The Rebbe’s birthday on the 11th of Nissan coincides with the Festival of Passover, the Season of our Freedom.
It is therefore not surprising to find the thread of liberation run through the entire fabric of the Rebbe’s philosophy and life.
For the Rebbe, liberation extends to helping those who are literally in prison even as it encompassed heroic efforts to liberate Jews from the former Soviet Union. But, above all, the Rebbe’s life was dedicated to the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption of the Jewish people and the entire world from galut/exile.
All of these areas of liberation are more or less familiar to the Jewish people. Much less is known about the Rebbe’s emphasis on liberating ourselves from our “galut pnimi”-“inner exile.” And although the Rebbe placed such a great emphasis on the Mitzvah campaigns and outreach, he also devoted hundreds of his talks and published Chassidic discourses to the inner dynamics of the soul.
In the historic talk delivered on the 28th of Nissan 5751—eleven months before suffering a stroke—the Rebbe spoke of how he had done all he could to bring the Redemption. What is now needed, the Rebbe continued, was to extricate ourselves from our internal exile.
A person can enjoy freedom to practice Judaism and still be locked up in a spiritually debilitating prison who fails to unlock and unleash his or her spiritual potential. A Jew who has a galut/exile mentality is as much in need of liberation as the Jew in the Soviet Gulag or the inmate in a Western prison. Galut tainted and jades ways of viewing life can be as debilitating as barbed wire and iron bars. Obviously, the physical suffering and oppression is much harsher and far more painful. But while their bodies were tortured, the souls of many a Jew in the Gulag could never be extinguished.
To be sure, living in a free country is one of the greatest blessings G-d has bestowed upon us. But the reason it is a blessing is because of its unlimited opportunities to realize our spiritual potential. Not taking advantage of this blessing is the equivalent of a freed prisoner who subjects himself to the same indignities of prison life.
The Rebbe went beyond advocating the need for us to get out of the self-imposed galut/prison. Even the tzadik who serves G-d with all his energy, the Rebbe explained, can also be in Mitzraim; Hebrew for Egypt, but it actually connotes the state of being confined. When a Jew allows himself or herself to stagnate and does not attempt to break out of the mold—albeit a good and holy mold—they are still within Mitzraim.
The Exodus from Egypt, in the Rebbe’s world, entails the drive to break out of all boundaries; including the boundaries and parameters of goodness. The true meaning of Passover is not limited to “passing over”, transcending and surmounting all of the obstacles in our path towards Sinai and Redemption. We must also rise above and go beyond the positive conventions and niches we carved out for ourselves, notwithstanding the fact that only a day earlier our actions were deemed noble and have elicited praise and admiration.
Liberating ourselves from ourselves encapsulates the Rebbe’s thought and life; it is the essence of Passover and the ultimate Redemption.