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As Americans who deeply care about this country, many of us constantly battle frustration as we review the country’s oppressive governance, values, and culture. We fear that we are headed down a dark path, one that leads to an even more ominous existence.
And we don’t know how to put on the brakes, or how to set ourselves free.
Today I was reading a short newsletter talking about a portion of the Jewish seder, which recalls the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. At the seder we make the statement, “This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.” A shorter version is, “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
The question was asked whether a person who already lives in Israel still embraces this call. The author explained that leaving Egypt for Jerusalem has deeper implications, yet a more intimate meaning:
The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which means limitations, restrictions, obstacles. It represents a state in which our souls are trapped in our bodies, enslaved to material desires and tied down to physical limitations. It is a world in which righteousness, justice and holiness are held captive to corruption, selfishness and egotism.
Jerusalem means ‘the city of peace’—a place of peace between body and soul, heaven and earth, the ideal and reality. When our body becomes not a prison for the soul but rather a vehicle for the soul’s expression; when we live our lives according to our ideals rather than our cravings; when the world values goodness and generosity over selfish gain—then we are in Jerusalem, we are at peace with ourselves and the world.
This observation was deeply moving for me. In this past year, many of us have felt trapped “in Mitzrayim”: we’ve been locked down in our homes, trapped by our fears of disease and death, repeatedly betrayed by the governmental elites, and suffered the loss of our freedoms. At times we have difficulty imagining that there is an alternative where we can nurture our souls and find peace in our hearts; where morality thrives and genuine compassion is appreciated and practiced.
And we want someone to somehow transform this chaotic and dark existence and make freedom and self-reliance a priority for everyone.
But that person is nowhere to be found, we think.
That person is you.
As difficult as it might be, we have to find that quiet, sacred place within ourselves that connects with a greater truth. That truth tells us that we may not be able to change our circumstances at the moment, but we can change how we see them. We can see them as temporary roadblocks that must be destroyed, and replace them with determination, resilience, and action. We must remember that we have the resources, personal and spiritual, not to just muddle through, but to step back and see life clearly. We must remember we are not defined by what happens to us, but how we respond to each and every event. Although we may become discouraged, and rage against the corrupt powers who dominate our days, we must remember that we have more inner power than the most self-absorbed hypocrite. We have the power of legitimate vision; we have the power of our united souls; we have the power of our principles; we have the power of our beliefs and values.
It may seem easier to see ourselves as enslaved by our circumstances, unable to break free, fighting off foolish and misguided utopians who only want us out of their way. But we must frequently remind each other that we are a free people, and we will not let anyone—anyone—take that away from us.
Those who literally hate us must not be allowed to conquer our hearts, which belong solely to us. They must not be permitted to destroy our resolve; we have unfathomable resources that they can’t even imagine.
We must take this time to learn the truth of the times as best we can, to trumpet those truths as loudly and as often as possible. At some point, people will count on us to step up to take the country in a new direction.
We must be ready to hold fast and fight on.
But first, we must find our own Jerusalem.Published in