This Shabbat, we read Parshat Pasach – a section of Parshat Beshalach detailing our Exodus from Egypt, our passage through the Red Sea, and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army at Hashem’s hand.
I watched The Matrix again – Moadim L’Simchah. The Matrix is such a perfect metaphor it’s hard to believe it wasn’t written by Kabbalists.
Our world is a matrix. It’s not Elon Musk’s vision of a simulation run by artificial intelligence gone rogue. It’s Hashem’s Matrix and by means of hiding His presence from our world, the Matrix feels real to those within it. Looking around, we witness an enormously detailed world of separate parts: different elements and materials, textures and colors, people and animals. It feels so real. As spoken in the movie, “the Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.1 A prison for your mind.” Yet behind it all is Oneness, the Divine, Love and Goodness. When did you first wake up? When did you realize that all that there is is not all you can see?
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”1
Our ancestors woke up in Eretz Mitzrayim. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Pollonye references the Arizal when he says that the galut in Mitzrayim (Egyptian Exile) represented our da’at b’galut (consciousness in exile).2
What does it mean to be in exile? It means to be asleep, trapped in the Matrix, trapped in Mizrayim. We buy into its rules – rules that are crafted by society, dictated by our times, instilled by our families, inculcated our culture. So long as we allow them to define our lives we remain asleep. So long as we “buy into” this world, getting angry when things don’t go our way – when we get cut in line, honked at in traffic, reprimanded at work – we remain in exile. The Matrix enforces its rules by making us feel small, disconnected, and isolated. It tries to make us feel not-enough, materialistic, consumeristic, scared, lonely, attached. Too often, we let it.
What does it mean to wake up? We leave Egypt when we realize that the world is only as real as we make it, the rules only as fixed as we accept them. “I'm going to show them a world without you. A world without rules or controls, borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.”1 We wake up when we decide to attach ourselves, not to the Matrix, for that simply gives it control over us, but rather, to the Creator of the Matrix, for when we join with Him, we become co-programmers of reality. We look around and see the 1s and 0s of Oneness stretching out infinitely. When we do this, we begin to see so clearly that what we truly want is to see.
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.”3
What if we were freed from the Matrix and allowed to see the Oneness? What if we witnessed Truth so plainly, so clearly, that even a maidservant saw what remained hidden to even the greatest of our Prophets?4 Afterwards, inevitably, we would be returned to the Matrix. How absurd it would all seem in the beginning – everyone running around trying to accumulate things no more real than the Matrix in which they live.
As the famous story goes with the Chofetz Chaim:
There once was a wealthy man who visited the Polish town of Radin. He had heard of the righteousness of the Tzaddik, the Chofetz Chaim, and went to meet him. Upon entering his home, he was shocked by its sparse furnishings and asked, “where is your furniture!?” The Chofetz Chaim looked him over and asked, “where is your furniture?” Incredulously, the man responded, “I don’t have my furniture with me for I’m just passing through.” The Chofetz Chaim responded that he too is only passing through…
But how long do you think we would be able to retain that awareness of Truth after our return to the Matrix? How long before we felt the first tinge of irritability rise up? How long before we felt a desire to change our positions in the Matrix – whether by acquiring things or power or money? How long would it take until we went back to running the same rat race as everyone else? Perhaps it would be a conscious choice. Afterall, eternity feels rather far off while that steak sits right in front of us. As one of the characters says in the movie as he decides to give up awareness for pleasure: “You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”1
Why? Because awareness is hard. After moments of clarity, we often feel ourselves slipping backwards. Perhaps it’s after a bad night’s sleep. Or the consequence of screaming kids. Slowly, slowly, the Matrix begins to feel more real, more important. It’s hard to live in a world that feels so real and not be consumed by doubt and desire until it’s easier to just give up. Our ancestors witnessed the sea part before Hashem’s word and witnessed that “everything we see in the world is a mere theatrical performance, where the house on stage is not truly a house and the tree is not truly a tree – everything is made of cardboard. The entire world dissolved and melted before the eyes of Israel into new forms and patterns: Before, the sea was water; now it has become dry land.”5 They see the Matrix dissolve and reform before their very eyes. Then, three days later, they begin to complain, expressing their dissatisfaction with the Matrix. “And the people grumbled against Moshe, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’”6 That is how long it takes us to forget – to gripe at the guy taking his sweet time behind the counter at the grocery store – to begin to believe that the rules of the Matrix are our rules. Three days.
So what do we do after we are removed from the Matrix? We begin Sefirat HaOmer. We begin to count the days until Matan Torah when we receive the laws that help us always remember that it is only a Matrix that we live in, that it is only ever our minds and the choices we make that limit us. “Do you believe that me being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place?”1 Once we realize this, we realize that all our work in this world must go towards knowing what is True in our hearts and minds, towards staying awake, day after day, cycle after cycle. Reminding ourselves three times a day that we are the sons and daughters of prophets, that our purpose is greater than playing the game, that our potential is infinite. “Don’t just think you are, know you are.”1
“What is real? How do you define real? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Everyone believes in something. People believe in the rules that the world sets out for them: buy this, consume this, desire this, chase this, laugh now. We Jews choose to believe in a different set of rules, rules whose truth is made evident not by the things they bring or by the numbers in our accounts or by the envious eyes of others, but by the joy in our hearts, the peace in our homes, and the kindness in our eyes.
Once you’ve woken up, you can’t go back, “but if you could, would you really want to?”1 As we near the end of Chag HaMatzot and emerge from the Red Sea, may we all witness viscerally that this world is a malleable illusion. When we look in front of us may we merit to see what is all around us, within us, beyond us. May we all carry with us the memory of this vision as we go back into the desert – wandering, journeying, living – remembering that although we can’t always see it or feel it, it doesn’t make it any less true.
- The Matrix
- Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Pekudei
- Quote by Marianne Williamson
- Rashi: Shemot 15:2
- Rav Steinsaltz: Talks on the Parsha
- Shemot 15:27