We can’t get out of Egypt by ourselves
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 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 doing 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’.
The light of Moshe’s soul
Am Yisrael left Egypt thousands of years’ ago, yet when we recite the Haggada every year we still say: “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as though he also left Egypt.” It’s written in the holy books that the intention behind this is that every Jew has to leave the ‘exile of the soul’ throughout his whole life, i.e. the exile that comes from having negative character traits and desires that prevent us from really completely connecting to Hashem. Let’s focus on the story of the exodus from Egypt, to see what helped Am Yisrael to fix themselves, and to awaken their Divine souls, so that they could actually leave Egypt.
Rebbe Nachman says that when you look at the story, you see that the main factor that helped them to do this was Moshe Rabbenu. From the moment that Moshe Rabbenu got to Egypt, the redemption and the exodus from Egypt already began. Every Jew’s job is to illuminate and wake up his Divine soul, and by raising up his Divine soul, the other falls.
The more the Divine soul is illuminated within a person, the more the animal soul is weakened, until it completely disappears.
Moshe Rabbenu was one of those Tzaddikim who merited to completely nullify his animal soul, and his Divine soul shone out of him in a very intense way. The strength of this tremendous light that was shining out of Moshe Rabbenu’s soul roused all the souls of the nation of Israel in turn, and gave them the strength to start fighting against, and routing, their animal soul.
From the moment Moshe Rabbenu came back to Egypt, the Exodus began, because the light of Moshe’s soul illuminated and strengthened all of the Jewish souls.
Nevertheless, at the beginning Pharoah was still opposing the process, and even increased the enslavement. But this was only in order that Pharoah would be struck by the plagues. Moshe began to bring the plagues down upon Pharoah and Egypt, and every plague weakened the animal soul, generally, across the whole of the nation of Israel, and lit up their Divine neshama.
Until they got to the plague of the death of the firstborn, which ultimately forced the animal soul, and Pharoah, to completely surrender and led to the exodus from Egypt.
Connect to the Tzaddik and merit to be redeemed
Rav Natan says that we can learn a very big secret, and spiritual rule, from here. Namely, that in order for a Jewish person to get out from being enslaved to their animal soul, he first requires the help of Moshe Rabbenu.
The name of ‘Moshe Rabbenu’ includes all of those unique Tzaddikim who have existed throughout the generations who were given the task of helping us to get out of Egypt, our personal Egypt, anew. Because in every single generation, ‘Egypt’ exists in a different form, and manifests itself in different bad character traits and different lusts that latch on to us in an extremely forceful way.
We can’t get out of Egypt by ourselves, because the force of these bad character traits and lusts is so powerful, and so strong, and the falsehoods, confusion and deceptive wisdoms used by the yetzer (evil inclination) are extremely difficult to see through. A person has no idea where to find the advice he needs, or what path he needs to go down, in order to repel the animal soul. Or maybe he knows, but he still doesn’t have the ability to withstand the tests posed by all the yetzer’s temptations.
So, we need the help of the Tzaddikim.
In Likutey Moharan, Rabbenu says that this is the task of the biggest Tzaddikim, like Moshe Rabbenu, King David, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the holy Ari, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and all the rest. All these Tzaddikim only came to the world in order to help Jewish souls to get out of their exile.
The essence of the work a person needs to do is to connect to and bind themselves with the Tzaddik, and also to learn his Torah, and to follow his advice. If he does this, he’ll already start to leave his exile.
The secret of the Tzaddik
It’s takes a lot of time before we can completely get out of exile. We can see this from the story of the exodus from Egypt, where the exile took place in Egypt, but the true redemption took place when they arrived in Eretz Yisrael – a process which took Israel 40 years. This was 40 years of working on themselves, until they were worthy of achieving redemption.
In the desert, throughout the whole clarification process they had to experience during the different fights they had there with their yetzer haras, as described at length in the Zohar and the midrash, Moshe Rabbenu was helping them and guiding and leading them towards achieving their tikkun, or spiritual rectification.
We should know that the main reason that the Tzaddik merits to achieve his lofty spiritual level is because he knows and totally believes that he is the worst person in the world. This is what we saw by Moshe Rabbenu, who spent a week trying to convince Hashem that he wasn’t suitable to be chosen as the Tzaddik who would redeem Am Yisrael. Finally, Hashem had to force him to go and redeem Am Yisrael.
The question is often asked: The main point is for every Jew to receive light directly from Hashem, and to be directly connected to Hashem. So, why do we need Tzaddikim to ‘connect us’ to Hashem?
The answer is that this truly is the goal of every Jew, and this is how it will be in the time of redemption. But until we get there, a person has a lot of bad character traits and desires that throw up a lot of screens and walls, which means that Hashem’s light can’t really penetrate through to him properly.
So, in these times when we are still engaged in so many battles against our yetzer hara, we need the help and assistance of the Tzaddik, who stands between us and Hashem, and sends more of his soul’s light along to us, and who reveals to us more of the true daat (knowledge) of Hashem.