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Armed and Divided

7th Day Passover – Monday night and Tuesday

The 7th Day of Passover is this coming Sunday, April 28th and Monday, April 29th. The Torah Reading of the 7th Day of Passover contains the narrative of the Parting of the Sea of Reeds, as described in Torah Portion Be-Shalach. Here is a teaching on Torah Portion Be-Shalach.

In the Torah portion for the 7th Day of Passover, we are told in Exodus 13:18 that the Israelites arose from Egypt “chamushim,” “armed.” This translation, “armed,” is correct, as we can see from how this word is used in other parts of the Bible. It seems the Israelites came out of Egypt with swords at their sides, ready for battle.

Some ancient rabbis playfully interpreted the word “chamush,” “armed,” to mean “a fifth” derived from the Hebrew word “chamesh,” “five.” According to this interpretation, only a fifth of the Israelites came out of Egypt. The other four-fifths stayed in Egypt, afraid, ambivalent, and undecided.

I would like to offer a more inner life, psychological approach. The division into fifths was within each Israelite, referring to our divided selves. Each person was divided, but in each person, one aspect of the divided self came to the fore.

Only a fifth of each person, so to speak, wanted out of Egypt and to live by God’s teachings. This fifth of each person was armed (to fight the Yetzer Ha-Ra, the destructive forces within) and ready to move toward that purpose. The remaining four-fifths of each person had other things on their minds.

The second fifth of each person wanted to be free from Egypt, but not to use that freedom to be of service to the Divine.

The third fifth of each person was terrified of the Egyptians, and now terrified of God. They were frozen in fright.

The fourth fifth of each person resented being terrified, and blamed Moses, Aaron and God for bringing them into this impossible situation. This fourth fifth of the self thought, “God brought us out of Egypt because God hates us. God brought us out here to the desert to kill us!” God hated us, so a fifth of each part of us hated God in return.

The final fifth in each person also resented being terrified and felt hated in return. But in this fifth, the feelings were expressed in defiance and rebellion.

1. Ready to become free and live by honor.

2. I’ll take freedom, but not to be of service.

3. Frozen in fright.

4. Resentment of being terrified.

5. Rebellion.

That first fifth inside of each person that wanted to be free was just enough of a force in the population to follow Moses out of Egypt. The Egyptians were hounding them, about to pounce. The sea opened and the Israelites ran panting toward the other side. Once there, the first fifth inside each person celebrated their having escaped with their lives.

There was that frozen in fright fifth in each person, and therefore in the population, who stood at the banks of the Sea of Reeds, frozen with terror, not able to move. Those people controlled by the fright within them couldn’t understand that this was the time to choose – to enter the sea and trust God. Those frozen in terror, along with the others, were jostled along by those who chose freedom and service.

Once through the Sea of Reeds, other parts within people began to dominate the Israelites. We see these other parts of the self, manifesting in Exodus 16.

Those who were terrified of the Egyptians saw what God had done to the Egyptians. They knew that if you got on the wrong side of this God, you could be struck down with terrible plagues. Egypt had been devastated, but, at least from the Egyptian perspective, the devastating force of the Hebrew God was gone from Egypt.

The fearful and resentful fifth knew that the God of Israel, for the Egyptians, was a thing of the past. That force of fury and devastation was now with the Israelites. The God of the Hebrews was no longer interested in Egypt. “Maybe we should go back to Egypt,” some fifth of each person thought. “It’s safe there now. God has left. And the food was pretty good.” Metaphorically, a fifth of the Israelites want to go to Egypt, where they would be safe from God.

Fearful and resentful produced the last fifth, afraid, resentful, and now ready to rebel.

The resentful and rebellious focused their ambivalence onto Moses, who seemed to be a petty tyrant replacing the depredations of Pharaoh. Why was he in charge? Moses hadn’t even been in Egypt with them. He was a poser, speaking for and to people that he barely knew. Admittedly, he was a Levite, but there were many Levites around. And he stuttered. And his Hebrew was not very good. And he had anger issues. And he had a foreign wife, from Kush of all places. Just as the courageous and honorable got the people out of Egypt, the resentful and rebellious were fixated on Moses, finding fault as a way not to look within.

All of us have separate parts of the self, vying in the unconscious for control. If we are conscious and connected with the authentic self, the best parts of us, the noblest parts, can assert their leadership. We can’t get rid of the other parts, but from the perspective of the higher self, those wayward parts shouldn’t be in control.

We try to live one day after the next of our lives with some consistency. We live our lives on the surface of things. This “consistent self” is the persona we must bring into the world. This surface “persona-life,” where we put one foot in front of the other and march on, can feel strange to the soul. Ideally, a force from the higher-self, an inner “tutelary spirit,” is trying to lead us. But often in our lives, alternate forces from the unconscious ego-self are leading us. Events in life can bring those hidden forces to the fore. The other “four-fifths” begin to symptomize, in their various ways.

The soul has many, many dimensions, many chambers, and one chamber is the repository of the armed and divided self. Parts of the self are alternately courageous, centered and wise, but at times fearful, frozen, ambivalent, accusatory, self-doubting, desperately seeking freedom, and wanting to regress into old ways of being. We try to live on the surface with consistency, as if there is no ambivalence, no second-guessing of what and who we have become, but nonetheless, those divisions in the self live on within us.

I think there are two ways forward. There are many versions of these two ways, but at the core, there are only two ways forward. Repress and symptomize, or enter into the realm of the soul and work with what we find there.

When we enter the realm of the soul and unlock the chamber of the armed and divided self, there can be disruption. We recover forgotten prayers, unrealized hopes, and thoughts never concluded. Things can get worse before they get better.

A few years ago I taught, “stop hoping, stop praying, and stop thinking.” This idea came from teaching virtue. I find that many people hope, pray, and think in ways that help them avoid reality. I taught that it is far better to face reality within the container of virtue, and then let the inner work begin. Don’t focus on what you want life to become, for a moment. Deal with what is and accept it and then work for change. We need to remember: A life of virtue only stops the symptomizing; a virtuous life does not address the deeper battles being waged within. But a life of virtue sets the stage for dealing with the battle within.

It is true, though: For a time, we should stop hoping that we and others will change, because hoping for change can have destructive consequences. That hope within oftentimes causes us to batter others or ourselves towards an unachievable change for which we are hoping. Stop praying for the universe to take care of you. The universe might be taking care of someone else right now. Kabbalistically, God is relying on you to do the repair.

Stop thinking and rethinking the rules of life that you have arrived at. We achieve clarity at great cost and then our ambivalence has us constantly undo our conclusions and rethink ourselves into a morass.

For a life of virtue, for restraining the symptoms of inner discord, we should “stop hoping, stop praying, and stop thinking.” Start by facing reality. I would simply add to those teachings that once we can behave with restraint and mindfulness, despite the battles within, we can then enter the dark territory of the soul, including the chambers of the divided self. It is there that we might discover the love and grace of God.

A life marked with some degree of virtue and consciousness can care for the wounds stored in the soul. With virtue and consciousness in place, we can discover and cultivate a sense of purpose that is deeper than our ambivalence.

A mind calmed can discover that for which we can authentically hope. A mind calmed can discover the stillness of true prayer and cultivate the joy and awe in knowing God. A mind shaped by virtue can think well and clearly about what has been, what is now, and what to do next.

We come out of Egypt divided. We can use our trek in the desert, and the epiphanies that we encounter, either as a marred journey of the symptomizing divided self, or we can use that trek as a path to purpose, and even to occasional bliss.

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