Our sages speak of the close relationship between the individual and the history of the Jewish people as described in the Torah. The grand events of the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus recounted in our Parshah can take place within the personal world of each man or woman living today.

One example is the Plagues, prominent in our Parshah. On Passover, reading the Haggadah, we chant a list of them, spilling out a drop of wine for each. Then the Haggadah recalls a discussion about them between two ancient Sages, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva.

Rabbi Eliezer says that each Plague actually consisted of four Plagues. Rabbi Akiva says not four, but five. Sitting at the Seder table, reciting from the wine-stained Haggadah, we hurry on towards the Matza, the bitter herbs and the meal. But what are these two Sages telling us today?

It is at this point that we can discover something about the process of leaving Egypt on an inner, personal level.

The function of the Plagues in history was to break the negative power of Egypt and of Pharaoh, the tyrant who enslaved the Jewish people. Inwardly, the equivalent of the Plagues is our attempt to break through our own situation of enslavement. Who or what enslaves us? Our own negative desires, our own self-centerdness.

In this inner enslavement there are four levels, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and five according to Rabbi Akiva. Understanding that, we ourselves are better able to apply the 'Plagues' in order to release our inner self.

The first level is when the negative within ourselves has so much power over us that it can force us to do something wrong. This is the plain and simple level of daily life, at which a person struggles to gain control his behavior.

The second, more subtle level of enslavement is when the person does the right thing. But he is always worried about what other people are thinking about him. He is trapped by his own concept of society.

A third level of enslavement is yet more subtle. The person has a sense of freedom, and stands above the opinions of other people. Yet he remains limited by his own intellect and understanding. He remains cold, without passion. By contrast Jewish teaching demands from us the ability to go beyond this limitation: "You should love G‑d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There are situations which demand something more than cold rationality.

The fourth level is that the person can go beyond understanding. He or she acts with self-sacrifice. As far as Rabbi Eliezer is concerned, this is the highest level attainable.

But Rabbi Akiva can still see a possible problem. The person may continue to be trapped by his own sense of righteousness: "I am sacrificing myself! Aren't I wonderful?!" For Rabbi Akiva the fifth level of freedom is when the person is totally free of self.

Then he or she can truly be devoted to the service of G‑d, bringing Redemption ultimately not just to themselves but to the whole world.