Exiting Egypt--or, Leaving Servitude to Modern Modernity

When you call l shall answer: "I am with you," I will save you in distress and give you glory. With length of days I will content you; I shall let you see my saving power.

             --Psalm 91: 14-16 

This is a general principle: a voice with no syllabic articulation mediated through letters is not heard.

                        --Rabbi Ya'akov Moshe Charlap

Though both words derive from the same Latin root, an abyss separates servitude from service. Indeed, it is only by being delivered from servitude that one can begin to be of service.

That is the story of Israel. Not Israel in the sense of the current nation-state that the victorious colonial powers established after the end of World War II, but Israel in the sense of the Jewish people themselves. The story of the Exodus, that is, the story of the Jewish people’s journey out of their bondage in Egypt as told in Jewish scriptures, has become the paradigm story of liberation from servitude and into service.

It is in that sense that Israel is "the chosen people." By that choice that Jewish people are not designated by some "higher authority" with authority of their own to rule over any other people. They are not chosen to become masters in turn, enslaving others, as though by being delivered from their own chains they were given the privilege of putting others in chains.

Rather, in their own story of being released from bondage the Jewish people are chosen to serve all peoples. They are chosen to serve all by being singled out to carry the message of the universal delivery of all humanity from servitude. Israel is selected to serve as the sign signifying the freeing of all peoples from servitude to coercive power. Indeed, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt marks, and thereby makes visible, the freeing of all human beings everywhere at all times from servitude, empowering them to be of service to one another, each to all, in all the rich diversity of peoples and of the unique singularity of each and every person who helps constitute one or another of  the peoples of the world.

In that sense, there is nothing at all special about the Jews. Israel's deliverance from servitude in Egypt--which itself simply serves here as a sign of subservience, of subjection to servitude--just serves as the sign of an always already given universal deliverance.

Along with Israel, everyone has already exited Egypt. It only remains for each to see that it is so: that deliverance has always already happened, even before one prays for it.

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Our Hasidic masters pointed out that the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be understood as “the narrow place of consciousness.” To be a slave is to only see the small picture placed in front of you by the powerful. The liberation struggle we celebrate tonight is not a one time event from the past, but rather is a process that must continue from generation to generation. 

                                                                                    --Rabbi Michael Lerner

Egypt today is the Internet. Or at least the Internet can be used to signify today what Egypt once signified in the Biblical account of the Exodus. The Internet can serve as a synecdoche in one of its forms:  a part standing for the whole to which it belongs. 

In using the Internet as such a synecdoche, the "whole" at issue is our entire contemporary global consumer society. Alternately put, it is all that binds us in servitude to the global consumer market and all that that market incessantly markets to us, chaining us, indenturing us, to itself, ever more strongly and deeply. In just that way, so many of us are chained, for example, to our I-Phones and to endlessly taking then posting "selfies." 

We are bond-servants of just such digitization and promotion of everything, including ourselves, even when we are in the presence of what should inspire our awe--and would, if we could once disconnect from all the pseudo-connections the Internet itself both provides and paradigmatically exemplifies. But we are too preoccupied with taking our "selfies" of ourselves even when we are standing on holy ground--ground where, like Moses at the burning bush, we should take off our shoes. For us today that--"taking off our shoes"--means dis-connecting from all our silly self-promoting devices, as well as all the other devices that only give us the illusion of connection.

Today, then, Egypt is the Internet. But, ah, who today will deliver us from that body of death? Who today will lead us out of that Egypt? Or, rather, where will we find the burning bush by the light of which we can see at last that our modern Egypt is no more real than the ancient one, and that we were never bound there to begin with? 

Only when we find that bush, or it finds us, will we realize that there is never really any Egypt from which we need to exit. Only then will we suddenly be given the insight that we all are free to go where we will.

We are all already elsewhere.

The Crossing of the Red Sea , Nicolas Poussin (1634)

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin (1634)