by Rabbi Burt Jacobson
Enslavement is not just external. The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that it was not only the bodies of Israelites who were enslaved, but their consciousness, their awareness as well. What does this mean? It means that the people had internalized their slavery and had come to accept it. And this internalization of slavery brought about a contraction of the people’s consciousness. They were unable to be mindful and make free-will decisions on their own. All of their concerns were limited to the terrible lives they were living as slaves of Pharaoh. They had forgotten the larger truth that all existence flows from an infinite mystery, that the universe is filled with divine glory, and that each and every day the world is continually being renewed. And because they had forgotten this basic truth of existence, taught the Ba’al Shem Tov, they came under the dominion of Pharaoh, who represented forgetfulness. And forgetfulness is the opposite of mindfulness and consciousness.
The burning bush was an alarm clock. Y-H-W-H was the alarm that woke Moses up. And Moses was told by Y-H-W-H at the burning bush to wake the Israelites up. Moses resisted. He wanted to continue living in Midian as he had before, a simple shepherd. He wanted to remain asleep. But standing at the burning bush he learned that he had to follow the voice that represented mindfulness and consciousness. The Ba’al Shem Tov said that Moses became the consciousness of his generation.
Moses’ message was simple, yet profound: The master/slave relationship is a mindless and deadly game. The masters come to believe that they are at the center of the universe, and can do anything they want. The slaves come to believe that they have no power and must do what the master commands. In this way slavery becomes an endless collusion. In the process both master and slave forget that the world we live in is a miracle, filled with divinity, and that our true task has to do with living lives of appreciation and creativity, justice and love.
Moses’ message to both his people and to the Pharaoh was that they needed to wake up, to change their old self-destructive patterns, and to fashion a world based on spiritual and moral premises.
The Ba’al Shem taught that each of us contains a spark of the messiah. Do you get that? You have within you a spark of the messiah, and if you don’t learn to liberate that part of yourself, you delay tikkun olam, the repair and healing of the world. And what is that messianic spark? It’s a kind of mindfulness, an expanded consciousness, the kind of awareness that allows you to know that you are truly free and that you can make decisions that will positively affect your life, your family’s life, and the life of your society. And that you have the ability to change your own life and to change the world you live in.
Your first task, then, is an individual one: to liberate the sacred spark within yourself, to become mindful and conscious. Your second task is to link your own mindfulness and consciousness with others who have had the same realization in order to bring about the kind of revolutionary change that this world needs right now.
Maybe this is what Moses learned at the burning bush: that he had to expand his awareness, and link his life to the spiritual and then he could help the Israelites do the same. This, then, is how each of us can integrate the spiritual with the political.