During the administration of George W. Bush, I was privileged to be appointed to a presidential commission. I received a document that included something akin to the words, “power to execute the duties of this office.” Lopping off a few words, I tried to explain to my children that now, in the manner of the Lord High Executioner in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado, I had been granted the power to execute. What a difference a few words can make!
Passover, which we look forward to celebrating in a few days, is often misconstrued as a holiday celebrating freedom. Not quite. It is a holiday celebrating the overthrowing of human tyranny and slavery while accepting God’s dominion over our lives and our own responsibility to properly use the freedom we have. The first part of the equation only exists in conjunction with the second part.
In that way, Passover not only commemorates something that happened long ago, but it is an annual opportunity to rise above our own Egypts, those circumstances that block the path to our own Divine destiny. Egyptian slavery is the ultimate model of any oppressive force that obstructs our attempts to reach the purpose God has planned for us. Each detail of the Exodus provides us with a route to overcoming the limitations and constrictions in our own lives.
A peculiar phrase used in the description of the Exodus guides us towards one escape strategy.
…and the Children of Israel are going out with a high hand.
Perhaps because present tense is so rare in Scripture, the King James translation of the Bible incorrectly substitutes the past tense. That misses the Divine message. Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that the present tense emphasizes the relevance of this section to anyone wishing to emulate the Children of Israel and escape his own Egypt. It applies to each of us today.
We should look as well at the Hebrew word used for high—RaMaH. It appears in a similar context in Deuteronomy 32:27:
…lest they will say, “our hand is high; the Lord has not done this.”
ר מ ה
RaMaH means high and dominant. However, look at this verse:
…the horse and its rider has He flung down into the sea.
How perplexing that the Hebrew word used for ‘flung down’ is also RaMaH.
To make matters worse, see this verse from Job:
How much less man, who is [after all] a worm…
The Hebrew word used for ‘worm?’ RiMaH. Regular readers of Thought Tools know that RaMaH and RiMaH are the same word with slightly different pronunciations. With the special power of Hebrew, their meanings are also related. How can the ideas of high and low be related? Identifying that relationship exposes us to deep spiritual insight.
The mysterious message of the twin words RaMaH and RiMaH suggest that though they appear to be antonyms, there is a spiritual link between high/dominant and low/abject. Furthermore, this link is a key to escaping one’s own Egypt.
That majestic record of Jewish durability known as the Hagadah, read at the Passover Seder, hints at the link. Not surprisingly, the Hagadah relates how the powerful and mighty Egyptians were humbled and the Israelites elevated. But another essential characteristic of the Hagadah is its commencement with deprecating accounts of the ignoble beginnings of the Israelites. The Hagadah reminds us that Abraham’s father was an idolater before relating the achievements of his children.
Therein lies the valuable key. Life is not static. If you happen to be riding high at this point in your life, retain humility by remembering how easily and quickly high can turn into low. No matter what struggles you face today, you must remember how much lower you or your ancestors were yesterday. Neither the depths of misery nor the heights of triumph are constant states.
In this way, the Passover Seder serves as an annual inoculation against thinking that the status quo defines you. With God’s help and in the blink of an eye, we can go out from our difficulties with a high hand.