There are slaveries and there are slaveries. Sometimes one group of people enslaves another and sometimes we enslave ourselves. There are oppressions and there are oppressions, aggressions and aggressions. Sometimes the oppressor and aggressor is external, sometimes we’re our own worst enemies. More often than not these two types combine. When we oppress and enslave ourselves, others are all too happy to join in and really “put the hurt on us”, and as we endure century after century of hate and oppression, it’s not unusual for some of us to to hate ourselves.
A Chassidic/Kaballistic theme is that when Israel is in exile, Da’at, our wisdom and knowledge, is also “missing in action”. We also teach that The Shechina, defined as both the feminine (we consider the feminine as the side of Gevurah, strength and (self)confidence) divine presence as well as Malchut, sovereignty and freedom, is also in exile with us.
In the system of Sefirot (a very complex concept whose definition includes “configurations” of divine/life energy, intellectual/emotional/physical traits considered from a spiritual, trans-rational, prespective and also categories of human experiences/perceptions, again considered from a spiritual perspective), Da’at both isn’t but functions as a distinct Sefira (1). Da’at, what we really know, is always at least partially undefined/hidden.
Said another way, in our current modality of existence we’re never fully aware of the vast knowledge we really possess. Which is to say that in the galut/exile mode in which we now exist (even those of us meriting the privilege to live in Eretz Yisrael), we live with our Da’at in exile, often unaware of the truths within ourselves.
Historically, continuing into the present, that often takes the form of either enslaving and oppressing ourselves, failing both to recognize and to utilize our power as individuals and as members of the Jewish People, refusing to realize that we need merely to take that first step to our freedom. Yes, using only a small portion of our mental powers we can innovate and entrepreneur and cure disease, but without exploring, discovering and utilizing the greater intelligence contained in our Torah, we take only baby steps.
While that is bad enough, some of us, and even one of these is two too many, can blind ourselves so much that we join those who hate and try to destroy us, falling into the delusion that we actually deserve the torture and oppression we’ve endured for millennia. This takes the form of accusing our tradition as out-of-date, unenlightened and oppressive in itself, and/or, as is all too fashionable now, (self-)accusing Israel, our very selves, as racist, occupiers, oppressors of the “indigenous” inhabitants, baby-killers and all the other fashionable antisemitic charges.
No, it’s not as easy as merely opening our eyes, letting truth and reality and real wisdom flood in, not even as easy as using our literally God-given techniques to develop our mind to its capacity (this is called “learning Torah“), but both of these are required, much-needed, first step.
It’s not arbitrary that the next-to-last plague in Egypt was darkness. Although it’s too detailed to go into here, one way of understanding the plagues is that each had to be inflicted on the powers of evil in order to break that particular hold that evil has on us. We break the hold darkness, ignorance, holds over us and then we can, finally, break the hold of death and march into Life. Together we can lead each other to comprehend the world as it is, as a manifestation of The Creator, open our own and each other’s Da’at, and begin the real journey to Geula, everlasting life.
(1) The introduction to the concept of Sefirot is found in Sefer Yetzira, a book of mystical knowledge said to be revealed by Avraham Avinu, our patriarch Abraham. It is very insistent that there are exactly ten Sefirot, not nine and also not eleven. This is because Keter, the highest of the ten Sefirot and our connection with the totally unknowable, is itself so unreachable that it barely exists. With it’s almost disappearance, Da’at, knowledge/wisdom, the product/resolution of Chachma, inspiration and Bina, analysis/processing, partially emerges. Counting both Keter and Da’at, we’d have eleven, which is impossible, and if we don’t count Keter, since it’s really unavailable, we’d only have nine unless we add Da’at.