The following is a nice [mystical] interpretation of the Exodus from Egypt, as an allusion to the departure of the soul from the body [at death].

  • When Pharaoh sent the [Jewish] people forth… (Ex. 13:17)

  • This refers to when the soul departs the body. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is the neck, for [the body] is stubborn. [Stubbornness] rules over the body, which is Egypt.

    The Hebrew word for Pharoah [pei-reish-ayin-hei] is composed of the same letters as the word for "the neck" [ha-oref, hei-ayin-reish-pei], as we have explained previously. The idiom for "stubborn" in Hebrew is "stiff-necked." The body may be described as "stubborn" since it insists on imposing its gross, material perspective on the soul. "Egypt" [mitzrayim] means "constrictions" [meitzarim], an apt term for the body, since it limits the powers of the soul to those of this world, forcing it to conceive of everything in terms of time and space.

  • G‑d hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued the Children of Israel.(Ex. 14:8)

  • [When the soul leaves the body,] the powers of the evil inclination set out to chase the soul in order to harm it. This is because the evil inclination is also the accusing angel. After taking the soul [from the body], it pursues it in order to harm it and take vengeance on it.

    It is enough, the soul complains, that I had to live a full life in this grave of the body; why must I suffer further?

    As the sages have said, the evil inclination [yetzer hara], the angel of death [malach hamavet], and the accusing angel [Satan] are all one.

  • He overtook them while they were camping by the sea… (Ex. 14:9)

  • The sea refers to Purgatory [Gehinom], known as "the river of fire."

    When the soul leaves the body it must first be purged of the existential crust of materialism and negativity it acquired during its stay in the physical world. Only then can it proceed to experience the pure spirituality of Paradise.

  • As Pharaoh drew near (Ex. 13:10)

  • to give the soul over to the agents of damage and inflictors of pain to torture them…

  • The Children of Israel raised their eyes and caught sight of the Egyptians advancing at their rear, and they became very frightened. So the Children of Israel cried out to G‑d.

  • In order for the soul to be purified of its worldly, material crust it must be made to experience the extent to which this materialism is antithetical to truth and spirituality. This is an agonizing, torturous awakening.

  • They said to Moses (Ex. 14:11)

  • i.e., to the good inclination:

  • "Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the desert?"

  • i.e., "Now that you see all this pain and suffering these powers of evil are inflicting upon me, this "battering in the grave" [Hebrew phrase: 'chibut ha-kever'], was it not enough pain that I had to be buried and suffer inside the body and constrictions of the physical world, that I must now experience as well the pain of this grave" - this refers to how the soul is battered inside the grave - "and I have been taken to die [again] in the desert?" i.e., in Purgatory, the desolate abode of the forces of evil. Here is where vengeance is extracted from the soul.

    The soul refers to its birth into a physical body as being "buried" inside a "grave." Death is not seen as a cessation of existence, but rather as a descent from one spiritual level to a lower one. It is enough, the soul complains, that I had to live a full life in this grave of the body; why must I suffer further?

    The image of the soul being "battered" in the grave refers to how it is existentially "shaken" of its materialistic encrustation, as above.

  • "What is this that you have done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we spoke to you about in Egypt, saying, 'Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"(Ex. 14:11-12)

  • i.e., "it was better for me in the body. I may as well have submitted to the evil inclination in the physical world; at least then I would not be suffering the pain I am suffering now."

    By being shown the truth and the splendor of spirituality, the soul is rudely awakened to the triviality of all the things the body convinced it to be important in this world. This realization of the futility and emptiness of the material life of the physical world is more painful than any pain than can be experienced in the physical world itself. As the sages say, "against your will you are born, and against your will you live."

    The opposite is true of the tzadik; he yearns for death from this world in order to go on to live in the world of truth.

    As the sages say, "against your will you are born, and against your will you live."

  • But Moses said to the people, "Have no fear… (Ex. 14:13)

  • The good inclination tells the soul, have no fear of this punishment, for it is for your own good. Through it, you will be rid of these inflictors of pain and be spared the ordeal of Purgatory. All the powers of impurity will remain there in this sea, i.e., the river of fire.

  • "Stand firm and witness the deliverance that G‑d will perform for you today…

  • By means of the purification process of Purgatory you will be cleansed of your sins.

  • …for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again."

  • For they will remain in Purgatory.

  • Toward the end of the night G‑d looked down upon the camp of the Egyptians with the pillar of fire and cloud…(Ex. 14:24)

  • This refers to the descent of the soul to be judged in Purgatory. When this is over

  • …He threw the camp of the Egyptians into confusion.

  • This refers to the powers of the evil inclination, who are cast into the "sea," where they remain.

  • But the Children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, while the water formed a wall for them, on their right and on their left. (Ex. 14:29)

  • The Hebrew word for "wall" is 'chomah', which is written the same as the word for "anger" [in Hebrew, 'cheimah'].

    The powers of evil are angry as the soul departs Purgatory purified of its material dross.

  • Moses then caused the Children of Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds and they went out into the Desert of Shur. They walked for three days in the desert without finding any water. They came to Mara, but they could not drink water at Mara, for the water was bitter; that was why the place was named Mara ["bitter"]. (Ex. 15:22-23)

  • After the soul departs Purgatory, it starves for three days, since it spends three days without learning Torah. Torah is the nourishment of the soul, enabling it to endure Purgatory before entering Paradise.

  • The people complained against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?"(Ex. 15:24)

  • i.e., "since we have not learned any Torah. The Torah is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it."

  • G‑d showed [Moses] a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet. It was there that He gave [the people] a statute and a law, and there He tested them.

  • i.e., [the good inclination] shows the soul the reward awaiting it in the world to come.

    The idiom "statute" also means "provision"; the word for "tested" also means "lifted up." As it is about to enter Paradise, G‑d prepares the soul by telling that it is about to experience the true value of the mitzvot it performed while in the body. This sweetens the water of Torah, which it may have experienced as bitter deprivation in the physical world.

  • He said, "If you diligently heed the voice of the L-rd your G‑d and do what is upright in His eyes, carefully listening to all His commandments and observing all His statutes, then none of the sicknesses that I brought on Egypt will I bring upon you, for I am G‑d Who heals you." (Ex. 15:26)

  • i.e., G‑d promises the soul that since it observed the Torah [during its life in the physical world] and underwent its purification process in Purgatory, it will no longer experience any of the negativity and depression of evil, for it has been cured of all these.

    In other words, the future tense of the verse should be read as the past: "Since you diligently heeded the voice…" etc.

  • Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they encamped by the water. (Ex. 15:27)

  • There are twelve rivers of pure, spiritual water surrounding Paradise, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. Every [soul of each] tribe immerses in its respective river in order to be cooled from the fire of Purgatory and healed of its wounds. …in the "circumcision of the heart" there are two stages as well

  • They moved on from Elim, and the entire community of Israel came to the Desert of Sinn, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth of the second month after they had left Egypt. There, in the desert, the entire community of the Children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron.(Ex. 16:1-2)

  • i.e., after all this, [there is one more stage before the soul enters Paradise]. It immerses again to be judged in "the flame of the revolving sword," referred to here as the Desert of Sinn.

    When Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise, G‑d placed the flame of the revolving sword at the entrance to guard it. This purifying fire is a much more subtle one than that of Purgatory, and is necessary in order to remove the subtle materialism that still remains after the preliminary purification accomplished there.

    This may be compared to the two stages of circumcision: after removing the thick foreskin, the thin mucous membrane must be peeled back as well. Neglecting to do this invalidates the circumcision. Similarly, in the "circumcision of the heart" there are two stages as well.

  • The Children of Israel said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of G‑d in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you have taken us out to this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death!"(Ex. 16:3)

  • The soul complains about this more subtle punishment as well. But it undergoes it, and when it passes this stage and wants to enter Paradise, G‑d tells it:

  • "I am going to rain down bread for you from the sky." (Ex. 16:4)

  • i.e., here in Paradise you will eat a lot of the bread of the Torah that you studied while you were in that world; this Torah is the nourishment of the soul. It is the 248 limbs and 365 sinews [of the soul], which are the 613 mitzvot that form the soul's garment. The Torah itself [ - as distinct from the mitzvot - ] is the soul's nourishment. If someone did not occupy himself with the study of Torah day and night in the physical world, he has nothing to eat in the world of the souls, even though he may have something to wear, formed by the mitzvot he performed.

  • "The people will go out and gather each day's portion…"

  • In Paradise, the soul collects its daily reward and nourishment…

  • The entire community of the Children of Israel moved on from the Desert of Sinn on their journeys, according to the word of G‑d. (Ex. 17:1)

  • i.e., after receiving its reward in the lower level of Paradise, the soul goes on to the upper level of Paradise, referred to as Sinai, in order to receive [new levels of] the Torah from the mouth of G‑d. The letter yud is added to Sinn to give Sinai.

  • They encamped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink…. (Ex. 17:1) Amalek then came and fought against Israel in Rephidim. (Ex. 17:8)

  • The higher one ascends in spirituality, the more the previous levels he was on appear to be gross and crass

    But before it ascends to the upper level of Paradise, there is another type of Purgatory that it must traverse, more subtle than the river of fire, in order to burn away those "sins" of the righteous that are as tenuous as a thread of hair. The gross sins had already been rectified by the lower Purgatory.

    The higher one ascends in spirituality, the more the previous levels he was on appear to be gross and crass. Thus, at a higher level, a person may come to consider a way of thinking or behaving he had previously considered "spiritual" or "good" to be egocentric or "childish." In order to proceed to the higher perspective of reality, he must rid himself of the lower one, which he now finds embarrassing or even shameful.

    This is why G‑d judges the righteous "to the breadth of a string of hair": their higher standard of being makes attitudes or actions that would be normally considered innocuous or even meritorious look depraved in context.

    This higher Purgatory is called Rephidim, which alludes to the righteous who "whose hand-grasp of the commandments was weak."

    According to the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 106a, the implication of the name Rephidim is that there the Jews "loosened their hand-grip on the study of the Torah," for the word Rephidim is derived from the root rafeh [reish-pei-hei], which means "loose" or "weak."

    This means that [in Rephidim] the Jews did not perform G‑d's commandments properly, but in laziness and unwillingly. Similarly here, the soul has already gained entrance to the lower level of Paradise, but in order to enter the upper Paradise it must have performed mitzvot [in the physical world] in love, with great desire and will. It receives its punishment for not having done this in this upper Purgatory, which is synonymous with Amalek, the highest level of impurity, the subtle fire that is perennially at war with Israel. Thus, "Amalek then came and fought against Israel in Rephidim" means "because of Rephidim."

Amalek is synonymous with uninspired, unenthusiastic performance of G‑d's commandments, as it is written: "Amalek…who cooled you off on your way [to receive the Torah]." (Deut. 25:18)

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.