My rabbi had just invited a young man to spend some time learning in our Yeshiva, and this was his intriguing reply. As it turns out, he had once been struck by a speeding car while riding his bicycle around a blind curve. The force of the collision had sent him flying over the hood, but rather than meeting what appeared to be certain death, he miraculously landed unscathed on the pavement. “So you see,” concluded the young man. “God and I already have a very close relationship.”
“That’s quite a story,” said my rabbi. “But I have one question for you: Who do you think sent the car?”
If you ask the average person why God struck Egypt with ten plagues, he’ll probably tell you that it was to free the Jews from bondage, which is a great answer except for one minor detail: Who do you think sent them down there in the first place?
Egypt wasn’t destroyed so that the Jews could escape. The Jews were sent down there so that Egypt could be destroyed. Yet, the Talmud tells us that God rebuked His own angels for celebrating Egypt’s destruction: “The works of my hands are drowning in the sea and you want to sing!” (Talmud tractate Megillah 10b) Clearly, therefore, God is no sadist. Egypt’s destruction could only be justified because it was absolutely necessary in order to teach mankind a critically important lesson.
The ten plagues were essentially an air, sea and land campaign, waged not only against Egypt, but more importantly, against its idols. Idol worship may seem bizarre to us today, but idols were really just physical representations of the same natural forces that we ourselves encounter on a daily basis and are often awed by. Idolaters believed that these forces – or gods – ruled the universe, but could be appeased or manipulated when worshiped properly, which means that idolatry was really just a bid for security and control in a deterministic universe characterized by blind, unyielding forces and inevitable outcomes.
By miraculously defying these “immutable” forces, the events of the exodus shattered the illusion of natural cause and effect and demonstrated that “nature” is subservient to a far greater power that wills each slice of time and space into existence via a brand new and completely independent act of creation. The ten plagues didn’t just prove that miracles are possible; they demonstrated that miracles happen every moment, since the only difference between the natural and the miraculous is that one appears to be part of a natural order and sequence while the other doesn’t.
Egypt and it’s pantheon of gods needed to be humbled so that the one true source of power in the universe could be revealed. But more importantly, they were humbled to teach us that a tiny spark of that unstoppable power resides within each of us, and that we too are capable of rising above “cause and effect” and ruling over our nature. This is what our Torah means when it tells us that we are created in the image of God. This is the freedom that Pesach comes to remind us of.
As a spiritual coach, there’s nothing sadder for me than seeing people who genuinely want to improve their lives, but believe that they are somehow destined to endlessly repeat their old familiar patterns of thought and behavior. Not surprisingly, this belief frequently leads to paralysis and a sense of hopelessness and despair that can serve as its own self-fulfilling prophecy. I often explain to such people that while it’s certainly not uncommon to develop bad thought habits from earlier experiences, past performance is nevertheless not necessarily an indication of future results. I tell them that if they were stuck in their driveway for 30 years because they mistook the brake pedal for the gas pedal, the fact that they’ve been there for 30 years would be irrelevant if they learned something new about how the car worked. They could be down the driveway in a matter of seconds.
Just as God constantly recreates His universe, we too create our own unique experience each and every moment of our lives. In a single instant, we can realize something new that revolutionizes the way we perceive our world. I have personally witnessed this phenomenon in both myself and others. I have seen decades of belief and behavior patterns shift because of a single new insight. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. We all get bogged down at times, and some of us maintain our patterns of thought and behavior for a very long time. Nevertheless, we must never lose sight of what is possible. We must never forget that we can break free of our past at any moment. If we don’t understand this, we’re virtually guaranteed to recreate it.
Pesach comes to remind us that miracles are possible; not just the public ones, but the ones that take place inside of us. It reminds us that our past does not define our future, and that there are no rules when it comes to achieving our potential. But most importantly, it reminds us that nothing can stand before the miraculous power of our creative will.
“Everything in this world depends only upon our will” (Zohar 2: 162)
Wishing you a joyous and meaningful Pesach!