”, in my country (El Salvador), it rained so heavily this week that this past Shabbat and on Sunday, our dining room was flooded. On Monday, someone came to check the gutters. Surprise, surprise. There were dried animal bones in the gutter. The dry bones looked like fakes; there was no skin, no smell, no life, no movement, there was nothing but calcium.

Well, when you see the image of the prophet Ezekiel, what is more like slavery than death? A state where there is no physical life and the Eternal asks: “Son of man, can these bones come to life?”

I ask the same question about our dreams, our visions, our hopes, our talents, can – “name any of our dry bones” – come to life? Of course, only GOD knows, but He asks the prophet to speak, and the beautiful key is “Dry bones, hear the word of GOD (v.4).  Thus says the Sovereign GOD to these bones, say to them: Behold, I cause breath to enter you and you shall live again! (V.5)” That is, listening activates our being, activates our spirit, and produces life. Verse 14 of the Haftarah closes: “And I will put My spirit in you, and you will live, and I will place you in your land, and you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and have done it, says GOD.”

He has breathed His spirit into us, but we do not live fully today because we have fallen into contention, into the narrowness of not being free.

So, let’s celebrate Pesach with freedom! Full of life! With movement! Speaking openly! Leave your Mitzraim and your Pharaoh so that you can allow the Israel within you to be free!

Chag Pesach Sameach

Shabbat Shalom

Sr. Mauricio Quintero

[1] [1] https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/379939/jewish/The-Power-in-a-Name.htm for a more profound understanding.