Every year, we read the story of the exodus from Egypt in the Pesach Haggada.
In the Midrash, it’s written that the Egyptian exile was the hardest period of time that Am Yisrael experienced. The slavery was extremely hard. Writing in Likutey Halachot, Rav Natan of Breslov says that the exile was a galut hanefesh – an exile of the soul.
We have to try to understand what Rav Natan meant by this, because they actually were slaves in Egypt, and experiencing an extremely harsh reality. If this was the case, the why does Rav Natan tells us that the main thing was the exile of the soul?
Let’s start from the beginning, in order to understand what’s going on.
The holy Ari explains in his book Etz Chaim about the whole matter relating to the creation of man. He explains that Hashem assembled man in such a way that he contains two opposing forces: the first is the Divine neshama or soul, which is a part of God Himself. And the second one, in order to give us tests and free choice, is the Nefesh behemit, or animal soul.
The animal soul completely opposes the Divine soul. From the side of the Divine soul, we want want good and truth, Torah and mitzvot. We want to get closer to Hashem. And from the side of the animal soul, we want exactly the opposite. We want and lust after our desires, like money, pride and comfort, and the only thing we want to focus on is ourselves.
And all of these things distance us from dong Hashem’s will, and effectively, from Hashem himself.
Our work in this world is to illuminate, and awaken and strengthen our Divine soul, because as this one rises, the other one will fall. When the Divine neshama wakes up, the Nefesh is weakened, until it disappears completely, as we’ve seen happen by some of our biggest Tzaddikim.
Each person in each generation will experience this war and this clarification process between the animal soul and the Divine neshama, but this is especially true of our generation, when the war has intensified tremendously.
The true leaders of the world
It’s written in the holy books that the whole ‘reality’ that we see in the world and within the nation of Israel itself is just a representation of the battle between the Nefesh and the neshama that’s occurring within each person. We think that there are presidents and prime ministers, foreign nations and security forces, and people with money, and they are the ones governing and ruling the world.
But we need to know that if we pierce through this illusion, and we look at things truthfully, everything that we see going on in the world is just a big performance. God is running the world, and He’s moving all the governments and rulers around as He sees fit, as it’s written: “the heart of kings and ministers are in Hashem’s hand.” And everything is being run according to the spiritual condition of Jewish souls.
Whatever is going on in the world and whatever is happening in the world, this is just reflecting the war occurring in every Jewish heart between the Divine soul and the animal soul.
When a person strengthens the light of his Divine soul by learning Torah, praying, doing hitbodedut, giving tzedaka and doing kindnesses, etc, this ‘strengthening’ then causes things to happen in and affects the whole world. And this all strengthens the abundance of true Torah and Tzaddikim that exists in the world.
And if a person strengthens his animal soul by way of neglecting the Torah and mitzvot, God forbid, and by acting in a foolish way (we’re not talking here about a person who is going through enormous hardships, but a spiritual fall that he is actually culpable for) – then his fall will also affect the whole world.
Effectively, how the world is run depends on us, on the souls of the nation of Israel.
Why do the goyim rule over us?
The holy Ari says that at the time that Am Yisrael were in Egypt, Egypt was the most important county in the world. Pharoah ruled over and influenced the whole world, but all of the power he had to rule over and enslave Am Yisrael was only given to Pharoah by Hashem. And this happened because Am Yisrael had to go through a spiritual rectification by way of being enslaved and exiled.
Pharoah chose to be the ‘stick’ in Hashem’s hands, but Pharoah was only the messenger. The second the mission was completed, Hashem took Am Yisrael out of Egypt, and then destroyed Egypt.
When the Jewish people don’t collectively follow after the light of their Divine souls, and instead run to do the bidding of their animal souls, we effectively give power to the goyim (foreign nations) to enslave us and rule over us. On a personal level, this means that we become enslaved to money and making a living.
When a person merits to make real teshuva, and to follow after the desires of their Divine soul, then we effectively break the yoke of slavery that the goyim have placed on us, and also break the yoke of having to make a living.
So this is why Rav Natan says that the exile is galut hanefesh, or an exile of the soul, and that the redemption will be a redemption of the soul, because the root of exile is to be found in the Jewish soul. This root is strengthened and intensified by our negative character traits and lusts, and then the light of the Divine soul is concealed.
The root of the redemption is also the redemption of the soul, and occurs when the light of the Divine soul in a Jew is strengthened, and when we want to come closer to God, and we strengthen our good character traits by way of prayer, hitbodedut and learning Torah.
The more a person connects to the light contained within his Divine soul, the more he’ll be living in a reality of ‘redemption’.