Through Narrow Straits

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein  |  April 12, 2017

A building at the top of a sand mountain with a building below it alongside a body of water and dry shrubbery in Nile, Egypt.

A note to our readers: The Jewish celebration of Passover takes place over the next eight days. For each day of Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, we will offer a devotional reflection tied to this very special observance as well as Torah readings for each day. Since no work can be done during the holiest of these days, these devotions were prepared in advance for you.

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” — Exodus 3:9

Today is Day 2 of the eight-day Passover celebration. The Torah reading for today is from Leviticus 22:26–23:44 and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 23:1–9; 21–25.

It seems that more people than ever are stressed these days. Even though we have more time-saving devices and the technology to accomplish our many chores automatically, people seem to be more pressured and overwhelmed.

The bad news is that stress takes a toll on us. Scientific research has proven that stress affects our body, mind, and emotions. We are less able to cope with illness or everyday challenges and more likely to forget things and make mistakes. But don’t despair! There is some good news, too.

Think about how life for each of us began. We were resting comfortably in our mother’s womb, when suddenly, there was pressure and pushing. More than likely we became quite uncomfortable and possibly stressed! The contractions continued until we were pushed through a narrow passageway and out into a new world. The miracle of birth had occurred.

The good news about stress: It can lead us to rebirth and renewal!

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim. The word comes from a Hebrew word that means “narrow straits” or “constriction.” The Jewish sages see Egypt as a narrow place, similar to the birth canal. The children of Israel were stressed, oppressed, compressed, and then literally caught in a narrow place when they found themselves sandwiched between the Egyptians and the Red Sea.

But just like the birth process, the stress and confinement were all part of the plan. When the Israelites couldn’t stand it any longer, they threw up their hands and said, “We are powerless, God, and only You can help!” At that point the sea parted, the Israelites left Egypt behind, and a new nation was birthed.

Passover is a holiday that usually comes along with a fair bit of stress — think of Christmas times eight to get an idea of how much food preparation is necessary, how much money is spent, and how much general stress the holidays can create! But the stress is all part of the Passover experience. If handled correctly, it can lead us to our own salvation, our own Exodus from the narrow places in our lives, and our own rebirth.

We get stressed because we feel like life is overwhelming, that we can’t handle it all and we can’t do it alone. The psalmist reminds us, Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you” (Psalms 55:22). It’s true, we can’t handle life alone. Once we realize that only God can help us through, the burden is lifted. Instead of feeling stressed, we can rest, relax, and clear our minds, knowing that everything we accomplish is only possible because of generous help from above. We experience life in a totally new way. We are reborn!