Bo: Delusional Desire
This week’s Torah portion includes Moshe’s last encounter with Pharaoh before the exodus from Egypt. It narrates the last of the ten plagues, including the death of the first-born, and establishes Pesach/Passover as the first Jewish festival. I am theologically and ethical troubled by aspects of the Exodus account, but I am also inspired by it.
There’s one particular verse that I come back to over and over again:
And the servants of Pharaoh said to him, “For how long will this snare be upon us? Let the men go so that they can serve YHVH their God. Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?” (10:7)
The servants have seen the suffering of the Egyptian people far more clearly than Pharaoh has. They have seen the escalation of grievous consequences in response to his hard-headedness and they foresee the inevitable outcome. They see the situation clearly, but Pharaoh does not.
I can empathize with him. When I am at war with what is, I am just as stiff-necked, hard-headed and delusional as Pharaoh. Good friends, therapists, co-workers and family do their best to make me come to grips with what they see clearly. I refuse to accept their guidance. I insist that it can’t be true, that there must be an alternative. I retreat into my own little world where I can consciously or unconsciously fantasize that things are the way I want them to be. I convince myself that if I can just make an adjustment here or influence a decision there, I will be able to create the world in my own image.
Frankly, I become awfully hard to live with. Enmeshed in my delusional desire for things to be different than they are, I make myself and everyone around me miserable. Feeling cornered, I radiate fear, anger, frustration and blame.
I know I am not alone in this. Sometimes, I’m one of the servants trying to point a beloved toward the truth of a situation. I watch them do all of the pointless, useless and ultimately harmful things that I have done in similar situations, and I am no more effective in helping them than they were in helping me. Caught in the grip of resistance, they are unable to accept that they’ve already lost the war with reality.
We are all subject to this delusional desire, and when we are in it’s thrall we are utterly unable to free ourselves from it’s bondage. Yet we must. This reading reminds us that it is a mitzvah, a religious obligation that encourages holiness, to remember the Exodus from Egypt, and to continue the work of liberation.
One alternative translation of the name Egypt is “the narrow place.” This interpretation helps us to understand that liberation is not only about gaining freedom from the world’s tyrants (including, at times, ourselves). It is also about liberating ourselves from the narrow places of our own minds and from plagues we inflict on ourselves and others by remaining enslaved to delusion.
May you be blessed to see clearly the truth of your life as it is, right now. May you have the courage to accept it as reality, whether you like it or not. And may you be blessed to liberate yourself from the slavery of your own delusional desires.
Ameyn, keyn yehi ratzon. Amen, may it be so.