We recently celebrated the great holiday of Passover, the Festival of Liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The prophet Ezekiel describes the Pharaoh, of Passover fame, as “the giant crocodile who couches in his rivers, who proclaims, ‘My river is mine, and I made myself . . .’ ”
I made myself? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Somehow, I had this impression of Pharaoh as a pretty smart guy. Why would a smart guy come out with a ridiculous statement like, “I made myself?”
But we do that all the time. We couch in our rivers proclaiming, “I made myself. I invented myself. I define myself!”
We go even further, setting our self-definition as the standard against which everyone else is measured.
I define life – we proclaim – for myself, and for everyone else. When does life begin? When I decide it’s “wanted.” When should it end? As soon as I decide it’s not “worth” living.
What is a “productive” life? A life that produces things that I think are important and desirous. What is a “wasted” life? Ditto in reverse.
What should I be doing with my life? The one to ask, obviously, is the one who made me, which is me.
Although we dumped Pharaoh in the Red Sea more than 3,300 years ago, we’re still schlepping him with us wherever we go. For we each embody our own private Pharaoh. We couch in our rivers proclaiming: “My river is mine, and I made myself!”
“In every generation,” says the Talmud – “and each and every day,” adds the Tanya –”a person should see himself as if he, himself, has come out of Egypt.”
Liberating ourselves from Pharaoh is a daily challenge. Not because we failed yesterday, but precisely because we succeeded. Yesterday we liberated ourselves from the blatancy of our ego. So what was yesterday’s subtle ego is the blatant ego of today’s more refined self.
All of life’s challenges ultimately flow from the Nile Syndrome, the ego’s cry of “my river is mine, and I made myself.” And all of life’s rewards are but variations of the daily exodus in which we climb one level higher in the life-long journey out of Egypt.
Rabbi Chaim Zaklos is the executive director of Chabad Jewish Center of Solano County and can be reached at [email protected]