I riffle through my calendar, bursting with oh-so-weighty commitments and appointments: deadlines to meet, errands to complete, phone calls to return. I am running feverishly, from one task to the next. But nothing I do seems to engage my very essence, or access my inner core. I am still searching for the “real me.”
We humans are created in the image of G-d. Like G-d, we have our external selves, and our internal essence. With our external selves, we perform many functions, some of which are quite vital and necessary for our survival. But our essence is survival itself – our very purpose and reason for being.
On Passover, “G-d Himself came down to Egypt. Not an angel. Not a fiery Seraph. Not through any medium or agent. No one but G-d, the Holy One, Blessed be He. G-d Himself, in all His glory.” 1
G-d can reveal Himself through many characters and qualities. He can choose to enclothe Himself in all types of garments and manifestations. To descend to Egypt, however, G-d chose to go Himself. No agent or messenger was sufficient. To enter Egypt, G-d dropped all the external dimensions of His Being, and exposed His true Self.
What was Pharaoh’s Egypt? The cesspool of civilization, a country wallowing in its own arrogance and depravity. What was G-d’s mission? To rescue the Jewish people from the midst of this ugliness, and elevate them to be sanctified and consecrated to Him. This task engaged G-d’s very essence. This was something that G-d would not delegate to any one of His myriad angels and messengers, characteristics or attributes. And in doing so, G-d imparted to us some of His own powers and abilities. For all times, forever after, we have the capacity to discover G-dliness even as we descend into the lowest recesses of society and culture. Even when it seems dark and hopeless, we can reach out and inspire another hungry soul, another aching heart, and help them access truth and tranquility. Indeed, this is the mission of our lives: to enter a corrupt world in order to refine and transform it.
The task of redeeming ourselves, our family and friends, and our society from the depths of debasement cannot be accomplished half-heartedly or perfunctorily. The real me, and the real you, are exposed when we are actively engaged in activities that better the lives of others and enrich our society.
My day has not changed much. I am still running along the same treadmill, rushing to work in the morning, frantically completing my tasks, arriving home exhausted at night. But inside, something is different. My job is not merely a means to earn some much-needed cash. It has become a mission. It is my divinely ordained little corner of the universe, to be sanctified by me alone. In this, I can find myself. I can let myself go, and be the real me.
I still hurry to catch the train, but along the way I take a moment to smile at a stranger and offer him a seat. As I make eye contact, I know what I have accomplished. For that brief moment, two people out of millions shared a small taste of humanity, nay–divinity.
At work I still face the same anxieties and frustrations that I always did. But I manage to snatch a few moments for myself, to indulge in a quiet prayer. It energizes and uplifts me. It reminds me once again, in the midst of the hectic hustle-and-bustle of daily living, that I serve a higher purpose. I connect with G-d and recall that I can always lean on Him for support, not to lose sight of who I really am.
I play my telephone messages, and one makes me pause. It is from an old acquaintance of mine, and she desperately needs a favor. I am inclined to delete this message, but something makes me stop. I replay it carefully, and resolve to make this call a priority.
The office chatter still swirls around me. I am not aloof to it; I indulge like anyone else. But something inside is different. I am not as quick to chime in with a cutting remark or a juicy bit of gossip. Instead, I attempt to contribute words that soothe, that comfort, that inspire. And I can feel the difference. I smile more at people, and they smile back at me.
I arrive home at the end of the day, still tired, still exhausted. But underneath all that is a sense of exhilaration. Some of my private inhibitions have eased, and my sense of repression is abating. I feel as if I have left Egypt. I have found my inner self.