In our Friday evening Shabbat services, we frequently recite a passage that reads, “Standing on the parted shores of history we still believe… that wherever we go, it is eternally Egypt; that there is a better place, a promised land.” A member of our community once approached me with the objection, “Wait a minute, didn’t we make it out of Egypt thousands of years ago? Why are we still going on about it?” No doubt many of you have asked the same questions. It is not such an easy question to answer.
In Hebrew, the word for “Egypt” is Mitzraim. It literally means “the narrow place.” The name likely stems from the geography of the Egyptian civilization, which is stretched along the fertile banks of the Nile. On one side, the river floods annually and sometimes unpredictably. On the other side is the wilderness of the Sahara desert. Being in such a narrow place makes it hard to feel free.
In our lives, we all experience times that we feel trapped, like we are not free to be who we are meant to be. There are times that we are in a very narrow place. We struggle to get through and move forward with life. It can be an addiction, a sour relationship with a loved one, unmanageable debt, or depression. We face difficulties that sometimes make it feel like we don’t have any room to breathe. That is Mitzraim.
Every year we recreate the Exodus with the Passover seder. Every Shabbat we mention our salvation from Mitzraim. Our tradition teaches and persistently reminds us that there is an escape from the narrow place. The story of our journey from Mitzraim to the promised land is not an easy one. It is a winding path, which requires a few miracles along the way. It demands that we are willing to get our feet wet; we have to walk into the Sea with the faith that the waters will part and we will be able to come out safely on the other side. There is always a path out of the narrow place, but you do not have to walk it alone. We cross the sea “by joining hands and marching together.”
Rabbi Nathan Farb