An allegory of slavery

Why did the Hebrews wander in the desert for forty years, looking for the Promised Land? Could not God, the all-powerful, the One Who knows it all, have shown them the way and gotten them there sooner?

The story of the Exodus can be seen as an allegory, whose moral is: The road from slavery to freedom is not a straight line. Those with the slave mentality wandered in that desert till they died––and that tells us that it takes a lifetime to traverse the “desert of slavery” in search of the Promised Land, where one is free.

Take me, for instance. I am enslaved to bread. Others are addicted to sugar, to alcohol, to sex, to work, or to their political beliefs.

Come to think of it, who is free? We are all slaves to something that governs our lives. We all spend our lifetimes wandering through the “desert” trying to free ourselves, struggling to find the elusive Promised Land of continuous happiness.

And how did the Hebrews become enslaved in Egypt? In the Hebrew language, they did not “go” to Egypt; they “descended” (“VaYered Mitzrayma”).

The word “descended” can be understood from a geographic point of view, because Egypt is located south of Canaan; but there is also an allegorical explanation: Jacob went to Egypt because there was no food in Canaan at the time. He took his family to Egypt for a very innocent reason: to survive. But what happened? Over time, his descendents “descended” into slavery by staying too long in a country not theirs. And isn’t that how the process of enslavement always happens? We never intend to become enslaved to cigarettes, right? We just want some pleasure, so we light one. And then we take another one, and another one, and over time, what happens? We “descend”: We become enslaved to smoking. Or to alcohol. Or to work. Many pleasures start innocently but over time, if repeated, end up enslaving us.

Leadership in the Passover story

Who is Moses, the leader who takes the Hebrews from slavery to freedom? He is a rebel: the adopted son of the Pharaoh, who rebels against those who raised him. He is a murderer. (He kills a fellow Egyptian overseer who is beating a Jewish slave.) And on top of that, his stutter makes him a poor communicator.

Is he not the most improbable person to be anointed as the leader?

If a person is not born a leader, then how does he become one?

Here, the story of Passover gives us another insight.

Moses was not born a leader. He was instructed by God, who manifested Himself in a bush that burned but was not consumed, to lead his people  out of slavery.

So?

The eternally burning bush illustrates that God has no beginning and no end (“Blee Reshit …,” or “With no beginning …).

What else has neither beginning nor end? Our souls. And it is our souls––which reside in our hearts––that connect us to God.

Thus, who is this God that Moses listens to?  Whom does a true  leader listen to?

A true leader follows his conscience. Follows his heart. Listens to his soul. In that way, he follows God’s will.

So should you. We can be all leaders. What makes one a leader is the search for the Promised Land, leading us away from slavery toward freedom. How does the leader accomplish this? By being a follower––by following God’s will. By following his or her heart.

The Promised Land is not there. It is here, in our hearts.

But it’s not easy.

Why?

Moses died across the Jordan River from the Promised Land. He could see it in the distance, but he never did set foot in it.

Why was God so cruel to Moses, who had dedicated his whole life to God and to leading the stubborn, rebellious Hebrews to the Promised Land?

The Bible gives the explanation that it was God’s punishment for some transgression.

I have a different opinion.

I believe this story, too, is an allegory, and its meaning is that no true leader can ever reach the Promised Land. True leaders can only see it from a distance, because for true leaders, the Promised Land is a moving target, a horizon that moves as the followers move.

If a leader does reach his goal, it means that he has stopped leading: He has stopped setting new targets, has stopped noticing the movements of the horizon. At some point, he has stopped changing and growing.

Who can lead us from slavery?

All of us who decide to listen to our hearts are leaders, leading ourselves toward freedom. As we listen to our hearts, as we struggle to emancipate ourselves from our dependencies, we learn and we grow. And if we are true leaders, we never stop listening till we die because there is no end to learning, to following God’s will.

There is no point of enlightenment; there is no specific location where the Promised Land can be found. It is not a destination. Enlightenment occurs when you realize that it is the search for enlightenment that is enlightening.

Getting free of our enslavements is not as simple as just hopping over to the Promised Land, the land of freedom from enslavement. It takes a lifetime of struggling, of resisting temptations, of worshiping false Gods and then seeking redemption.

The road to heaven is not a straight line. There is no map, no GPS. Granted, the established religions try to provide “a manual” (the Bible, for example, or the Koran) but in the Passover Haggadah, the wandering slaves in spirit follow God who appears now as an elusive cloud, something that cannot be touched or caught. It is not a place or a thing that one can possess; rather it is something that needs to be  explored and interpreted to be understood.

Our heart gives us new answers as we listen. The search for the Promised Land is a process, it is a journey, not a destination; the process of continuously learning and growing, continuously listening to our soul, to our conscience.

The Promised Land is not where you are going to, or where you are coming from. It is where you are right now: Searching. Listening. Being conscious.

Each year, as we sit and read the Haggadah and tell the story of the Emergence from Egypt (Yetziat Mitzrayeem)––the story of how we were freed from our enslavement––we remind ourselves that being freed is not a one-shot deal. It is a lifetime task that never ends.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes