“You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or the land of Canaan to which I am taking you, nor shall you follow their laws; My rules alone shall you observe and faithfully follow My laws...”(Lev. 18:3-4)
The Sefat Emet raises the following question: “If it refers to the forbidden sexual liaisons that are about to be explicitly listed,why does it make them dependent upon the deeds of Egypt and Canaan? Rather the intent is that all in our deeds we do not things as they are done in Egypt and Canaan.Every deed has an inner and outer side; the inner root of all things is surely in holiness, since it was created for God's glory..that is why the deeds of the nations are referred to as 'statutes.'...they have no relationship to the inner meaning of all things, and cleave only to mere externals”(The Language of Truth, Arthur Green, JPS1998,pp.179-80)
In my thinking, the Sefat Emet is pointing to two different approaches by which life can be seen-from the perspective of the external, the changeable and that which is subject to transient tastes and interests ,and the inner, that dimension of reality that carries with it permanence and solidity no matter what the seasons bring to us. The way of the external-modeled after Egypt and Canaan, suggest the way of narrowness and superficiality, Egypt in Hebrew being read not as mitzrayim-מצרים-but rather as meitzarim-מיצרים- a place of constriction, where one is enslaved to a rigid understanding of things without the fullness and depth arrived at through one's imagination and heart whereby the inner meanings are understood and enjoyed. Canaan too elicits a status of external reality.Historically it has been suggested that Canaanites were itinerant traders, perhaps deriving their function from the word-Na-נע-meaning movement, travelling, wandering.The way of the Cannanite was thus one which demanded constant changeability and transformation to suit new extenal environments.There were no deeply ingrained realities that were fixed in the inner life of its people.For both peoples, image and appearance were all important. Is this not one of the dimensions of idolatry reflected in the significance of idols and external representations?
Is this not an indication of a human tendency to partialize perception, making the partial absolute and thereby losing sight of reality's greater fullness and indeterminacy? Religion's purpose is to widen and deepen our perceptions as broadly as possible to embrace the other under the canopy of kindness and compassion! Our God is the One God of All, not a god whose purview is one partialized realm of natural reality!.Consider today's contemporary western society.All is image, fashion, external perceptions of realities that are more often than not artificial makeovers to create illusion rather than discover truth and authenticity.From the point of view of the Sefat Emet, we are deeply immersed in a world powerfully influenced by “Egypt” and “Canaan!”
Israel cries out for the re-emrgence of the inner world in our lives and the return to the path of authentic self-discovery.
A joyfully grateful Passover.