Self Mastery is the Key to True Freedom.
By: Kaila Lasky
The holiday of Passover celebrates our exodus from the enslavement in Egypt and our journey towards the birth of our people as a nation We celebrate not only freedom from physical slavery, but the ability to achieve spiritual liberation, as well.
Our spiritual freedom is attainable through the Torah and commandments we received after being released from the physical bondage of pharaoh in Egypt. Although a superficial understanding can make Judaism seem like another form of enslavement, (so many rules, restrictions and regulations), a deeper perception reveals that it actually provides the keys to true freedom, happiness and maximum pleasure in every area of our lives, by giving us the tools to connect with our higher selves.
Just as we lived as strangers in a strange land in Egypt, so too, are our souls strangers in the strange land of our bodies, the physical world.
By design, we’re created with a dual nature. We are both physical and spiritual, animalistic and godly. Our opposing natures place us at war within ourselves, as the two sides wrestle for control. This struggle is indicated in the very name Yisrael, (Israel), which contains the verb, to master. If we forget that there is more to us than our external trappings and allow ourselves to be dragged down into materialism, negativity and the blind following of our impulses, we are truly enslaved. Self mastery is the key to true freedom.
When we speak about the sworn enemies of the Jewish people, such as Pharaoh, we understand them to be not only an external, physical threat, but an internal, existential threat, as well.
This negative force that lives inside of us is known in Hebrew as the "yetzer hara," the evil inclination. We can think of it as our own inner “Pharaoh”.
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Our inner Pharaoh’s job is to distract us from reaching our highest potential and fulfilling our purpose in life. While our long term goals are often soul driven, most of our impulses towards immediate gratification are not. Indeed, they frequently undermine the very goals we’re trying to achieve.The inner enemy accomplishes its mission by attacking our thoughts, our speech and our actions.
We can tell who’s winning when we examine these three areas of expression.
When our thoughts are depressive, negative or critical, when we’re focused on what we lack, rather than all the blessings we have, the inner adversary scores a victory. When we reach for that second or third piece of cake to satisfy an immediate craving or lose our tempers and hurt someone we care for, it’s clear that our higher selves are not in control.
What am I enslaved to that is holding me back from achieving my potential? The Hebrew word for Egypt is mitzrayim, the root of which is metzar, meaning constriction, narrowness, limitation. Spiritually, as Passover approaches, the same energy of freedom that existed at the time of the Exodus is available for us to tap into. It’s the ideal time to ask ourselves:
What am I enslaved to that is holding me back from achieving my potential?
What are the blockages, constrictions and limitations that stand in the way of accomplishing my goals in any area of my life?
Am I a slave to my physical appetites?
Does my professional life overtake my time and erode my relationships?
Am I imprisoned by my need for approval from others?
Am I constantly seeking more or newer or better without appreciating what I already have?
At the Passover Seder we read, “In every generation we must each regard ourselves as though we personally had just left Egypt.” The goal is to use the tools we have been given to make this happen in the context of our own lives.
Our mission is to grant the soul freedom of expression while it's still trapped in our body. The Torah gives us the ability to do this by curbing, not denying, our animalistic, physical selves and harmonizing the two opposing forces within us.
Related Article: Matzah: The Taste of Freedom
Each positive mitzvah that we do exercises, expresses and strengthens the soul, and each prohibited act that we refrain from strengthens us in the areas of self mastery and empowerment.
In order to accomplish anything worthwhile, such as completing a degree, improving a relationship or living a healthier life, if we don’t exercise self discipline, we will never attain our goals. Life is an ongoing battle between being enslaved by our materialistic, physical nature or rising above by connecting and strengthening our higher, spiritual selves.
If we use the spiritual energy available at this auspicious time to identify the areas where we feel trapped or blocked and the tools of the Torah and mitzvot to connect with and express our souls, we can break free of our own personal Egypt and experience true liberation.