Ode to my tefillin (for Big Tent Poetry)
Worth revisiting before Pesach

On leaping, without delay - Reb Nachman on leaving Mitzrayim

In preparation for Pesach, my chevruta and I decided to study a Hasidic text I had learned a few years ago but hadn't looked back at since. This is Reb Nachman of Bratzlav (or Breslov) as interpreted / filtered through the words of his closest disciple, Reb Nosson, and this is a really beautiful -- and timely! -- teaching. My translation appears below (indented), with explanations interspersed.

One needs to leave Mitzrayim with great haste. This is the essence of the quote from Torah, "For they left Mitzrayim and couldn't tarry, and also they didn't make provisions [for the journey]." (Exodus 12:39) This truth is recapitulated in each person and in each era. In each person and in each time, there can be found a residue [of Mitzrayim], the cravings and woes of this world, and this is the essence of the exile in Mitzrayim.

In the traditional haggadah for Pesach (and in mine!) we read that in every generation, each of us is commanded to experience Pesach as though we ourselves had been liberated from Mitzrayim (literally "Egypt," though the name's meaning speaks of constriction and can therefore be understood in a broader way as that which constrains or enslaves us.)

Reb Nachman and Reb Nosson expand this teaching to say that in each of our lives, and in each historical moment in time, the exile of Mitzrayim is present: in our cravings, in our cravenness, in our sorrows. Each of us knows exile, and each of us needs to be ready to get out of there -- fast, without second-guessing ourselves. The text continues:

This is the essence of Pesach. At the moment of the Exodus from Mitzrayim, a great light from on high was revealed, as is known; and at that time, promptly, Israel went out in great haste and they couldn't tarry. For even if they had remained there even one more instant, they would have remained a remnant there, as is known.

Rebs Nachman and Nosson are playing with a Hebrew pun here: the word for "exile" is גלות, galut, and the word for "revealed" is גלוי, galui. There's a sense in which at the moment of the Exodus, we traded galut for galui, exile for a glimpse of God.

And there was danger. Had the Israelites lingered even a little bit longer, they might have become unable to depart at all. We too are in perennial danger of becoming so stuck in our spiritual distance from God that we forget that we even wanted to lift ourselves out.

In the moment of making this kind of exodus, it's forbidden to worry about parnassah, to worry "But if I do this, how will I make a living?" Rather one must trust in God and hope in the Blessed One and God will provide.

Parnassah means income, making a living, sustenance and livelihood: a perfectly normal thing to worry about, especially if one is about to make a major leap. But that's exactly what this text says we mustn't do. Instead, we're called to have trust and hope in God, Who will provide what we most need.

This is the essence of (that Torah reference again) "And also they didn't make provisions." If someone needed to flee from a dangerous situation, such as being trapped in a snare, one wouldn't think about parnassah or preparations, lest one be set-upon by thieves or robbers or wild beasts from which one would further need to be freed. One wouldn't pause in that moment of self-extrication to worry about making a living.

The same is true if a person needs to flee from She'ol around and beneath him, or from the tribulations of the world, turning instead toward what enlivens this world. One wouldn't look behind oneself at all. For one must not tarry, nor worry about parnassah, but trust in God and rely on God who never leaves us.

The state of spiritual exile in which each of us finds ourselves (at least sometimes; every person in every era) is, say Reb Nachman and Reb Nosson, like being caught in a snare in the dangerous desert with thieves and robbers and hungry wild beasts all about. If I were caught in a trap and needed to extricate myself before even greater danger came upon me, would I stop and worry about where my next meal was coming from? Of course not.

Just so, say these teachers, should we not worry about parnassah when the time comes to make a spiritual leap away from the sufferings of this world and toward connection with God. God never leaves us. At this season of Pesach, when we read the story of the Exodus from Egypt as though it were our own story of liberation, we're called to plunge into spiritual growth -- to choose to leap away from the spiritual mire of complacency and into the possibility of transformation.

Where in your life are you called to leap, right now, on the cusp of Pesach?

What would it take for you to be able to make that leap without tarrying and without looking back?