A litigant once slipped a five coin bribe to the judge during a trial. Trusting that the coins were golden, the judge ruled in the litigant’s favor. Upon leaving the courtroom the judge noticed that the coins we copper. He lifted his eyes heavenward and muttered, O’, what a false world you created.
As Jacob‘s time drew near he turned to his son Joseph and pleaded with him, “perform for me a true kindness, do not bury me in Egypt.” Jacob wanted to be buried in Israel alongside his ancestors and he turned to Joseph, viceroy of Egypt, with this request. Yet we know that in addition to their literal meaning, the Torah’s stories contain deep messages that serve as lessons for all time.
Jacob’s plea to be saved from burial in Egypt, echoes in the heart and mind of every Jew across the generations. It is the undying cry of the soul pleading with the body to, “be so kind and give me the truth, don’t bury me in the falsehood of Egypt.”
The soul descends from a pure and holy plane to a realm of greed, lust and ego. The soul is decidedly uncomfortable here, but it remains to teach us how to refine our character, walk in G-d’s path and obey Him. To accomplish this task, the soul needs us to be its willing partner. The problem is that we are reluctant. We care more for our self-centered pleasures than for the soul’s sacred calling. The soul thus pleads with us, “perform for me a true kindness; don’t bury me in Egypt.”
Mitzrayim, Hebrew for Egypt, means restriction. It is common for us to feel restricted or intimidated by challenge. In fact the greater the challenge, the more intimidating it can be. Yet, nine times out of 10, our restriction, our inability to rise to the challenge is false. It stems more from unwillingness than inability. We are loath to invest the time, energy and commitment required to succeed.
Mitzrayim, restriction, is not truth. We tell our soul that we cannot keep up with its spiritual demands and the soul responds with a plea. Please be so kind and stop lying to me. The truth is that you are more than capable. You were created for this purpose and were given the ability to accomplish it. This is the truth and I ask you to acknowledge it. Don’t bury me in false claims of “I can’t.”
The soul feels choked by our falsehood, as if it is buried in an unholy and untrue world. Our sages taught that truth, is G-d’s signature. The world that we inhabit is decidedly false. You can hardly make a categorically true statement about anything in this world. For example, sunsets are beautiful, but they are not categorically beautiful. Compared to something ugly, sunsets are beautiful, but compared to something more beautiful, sunsets aren’t beautiful at all.
Suppose you said that you are old, I would tell you that it depends. Compared to someone younger, you are old, compared to someone older, you are young. Compared to stronger people, you are weak, compared to weaker people, you are strong. The same is true of health, weight, beauty or taste. Compared to tastier food, your lunch is awful. Compared to something worse, your food is delicious.
Suppose you told me that children don’t deserve a medal for attending school. Attendance is a basic expectation of enrollment and doesn’t deserve a reward. This statement has the ring of truth, but it is only relatively true. Students from well-adjusted homes don’t deserve a reward for attendance, but a child that grew up in a broken home, whose models are gangbangers on the street, does deserve a medal if he chooses to go to school and attend classes regularly.
Is nature true? Nature is the greatest illusion of all. Newtonian physics seemed predicated on self-evident truths yet along came Einstein and taught the law of relativity. Can you say with certainty that the sun will rise in the morning? Well relative to the Earth the sun will rise, but relative to the sun, the Earth will rise. The truth is that neither is categorically in motion, both are only in motion relative to each other. Again, only relative truths are found in our world. Categorical truths are not in currency in our false world.
If you probe deeper you find that our very conception of who and what we are, is false. Quantum Physics demonstrates that at the root atomic level, we are neither particle nor wave. In fact, we exhibit properties of both. There is a randomness to our behavior that belies our truth to the core. We cannot predict whether an atom will behave as a particle or a wave at any given moment. In fact, even our position is not truly accurate. We are neither here nor there. Subatomic particles can occupy numerous areas of space at the same time.
What emerges is that this entire world is a veneer for a truth much vaster and deeper than what is observable by conventional instruments. This is the truth that our sages described as the signature of G-d. In our world, we cannot make a categorical statement, but we can make categorical statements about G-d. When you say G-d is great, you mean it categorically. There is nothing greater than G-d, His greatness is categorical. The same is true of all His attributes. They are all categorically true.
The soul thus comes to us and pleads, "do me a kindness and give me some truth." The soul calls it a kindness because it knows we are far more interested in the world’s falsehood than in G-d’s truth. We are comfortable in this false world and enjoy it. The soul comes along with all kinds of requests that take us away from our comfort zone. The soul acknowledges this by conceding that it is a kindness. But it is a kindness that the soul begs for. "Be kind to me and give me some truth. Learn to exhibit humility, kindness, honesty, refinement and chastity. Stop living with greed, lust, temper, ego and vengefulness. Don’t bury me under a mountain of falsehood, a mountain of false excuses, false pleasures and false promises. Don’t bury me in Mitzrayim, the land of false restrictions. Don’t blanket me with distractions, delays and denials. I beg and plead with you: Give me a little truth."
Our sages taught that from among all the brothers Jacob made his request of Joseph because he alone had the authority to grant Jacob’s request. The soul makes this request of the body because the body has the authority to grant it. We often fail to perceive our potential and thus fail to believe in ourselves. By making this plea, the soul empowers us and assures us that we are indeed capable. We can tear ourselves away from worldly pleasures and dedicate ourselves to Torah, G-d and holiness.
We have the ability. And if we have the ability, we have the response-ability.
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing email@example.com