Sunday, February 5, 2017

Existential Exile and the Way Back

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has an interesting post on existential exile.  She points out that exile in Egypt is a shorthand way for Jews to discuss a larger existential exile:  "When we talk about being slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt, we're also always talking about experiences of constriction in the narrow places of our lives now."  Those narrow places can be overwork, letting the feeling of being overwhelmed overtake us, despair, depression.

She talks about Pharaoh:  "For the Me'or Eynayim, galut is a state of not-knowing God. It's a state of having fallen so far from unity that we don't even realize we've fallen. This, he says, is what we experienced in the Narrow Place. And Pharaoh is the exemplar of exile. He saw himself as a god, and had no awareness of a Source greater than himself."

I instantly made connections to first century Rome, where Caesar also saw himself as God.   Many 21st century Christians have lost sight of (or never known) how much early Christian language would have been an affront to Caesar, a way of saying fairly directly, "You are not the ultimate leader."

And of course, the parallels to modern politics leap out at me too.  We have a president who seems to be uninterested in discussion and infuriated by dissent. 

Rachel points out the value of Shabbat as our chance to taste the redeemed life, "to live for one day a week not in grief at the world as it is, but in celebration of the world as it should be."  Our religious practices are not the only way, of course, but they do lay a solid foundation.

Let us always be on the lookout for the practices that can lead us back from our existential exile.

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