Egypt and Pharaoh are facts of life. To be human is to be enslaved. If you’re not doing exodus, you’re doing slavery.

To be enslaved you must be human. A computer is not a slave. Animals are not slaves. Human beings can be slaves because a human is a master. A human is essentially free. So free, that for the human being to exist is to be imprisoned.

The housecat does not feel imprisoned in its apartment, but a tiger does. The animal does not feel imprisoned in its body, but the human soul does. For some human souls, the entire universe is a prison. Why? Because, somehow, the human soul knows something beyond. Something entirely free. That which is simple reality for other creatures, for the human being is a prison.

Because the experience of every human being is an excruciating paradox. We are born with an innate sense of I. More than any creature upon the earth, we feel "I am. Nothing else is but me. All else is no more than an extension of my being."

We are all little pharaohs, as the prophet Ezekiel described him, "The big fish in the river declaring, 'The river is mine. I created it. I created my own self.'"

And yet we have a mind, a sense of awareness not only of our surroundings, but also of the I that exists within those surroundings. And that mind tells us that our innate experience is absurd.

It is absurd to believe that I am in control. I did not make this place. I have no clue what is going on over here. There is a whole world out there that seems perfectly capable of going on quite well without me. There are others out there, each of whom is an entire world, an I unto his or her self. My I is absurd.

And yet, from the time I opened my eyes and stood upon my feet, I could not fathom any other I but me, or any of this world existing without my "I".

It is not something you grow out of. You can grow out of selfishness, greed, impulsiveness. You can overcome any vice. But ego is not a vice. It is you. It was there when you began and it is the basis of everything you do. You can hide it enough so it does not embarrass you in public. You can pretty it up so that other 'I's are not as annoyed with it. You can choose to ignore its whelps and howls when your mind tells you that it has just gotten out of hand.

But it will always be there, as the earth upon which you tread, as the air you breath, as the darkness that lurks in the background, waiting for the sun to set, to say, "I never really left. Even as the sun shone bright, I was still there. I am the default. I am the ground of all that exists. I am."


This is how the master of the Kabbalah, the Ari, describes the enslavement of Egypt: It is when the mind cannot speak with the heart.

Every part of the world corresponds to a facet of the human soul. Every facet of the human soul corresponds to a feature of the human anatomy. Where is Egypt? It is the neck, that most awkward place of the human form where a massive head must connect through an agile limb to the rest of the body. The channel through which air, food, blood, data, and commands all must pass from one world to another. Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, meaning literally, "the straits."

And Pharaoh? His Hebrew letters are the same as the Hebrew word Oref, "the back of the neck." Pharaoh, as the Ari described him, stands at the back of the neck and strangles us. He hijacks all that is in the mind for himself, not allowing more than a trickle to enter the body.

And so, we are enslaved: Our mind knows a higher truth, an obvious one, to which our heart pays no more than lip service. The mind struggles to soar from its cage in futility, its wings clipped by the self-centered passions of the body and heart.

Every human struggle, every illness, physical and psychological, can be traced to this underlying pathology. Everything we do is a gambit to escape this slavery. One who surrenders has surrendered to death. One who escapes, even for a day, has tasted true life.


How do I escape the bondage of my I if my I is me? Not with love, because then there is still I that loves. Not in meditation, because there is I meditating. Not with any striving for enlightenment, because in every striving there is I again, searching for that which will make me a greater, more enlightened I.

But only by exchanging this bondage for a greater one. The ultimate bondage.

The I has a jealously guarded secret, wrote the Maharal of Prague. It is that the I is no more than G‑d breathing within me.

Why does G‑d wish to breathe within me? Because G‑d desires communion with a being that is also an I. That is why I am an I: Not because that is the truth, not because it cannot be otherwise-but because G‑d so desires. That is the drama of the universe, played and replayed within each of its creatures, the drama of I and Other drawn towards each other while remaining separate beings. At the core of the universe lies the paradigm of it all: The love affair of G‑d and the human I.

The separateness of these two beings is a prison. Their communion is freedom. And how is their communion? Through a betrothal of my I to that original I. As we did when we bound ourselves to Him through His Torah, saying, "We will do."

And so G‑d told Moses, "When you will take the people out of Egypt, you will serve Me on this mountain." Because there is only one path to leave Egypt. Not by being this or striving for that, but by bondage to an Infinite I, a bondage that knows no bounds.