When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, "What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!" - Exodus 14:5
The Torah portion for this week is Beshalach, which means "when he sent them away," from Exodus 13:17-17:16, and the Haftorah is from Judges 4:4-5:31.
You may have heard the quote: "What if you woke up today with only the things that you thanked God for yesterday?" It's a poignant message about gratitude. But consider this as a follow-up question to ponder: "What if you woke up today with none of the things that you complained about yesterday?" Think about that for a moment.
Did you complain about your car? Your house? Someone special in your life?
Let me tell you something about the Exodus story that we are continuing to read this week. On one level, it's about the liberation of speech. That's right - it's not just about the redemption of the Israelites; the subtext is about the redemption of our speech.
Two of the main symbols of the Exodus story are Pharaoh and Egypt. In Hebrew, those two words take on whole new meanings. Pharaoh, in Hebrew paroh, can be split to form the Hebrew words peh ra, meaning "bad mouth." Pharaoh represents our own bad speech - the kind of talk that brings us down and others, too. Bad speech is when we complain, or tell ourselves that we are not good enough or not loved by God. Egypt, Mitzrayim in Hebrew, is related to the word maitzarim, which means "narrow" or "constricted place." Egypt symbolizes our own psychological constricted states, such as when we are depressed and hopeless, or when we have a short-sighted view of the future, or when we feel that all is lost.
These states of constriction and bad speech are what God rescues us from in our lives, even today.
Now, let's pay attention to the moment of redemption and how Pharaoh and Egypt react. "When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!'" After kicking the Israelites out of Egypt, suddenly Pharaoh became acutely aware of the value of what he once had.
Here's the lesson: When we are in a "constricted state" (Egypt) with a "bad mouth" (Pharaoh), we don't appreciate what we have until it's gone.
We take so many things in our lives for granted - from the people in our lives to the modern-day amenities like clean water, gas, heat, and fresh food. Even worse, we complain about the very same blessings that we once prayed for! It is truly liberating and redemptive to get out of Egypt and leave the bad-mouthing behind. We need to appreciate all that we have before it becomes what we once had.
Today, if you get the urge to complain about something, pause and ask yourself this: How would I feel if tomorrow this was gone?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President