Is There Food in Your Purse?

As the rabbi of a large congregation, my father attended many weddings and bar-mitzvahs.  My mother usually accompanied him and on rare occasions I got to go as well.  I always assumed that when this happened, I was being rewarded for good behavior.  It wasn’t until years later that my mother confided that the times when I was taken along were when the babysitter positively refused to have me at home.

While attending one particular bar-mitzvah with my parents when I was about ten years-old, I clearly remember spotting a woman surreptitiously sweeping some cookies off the table and into her rather capacious purse.  I instantly realized that she was harboring a fugitive to whom she needed to get food.  My fevered mind needed to know whether her fugitive was a criminal or a hero.  Clearly the only way to find out more was to place her under my diligent surveillance for the rest of the afternoon.  I observed her sneaking some fish and fruit into her bag.  Sooner or later, I would surely catch her leaving  the hall and by following her I would determine the identity of the person she was hiding.

What she thought of the slightly disheveled, stern-faced little boy staring fixedly at her all afternoon, I never discovered.  However, when I informed my parents on our way home that possibly criminal activity was occurring beneath their very noses, I did discover something else.

It turned out that the harmless lady I had been stalking had emigrated twenty years earlier from depression era Germany. My parents explained that she frequently attended synagogue parties and her harmless habit was well known.  Though she was now living comfortably, she was unable to end her need to save and secrete food.  You can take the lady out of starving Germany but it’s harder to take starving Germany out of the lady.

Have you retained any obsolete behavior or emotional patterns from earlier days?  Perhaps you retain some negative way of parenting stemming from your childhood or a lingering tendency to view money as moral contamination?  If you have, ancient Jewish wisdom’s insights into Passover might be helpful to you.

Let us together peer into the heart of a well-known story.  The Red Sea is about to split and drown the Egyptians.  One interesting phrase occurs twice.

…and Egypt will know that I am the Lord (Exodus 14:4)

Egypt will know that I am the Lord…(Exodus 14:18)

There are two problems with this.  One, Egypt will soon be drowned and won’t know anything.  Second, later, in their song after crossing when the Israelites mention the nations that will “hear and be afraid,” the list of those who heard of Israel’s triumph does not include the Egyptians.

People heard and trembled; a shiver overcame the Philistines.
Then the chiefs of Edom were terrified as well as the mighty men of Moab,
trembling seized them; all the residents of Canaan melted.
(Exodus 15:14-15)

So what did God mean by saying, “Egypt will know…”?

In order to discover the answer, we must remember that since leaving Egypt the Hebrews had been complaining to Moses.  In their minds, they inverted the truth. Egypt, the place of death and suffering was now benign, while the desert, their highway to freedom, they viewed as malevolent.

It turned out to be easier to get the Hebrews out of Egypt than it was to get Egypt out of the Hebrews. It is always easier to end the physical reality of oppression than it is to remove the spirit of oppression from the hearts of the formerly oppressed.  Imagine someone who has been ground down over a long period by unemployment and financial stress.  You’d think that if he now won the lottery, his troubles would be over.  Yet the truth is that even if provided with a financial windfall, his mindset is still that of fear and stress.

This is what King David meant when he wrote:

Our fathers in Egypt did not understand your wonders; they did not remember your many acts of kindness, and they were rebellious by the Red Sea.
(Psalms 106:7)

Despite God sending ten plagues and devastating Egypt, clearly revealing His protection over the Israelites, they still imagined themselves vulnerable. When God twice said that His plan was for Egypt ‘to know that I am the Lord’ (Exodus 14:4,18) He was saying that he wanted that little bit of Egypt that still lingered in the Hebrew heart to know, finally, once and for all, that He is the Lord.

Removing that last part of Egypt requires the disturbing memory to be overwritten.  Yes, Egypt was hideous but now its remnant is drowned beneath the waves.  Yes, I may be a fully grown adult, yet I may still be carrying around harmful memories that hinder my effectiveness in my relationships with others, with money or even with God.  We can’t surgically remove those memories but we can remind ourselves that they lie drowned.

Jews mention the Exodus from Egypt multiple times daily as well as devoting an entire week of Passover to that occurrence.  Not only does it link us to God and our past, but by constantly reminding us that we can escape all manners of Egypt, it fortifies our present and allows us to create our future.

If this intrigues you, and you’d like a greater understanding of what Egypt means (a country in Africa is the least important description) and how to get out of whatever Egypt you are facing, do listen to our audio CD, Let Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt. This time of year is particularly propitious for salvation and rebirth.

23 thoughts on “Is There Food in Your Purse?”

  1. The mind is very powerful. Trauma is never easy to forget. I remember when I lived in the Caribbean and my parents and two older siblings moved to the United States. Looking back I realized is was not an easy time for them either. It was around Christmas time and my aunt who was left in charge of me and my younger sister were looking for money from my parents. Everyday as Christmas drew closer I waited for the mailman but nothing. I prayed and prayed and it was probably two days before Christmas, here was the Christmas card with money. The same relative that took care of us, I have seen her cry because she did not have money. When we joined our parents in the United States, my mom came in from work ready to do grocery shopping and cried when she realized my father left the house without leaving money for grocery. She had four growing children to feed. I am an adult now and every time I get pay I put something in the bank. I try my best to help so many people out. They borrow my money and do not return it. Currently, someone has over $4000 for me. These days I do not loan my money out. I save a lot but it just seems like I still do not have enough. Maybe if I have two million I may call that decent. I still want to help hungry children and give to education causes.

    1. Martyn Chandley

      Dear Rabbi Lapin,

      Thank you for this teaching. It is very powerful. The Torah and the New Testament talk of regularly meditating on God’s word. I think this is a perfect example. We all have Egypt of one sort of another in our hearts and minds. An Egypt that creates fear, uncertainty and rebelliousness. We should at times like the Passover take time to meditate on that event those centuries back and on what Egypt is still left in our hearts that is damaging our relationship with our loving creator.

      Thank you for the new insights that you have given me at this special time. God bless you and your family.

  2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Dear Michael–
    In terms of being negatively impacted today by challenging experiences yesterday, we all have a little Egypt in us. Life is made more successful when this is expunged.

  3. Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
    I am not yet clear on one thing, the context “drowning the Egyptians”, do you mean clearing our Egyptian minds or you meant the killing of the existing Egyptians (people) at that time?

  4. Hello Rabbi Daniel Lapin,
    My father died 16+ years ago and I still think of him every day with a deep respect. But since I do that, I still hang on to some of the life lessons he taught me–some good & some not so much for modern day situations. I grew up on a farm and livestock was very important. Personal appearances were not. I still struggle with Proverbs 24: 30-34. Should I take it literally? Does this apply to inside my home, inside & outside my car, my work area? Can you spread some knowledge on my “Egypt”? Thank you.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Tom–
      The scarily true verses you cite always apply–Solomon meant them chiefly with respect to your work. Growing up on a farm you would have intuitively known the difference between “fields of lazy people” and fields owned and operated by people who knew to do what they must do when they must do it. Escaping your Egypt is probably keeping the positive and enduring lessons of childhood, those that always apply everywhere like that your livestock, or your car, your workshop, etc all need to be maintained an cared for and losing ones like that personal appearance doesn’t matter. And you will succeed at home and work. (Deuteronomy 28:6)

  5. Rabbi,

    Truer words…it is difficult to let go of the traumas in our life. It becomes even harder when others encourage us to keep them. It seems there is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) diagnosis for every unpleasant event in our lives. I have lived through a few of them, so I know. It is important not to wallow in the filth of your past, even if you did not make the mess. I do have trouble disconnecting from “Egypt” sometimes, but it does not last long when I consider what I have gained.
    May you and your family experience a wonderful and new Pesach this year.

    1. Yes I get this teaching and probably would do well to cogitate on it for some time. Having been involved in the VN War long ago, there are still lingering effects that drive me to excessive hypervigilance and paranoia which can be a real downer for my spouse and others who know me. And though I have surrendered myself to believing and trusting in the Lord there are certain instincts and areas of trust that I retain from being engaged in combat that I have not given over to Him entirely. This may not be all bad, but as of late it is exacerbated by a realization of all the Achilles Heels that we here in the US are suddenly confronted with along with the political division and strife. Carrying that excess baggage is synonymous somewhat with being in the grip of Egypt.

      1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Yes, indeed Mark
        Excess baggage of the emotional and spiritual kind will snag you up just as surely as excess baggage will do so at the airport.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Louis–
      Thanks so much for the welcome Pesach blessings and our compliments on your obviously successfully escaping your own Egypt.

  6. Rabbi,

    Great teachings.We have come to know about you a few weeks ago on You tube and we are enjoying listening to you and Susan.Thanks for reaching out to everyone.

  7. this WORD has been my mirror indeed, I am going through some stuff and I see clearly how my expectations undermine that of the Lord. Jesus take the wheel.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Be blessed Tetteh and overcome your challenges…Escape YOUR Egypt.

  8. I was three years old when the Soviet Union collapsed, so I grew up during a really difficult time in post-communist Russia. Now, having lived in US for the past 16 years and having an abundance of everything, my parents have become giant hoarders, and it’s as through hoarding is hereditary in our family, so I have to work hard to resist the temptation.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Recognizing the problem is half the battle won, Anton,
      So you’ll be just fine escaping this black hole from the past. What your parents very understandably do is exactly the perfect example of what I was trying to describe.

  9. Rabbi Lapin,

    I’m not clear about what you’re saying on one point. You write, “. . . Egypt will soon be drowned and won’t know anything.” But you’re not claiming that every single Egyptian drowned, are you? Surely it was only those who were sent after the Israelites in order to stop them. So, even if all of them drowned, the nation of Egypt as a whole would definitely hear what happened to them, would they not? Or perhaps you were referring only to the ones who were drowned? Just a bit puzzled.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Egypt was a ruined and depleted power by this time. No army, no king and economicallly and culturally killed. So what is the big deal about Egypt knowing? Answer, it isn’t about the land of Egypt as we explain.

  10. How many times is God ready to have us move on but we are still a prisoner in our own mind? Great post and I love your recording: “Let Me Go”

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hi Ben–
      yes, that’s exactly right and so important for your business to help your clients understand. Warmest regards

  11. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    My Dear Anafo–
    Prophecies are visible to all who peer into the future through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. I know how difficult it is to get our resources into Ghana. We’ve had so many orders to Ghana ‘vanish’ en route that, to our great regret, we have pretty much had to stop shipping to customers in Ghana. But the good news is that almost everything is already available instantly by digital download or will soon be available as we work to digitize our entire catalog.
    We appreciate your friendship-

  12. Hmmm! Dear rabbi,you seem to discuss things like prophecies. Am full of praise to God for letting me know you. I need every bit of your masterpiece but it is hard for me to always get them now in ghana.
    Thank you very much.

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