In the Pesach (Passover) story, Moses repeatedly went to Pharaoh, imploring him to “Let my people go!” But Pharaoh refused… that is, until his son became the victim of his own evil decree against the Israelites. Only then, in that state of great distress, did Pharaoh set down his ego and agree to grant freedom to those who’d been enslaved for generations.
When the story is shared at seders around the world, it is always told in the second person. The exodus from Egypt didn’t happen to “them’; rather, it happened to YOU. It happened to me. Those shackles, mud pits, and heavy stones were burdens we all shared… and, from a Kabbalistic perspective, they can still weigh us down, even today.
Yet the shackles we wear now aren’t likely made of metal and chains. They’re the unseen kind that we’ve put upon ourselves–and often in the name of “Ego.”
Ego is stealth. It is an excellent shape-shifter, too. Sometimes it emerges as jealousy, gossip, animosity, or judgment. At other times, it may show up as defensiveness, selfishness, or pride. But it doesn’t have to bind us forever. As my husband Michael Berg says of the power of Pesach, “We can and are meant to leave this day a completely different person.” We have the power to change ourselves, and it all begins with a clear understanding of what has kept us bound for so long.
Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is the Enemy, explains that ego differs from a positive self-concept. The healthy version is confidence. The inflated sense of self, which veers towards indulgence and abhors any challenge to it, is not so healthy. Holiday says, “Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed; its swagger is artifice.”
In other words, when steered by ego, we lose our authenticity. We lose touch with who we are and where we fit into the larger scheme. We blunt our own becoming since the ego tells us that we’ve already arrived. After all, if someone believes they know everything, then why should they continue to learn? They’ve just stopped the growth process entirely.
As we enter this sacred cosmic window, we’re called to explore and expose those hard edges where ego has settled within ourselves. Are there areas in your life where you tend to be stubborn and unwilling to compromise? Have you treated others with less than the full respect they deserve–regardless of their social position, work status, appearance, or situation? Now is the time to get out of denial (or since we’re talking about Egypt, is it “The Nile”? ). Either way, it’s an opportune time to make a conscious shift in the way we see ourselves and the world.
On Pesach, we forego leavened foods, such as bread–and instead eat the more humble, unleavened foods, such as matzah. Likewise, we’re encouraged to deflate our sense of grandiosity and realize that none of us is the center of the world, let alone the universe. Granted, the human condition (and the illusion of separateness in general) tricks us into thinking otherwise. Because we’re stuck inside of ourselves all day, every day, the belief that I’m the center of the universe makes perfect sense. Yet there are close to 8 BILLION other people in the world who also experience themselves as the central axis for all experience. That makes for a lot of kings and queens of the world, doesn’t it?
And if we move outward a bit, we realize that every other creature on this planet also holds a similar, self-important viewpoint. Even an ant believes (whether consciously or not) that it is the most important creature on the planet. As Carl Sagan observed, we are essentially microscopic beings living on a tiny “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” It’s not all bleak, though. Neil deGrasse Tyson wrote, “When I look up in the universe, I know I’m small, but I’m also big. I’m big because I’m connected to the universe and the universe is connected to me.” Both Kabbalah and science agree: we are all connected… and there is only one Light.
The holiday of Pesach brings an influx of supernal Light so powerful, it has the ability to wash away all the negativity for those willing to part with it. In the biblical story, the newly freed Israelites were being chased for recapture by an angry Pharaoh’s army. When they arrived at the Red Sea, they knew they were trapped. So they asked the Creator to help them. Yet Kabbalah teaches that it wasn’t divine intervention that parted the sea for them. Instead, it was the collective belief that it could happen that shattered all ego and made miracles possible. The shared desire to prevail as a people became a channel for the Light to shine into the need of the moment. At that moment, there was no “I”–there was only “we.”
So on this Pesach, my hope is that we’ll all face where and how our own shackles have held us back… and, from there, finally say, “Let my ego go!”
Without the cloak of ego shrouding our vision, we can each unlock our greatest potential. When we shift the desire to receive for ourselves alone to one of bringing light to others, we open ourselves to the influx of that greater Light. We learn more… connect more… create more. Grow more.
Remember: YOU are vast and timeless. At the same time, you are a unique player with a special purpose that only you can bring to this shared life experience! Forget what others think; external standards don’t always invite originality. Because when you think and act from your own unadorned truth above all, the waters before you will part… and you’ll find a new kind of freedom.