Essays Print
Exile and Redemption: Archetypes of The Jewish Soul by Dr. Sanford Drob
Exile and Redemption: Archetypes of The Jewish Soul

Volume 1 , Issue 3

In the haggadah and elsewhere throughout Jewish sacred literature Passover is referred to as "Z'man Charutainu," the season of our freedom.

On one level, a very basic level, the story of Passover is the story of the Jewish people's miraculous delivery from slavery. But we lose much of what is valuable in the Passover saga if we do not also recall that as a result of this freedom, a Jewish nation was established in the land promised to Abraham, Eretz Yisrael. As a result of being liberated from Egypt the Jewish people became free to achieve their national aspirations and, more importantly, to fulfill their destiny as part of God's plan for the world. The haagadah tells a story which was to later become a paradigm of Jewish experience. While the Jews were in Egypt, they were in Galut (exile), when they were freed from Egypt, they were brought to Eretz Yisrael, the land of their Geulah, the land of their redemption.

It is the movement from Galut to Geulah, from exile to redemption, which is at the heart of the Passover drama and which transforms the haggadah from a simple (however wonderful) tale of freedom, to an archetype for all of Jewish history and, just as importantly, into a template for the psychology of the Jewish soul.

On its most literal level the word galut refers to those periods in Jewish history when the Jewish people were detached from the land of Israel and were thereby unable to fulfill their spiritual mission on earth. The years of slavery in Egypt and the exile during the Babylonian captivity each ushered in a period of galut for the Jewish people. Each of these periods however, was followed by a redemption or geulah which returned the Jewish people to their land and place in God's world-order. Each of these redemptions is a cause for celebration. The first, of course, is the foundation for Passover, the second, indirectly, the basis for the holiday of Purim. A third galut, the most devastating of all, began with the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. This exile gave birth to the Jewish diaspora. We have as yet to see the complete geulah or redemption for this exile, but tradition tells us that this redemption will be the final one which will usher in the messianic age.

The cycle from galut to geulah, from exile to redemption, has been so impressed upon the Jewish people that many have seen it as a cycle which is built into creation itself.The kabbalists (Jewish mystics) particularly R. Isaac Luria, understood all negativity and evil as arising from a cosmic drama in which the shechina (God's "presence") was exiled from its proper path and place. According to Luria, the creation of the world initially involved God's emanation of a series of ten sefirot, cosmic structures which presented in progressively more crystallized forms, God's traitsof wisdom understanding, knowledge, love, judgment, compassion, etc. These structures were to become the receptacles or vessels for God's infinite creative light, but for a variety of poorly understood reasons, they were incapable of holding all of the divine light that was poured into them and the majority of them shattered, causing some of God's light to be trapped within the broken pieces which were then scattered about the world. These pieces known in Hebrew as kellipot (husks, shards) became the source of all that is dark, negative and evil in this world. The kellipot, because they have exiled some of God's light from its source, gave rise to the forces of sitra achra, the forces of "the other side." It is man's earthly task, through proper religious and ethical conduct to discover these kellipot in the material world and to free the sparks of divine light within them so they can return to their proper place in God's creation. This is known as tikkun or restoration. Thus, on the mystical level, Jewish religious practice consists entirely of bringing geulah or redemption to a world that is permeated with galut or exile. Divine forces are out of place. They have been trapped by kellipot on "the other side" and they must be liberated and returned, if the world is to be redeemed. On an individual level each Jew must free the divine sparks within himself if he is to achieve his ultimate destiny.

If galut and geulah are at the very heart of God's creation one would expect to find these archetypes at work within the psychology of each individual man or woman. It thus only seems surprising to find the themes outlined by Luria in his description of the cosmic process to be echoed by Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theory of the individual mind. Indeed the metaphors of Lurianic Kabbalah and psychoanalysis are strikingly similar. According to Freud the development of the individual originally involves the creation of the structures, id, ego and superego, which are in essence the receptacles designed to modulate and channel the individual's libido, his procreative energy, much as the sefirot were designed as vessels for channeling the light of God's will. For reasons which are only partly understood, however, these structures are not consistently able to contain and modulate the libidinous energy in ways that are most adaptive to the individual.

There is, one might say, a partial "shattering" of each of these structures and a splitting off (exile) of ideas and emotions from the main fabric of the individual's personality, just as in Luria's system, divine sparks are separated from the main infinite light of God. This "splitting off" occurs, for example, when an individual becomes aware of an impulse, thought, or desire, which his conscious self finds totally unacceptable. The impulse or idea and its associated affect is repressed and subsequently exists in a nether psychological realm known as the "unconscious," which is quite analogous to Luria's sitra achra or "other side" Once in the unconscious these "complexes" of thought and affect, which are akin to the kabbalistic kellipot are inaccesible to the individual. They become, in a sense, "exiled" and are the source of all manner and variety of psychological mischief which the individual experiences as depression or other neurotic symptoms, in the same way as the kellipot are the source of negativity and evil on the cosmic level. The job of the psychotherapist is to make these unconscious complexes conscious, and more importantly to free the libidinous energy attached to them so this energy can be made available to the individual for his own life goals just as, in kabbalah, the energy trapped in the kellipot must be freed and made available for the service of God. Thus the psychoanalytic endeavour is itself a form of tikkun (restoration) which brings an end to a galut ("exiled" aspects of the individuals's personality) and ushers in a geulah or psychological redemption.

It is fascinating to speculate how the theme of galut and geulah, which is at the core of the Passover story has come to find its place in the thoughts of men so different in era and outlook as Isaac Luria and Sigmund Freud. Perhaps Freud was somehow influenced by Kabbalistic ideas; perhaps the theme of exile and redemption is a part of the Jewish "collective unconscious," destined to appear and reappear whenever we Jews think deeply about the human predicament, or perhaps as the kabbalists themselves believed, the theme of galut and geulah is written into the very fabric of creation and will be seen by all who look intently upon the ways of the world.

Whatever its cosmic origin, it is clear that at least for we Jews the theme of exile and redemption is deeply engrained within our own psyches, in a way perhaps that does not differ too markedly from the way this archetype is desribed by Luria and Freud. We are in exile, everytime we act in a way which is fundamentally untrue to our Jewish heritage, our moral responsibilities and ourselves. This exile becomes true galut when our actions become so mechanized and routine that we are no longer aware of the choices that originally brought them about.

The galut becomes even greater when our actions persist, in part, because they are expected and even demanded by those around us. Finally, the galut becomes complete, when we come to believe that the actions we have undertaken are themselves a true and valid representation of ourselves. The Jews who settled in the land of Egypt, went through each of these stages. They settled in Goshen and forgot that their sojourn was meant to be a temporary stay. They gave up any hope of returning to the land of their destiny and when a new pharoah appeared on the scene they were enslaved. The Egyptians expected, demanded, that they remain, and the Jews themselves developed a slave mentality which prompted them to believe that Mitzrayim>Egypt was their natural state, and to balk at Moses' promptings for them to break free. It was only by undoing each of these aspects of galut that the Jewish people were able to achieve geulah. The Jews had to be broken from their own routine, had to do battle with those who had enslaved them and had to be called to a higher purpose before they finally realized that the "fleshpots of Egypt" were certainly not their own.

Such is also the way of the therapeutic process. In order for us to achieve personal Geulah (redemption) we too must be broken from the routine of those modes of thought and action which are neither true to ourselves, our fellow Jews, or mankind. We must frequently strive to free ourselves from those who would rather see us maintain the old routine, and we too must be called to a higher purpose which is in greater accord with our "persona" than many of our actions in the past.

In this, the z'man charutainu, season of our freedom, let each of us at the Passover seder meditate on the meaning of Exile and Redemption in all of its ramifications, and let us find in this holiday's theme an opportunity for personal redemption and tikkun olam, restoration of the world.



All Rights Reserved(c) The Jewish Review, Inc., 1987-2011