Can We Ever Leave Egypt?

Dr. Erica Brown

Many years ago, I tucked into a kosher take-out place and asked the man behind the counter what he could make me in two minutes since I didn’t want to miss my train home from New York. He told me he had something ready and sent me quickly on my way. A block and a half later, I realized I had left my briefcase with my computer in the restaurant. Oy. Now I was definitely going to miss the train. I called the number on the take-out bag, checked that it was there and ran back. The nice man handed me my case, looked at me and said, “Repeat after me: “Gam zo le-tova.” This, too, will be for the good. I repeated the mantra, left the restaurant and took off. I made the train.

Gam zo le-tova” is a talmudic expression attributed to Nahum Ish Gamzu. Hebrew speakers will no doubt notice that his last name and the expression are the same, and this is intentional. So much was he known for putting what we call a positive spin on life’s challenges, that his last name essentially became “An eternal optimist.” Nahum was a teacher of the sainted Rabbi Akiba (BT Brakhot 22a), and suffered terrible body paralysis that he attributed to his own failure to feed a poor man quickly enough (BT Ta’anit 21a). Nahum is at the center of many talmudic miracles. His attitude must have stunned those who could not make sense of his upbeat demeanor despite his terrible bodily handicap.

The writer Daniel Pink, in his book To Sell is Human, describes this as an explanatory style. An explanatory style is the way we explain difficult life events or negative experiences to ourselves. He calls it a kind of self-talk that we use after events to generate internal understanding, following research done by the psychologist Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. Pink writes: “People who give up easily, who become helpless even in situations where they actually can do something, explain bad events as permanent, pervasive and personal. They believe that negative conditions will endure a long time, that the causes are universal rather than specific to the circumstances, and that they’re the ones to blame.” Seligman believed that this way of seeing the world can turn setbacks into disasters and translates over time into learned helplessness.

Contrast this to a positive explanatory style. Difficult events will pass. They are specific to a set of circumstances and not abiding realties, and they are external to the self rather than inherent.

Now let’s apply this thinking to the story of the Exodus. Those born into long-term slavery, who know no other reality from one generation to the next, cannot but help believe that their situation is permanent, pervasive and personal. The Jews must have done something wrong to suffer this kind of oppression. This helplessness was not of their own making but helps explain the rabbinic dictum that only 20% of the Jews left Egypt when they could. If you internalize slavery so that it not only describes what you do but how you think and who you are, you will never leave Egypt, even if you leave.

If you have a positive explanatory style, you can be a slave and be liberated at the same time because you retain an enduring internal sense of freedom and possibility.

It is a common Jewish behavior to see history as a series of tragedies, strung together like mismatched pearls on a long string of sadness. You can certainly look at our history that way, and you would have a lot of supporting evidence. In this worldview, we view outsiders as suspicious and see the world filled with hate and disappointment. Alternatively, we can look at the explosive Jewish miracles that defy all explanation and push the tragedies far apart, the way they really appear on a timeline. When we focus on the spaces between calamities, we find our longevity, our influence, our creativity, our amazing capacity for meaningful survival and our commitment to social justice everywhere we look.

This Passover will be one of the strangest on record. As it progresses, we may even find ourselves unable to adopt a positive explanatory style even amidst our blessings. But the Passover Jew still and always reads the Haggadah and can only come to one conclusion. Nahum Ish Gamzu was right: This, too, will be for the good, even if we don’t understand quite yet what the good is.

Dr. Erica Brown is the Director of the Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership at the George Washington University. Her latest book is Esther: Power, Fate and Fragility in Exile. This essay has been adapted from one of her “Weekly Jewish Wisdom” blogs.

53 Replies to “Can We Ever Leave Egypt?”

  1. I loved you better than you would ever be able to express here. The picture is beautiful, and your wording is elegant; nonetheless, you read it in a short amount of time. I believe that you ought to give it another shot in the near future. If you make sure that this trek is safe, I will most likely try to do that again and again.

  2. Navigating through your narrative is like embarking on a philosophical pilgrimage. Each step reveals a new facet of enlightenment, and the path you’ve paved with words is a sacred journey for readers seeking intellectual salvation.

  3. Wow amazing blog layout How long have you been blogging for you made blogging look easy The overall look of your web site is magnificent as well as the content

  4. When you have doubts about your children’s activities or the safety of their parents, you can hack their Android phones from your computer or mobile device to ensure their safety. No one can monitor around the clock, but there is professional spy software that can secretly monitor the activities of Android phones without making them aware.

  5., YouTube üzerinde içerik üretenler için abone, izlenme, beğeni ve yorum gibi çeşitli hizmetler sunmaktadır, böylece kanallarını büyütmek isteyenler için önemli bir kaynak haline gelmektedir.

  6. I loved even more than you could possibly be able to accomplish right here. Despite the fact that the language is stylish and the overall appearance is appealing, there is something odd about the manner that you write that makes me think that you ought to be careful about what you say in the future. In the event that you safeguard this hike, I will most certainly return on multiple occasions.

  7. From start to finish, this blog post had us hooked. The content was insightful, entertaining, and had us feeling grateful for all the amazing resources out there. Keep up the great work!

  8. Its like you read my mind You appear to know so much about this like you wrote the book in it or something I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a little bit but instead of that this is excellent blog A fantastic read Ill certainly be back

  9. you are in reality a good webmaster The website loading velocity is amazing It sort of feels that youre doing any distinctive trick Also The contents are masterwork you have done a fantastic job in this topic

  10. I eagerly started following this phenomenal website with awesome user content a few days ago. The site owner clearly cares about readers. I’m thrilled and hope they persist in sharing superb content.

  11. Excellent blog here Also your website loads up very fast What web host are you using Can I get your affiliate link to your host I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  12. I am not sure where youre getting your info but good topic I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more Thanks for magnificent info I was looking for this information for my mission

  13. I have been browsing online more than three hours today yet I never found any interesting article like yours It is pretty worth enough for me In my view if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did the internet will be a lot more useful than ever before

  14. Somebody essentially lend a hand to make significantly posts I might state That is the very first time I frequented your web page and up to now I surprised with the research you made to create this particular put up amazing Excellent job

  15. What i do not realize is in fact how you are no longer actually much more wellfavored than you might be right now Youre very intelligent You recognize thus considerably in relation to this topic made me in my view believe it from numerous numerous angles Its like men and women are not fascinated until it is one thing to do with Lady gaga Your own stuffs excellent All the time handle it up

  16. I loved as much as youll receive carried out right here The sketch is tasteful your authored material stylish nonetheless you command get bought an nervousness over that you wish be delivering the following unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike

  17. ✔️무료 스포트 중계❂【벳모아✔️】 필터 없는 욕, 쉴 새 없는 전화…김포 공무원 사망에 이어지는 호소

  18. I do agree with all the ideas you have introduced on your post They are very convincing and will definitely work Still the posts are very short for newbies May just you please prolong them a little from subsequent time Thank you for the post

  19. Nice blog here Also your site loads up very fast What host are you using Can I get your affiliate link to your host I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  20. My brother suggested I might like this website He was totally right This post actually made my day You cannt imagine just how much time I had spent for this information Thanks

  21. twitchadblocker twitch werbung blocken twitch adblock chrome Möchten Sie Live-Streaming genießen? twitch 広告ブロック, Aber es gibt Werbung, die Ihr Erlebnis ruiniert, dann laden Sie sie einfach herunter twitch adblock und genießen Sie das Streaming ohne Störung.

  22. Anında Bağlantı, Anında Sonuç!: Mobil SMS Onay, size istediğiniz yabancı numaraları hemen sağlayarak zamanınızı en iyi şekilde değerlendirmenizi sağlar. Anında bağlantı kurun ve işlerinizi hızlandırın!

  23. Your blog is like a beacon of light in the vast expanse of the internet. Your thoughtful analysis and insightful commentary never fail to leave a lasting impression. Thank you for all that you do.

  24. ✔️꽁타✔️,꽁머니 커뮤니티,꽁머니이벤트 꽁머니 사이트 Its like you read my mind You appear to know a lot about this like you wrote the book in it or something I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit but instead of that this is fantastic blog An excellent read I will certainly be back

  25. Hello i think that i saw you visited my weblog so i came to Return the favore Im trying to find things to improve my web siteI suppose its ok to use some of your ideas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *