Elements of Freedom: Dreams, Hopes and Vision

Where’s Moshe?

The name ‘Moshe’ is not mentioned in the story of the Haggadah.*

What does this mean? Here are three potential solutions:

  1. Moshe is omitted from the ritual telling of the Passover story in order that when we think about the Redemption, we will focus on Hashem rather than on Moshe, as Hashem says, “I, I alone took you out of Egypt.”*
  2. The mitzvah of telling the story of going out of Egypt is upon Moshe as well as upon us. Since he, in this sense, is ‘reading the Hagadah’, he is not in it, but outside it, looking in.
  3. When we recite the Hagadah, we should take it personally–it should liberate us. Therefore, all of the characters depicted in it should be seen as reflections or representations of different parts of ourselves. For example, Pharaoh represents our negative inclination, the slaves represent our good inclination yearning to be free to serve Hashem, and the sages such as Rabbi Eliezer represent different levels of our own spiritual understanding. However, Moshe doesn’t appear in the text because he does not represent a mere part of us. As we tell the stories of the Hagadah, it is Moshe who is telling the stories. Moshe is our own mind of wisdom that stands ‘outside’ of the story, witnessing the interactions of all the different characters and guiding them to spiritual freedom.

With a little help from our friends

It is said, “A prisoner cannot set himself free.” (Berachos 5b*) No matter how wise or detached you are, if slavery is your reality, you will not be able to think your way out of it. As Moshe, or the mind of wisdom, we cannot by ourselves bring freedom to the whole ‘community’. We have to descend somewhat from our detached perspective, and enlist the help of ‘others’: the emotional self that can connect to other people and unite them, and the dissatisfied self that can yearn intensely for freedom and motivate action. These two additional ‘selves’ are represented by the two other main catalysts in our Redemption from Egypt (also not mentioned in the Haggadah): Aharon and Miriam.

Who’s Who?

As Moshe represents the mind or detached intellect, his brother Aharon represents the emotional, relational heart, and his sister Miriam represents the raw, physical yearning for freedom.

Moshe represents the soul-level of Neshama. The name ‘Moshe’ is spelled Mem Shin Hei. If we add the letter Nun, we have the four letters of the word NeShaMaH.

The letter Nun, which is numerically 50 corresponds to the fifty gates of binah, the idea of intellect, and chochmah. Moshe is the transmitter of the Torah, the Divine Intellect, and he represents the spiritual mind of the Jewish people.

Aharon represents the soul-level of ru’ach. He embodies the heart and love of the people. He is the one who continually brings people together as the marriage counselor, the outreach worker, and the community peacemaker. As the High Priest, he wore the Choshen Mishpat on his heart, which graphically unified the twelve tribes of Israel.

Miriam represents the soul-level of nefesh. The name ‘Miriam’ means the ‘sea of bitterness’, referring to the bitter yearning of the people for Redemption. In her own continual yearning for Redemption, for example, Miriam motivates her parents to reunite and have the baby who later becomes the redeemer, Moshe.

Tasting Bitterness

We need all three elements, Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, in order to bring about a redemption from our ‘stuckness’. The role of our inner ‘Miriam’, however, is primary. She begins the process by acknowledging the suffering of exile and responding with a visceral yearning. Her bitterness is not like the dullness of depression but like the jolting burn of freshly grated horseradish, which is called marror, similer to the name Miriam. The rawness of discontent stimulates the dream, ‘What if we could escape this hellish place? Life could actually be better out there!’ Miriam’s dream germinates subconsciously within the slaves, until they realize how confined they really are. For the first time, they “groan”, and Hashem hears their groan, opening the way for them. These are the first contractions that eventually bring the birth of Redemption. In order to get un-stuck anywhere in our lives, we first need a motivating dream.

Having Hope

The second element needed for Redemption is the friendliness and love of our inner ‘Aharon’. He builds on Miriam’s motivation by giving the slaves feelings of hope and inspiration. Bitterness can get us moving, but only sweetness can give us the hope we need to continue. We also need supportive people to lift our morale when we feel like giving up. Aharon’s inspiration and communal rapport began to awaken in the hearts of the slaves, like the warm buzz of wine. Once we have a dream, we need positive emotion to strengthen us for the journey.

Plans into Action

The third element is the intellectual clarity of our inner ‘Moshe’. From a more detached place, we can see what it will take to reach freedom. Moshe’s job is to receive Divine wisdom, issue warnings to Pharaoh, and to direct the people according to Hashem’s plan. Once we have a dream and positive emotion, we need an escape route, a plan.

Whomever is Hungry, Come and Eat

In order to connect deeply with the Seder, we should embody all three redeemers. We can do this very concretely when we eat the special foods of the Seder. When we eat the marror, the bitter herbs, we can acknowledge the pain in our lives and embody the bitter yearning of Miriam for goodness and Redemption. When we drink the four cups of wine, we can embody Aharon, by arousing our emotional state, and uniting in friendship with our friends and family around the table. When we eat the matzah, we can embody the intellect of Moshe, by thinking of our spiritual intentions, and contemplating some of the profound mystical meanings of matzah.

Person Faculty Activity Sefirah Level of Soul Ritual Food Stage of Freedom
Moshe Detached, intellect Witnessing, knowing Chochma-Bina-Daas Neshama Matzah Stage Three: Plan
Aharon Emotional, heart Feeling, relating to people Six emotional Sefiros of Ze’er Anpin Ru’ach Wine Stage Two: Feel
Miriam Active body Yearning, motivating Malchus Nefesh Marror Stage One: Dream


* The Hagadah only mentions ‘Moshe’ once, and only in passing, when Rabbi Yosi the Galilean quotes the Song of the Sea: “…and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe his servant.” Also, the Rambam’s version of the Hagadah says, “Answer him (the wise son), “…Everything that occurred to us in Egypt and all the miracles which were made for us through Moshe our teacher.” This, too, is only in passing.
*An immature person may deflect attention from Hashem to Moshe, but a more wise and mature person will not. Perhaps this is the reason why the Rambam (Hilchos Chametz U’Matzah, chap 7: 2) writes that to the unwise son, “the father explains to him that Hashem redeemed us and brought us to freedom. And if the child is wiser, tells him what occurred in Egypt and all the miracles that were made for us through Moshe, our teacher.”
* Thus the “three redeemers” Moshe, Aaron and Miraim were all Levites – ie; they were part of the tribe of Israel that were never enslaved in Egypt.

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