Pharaoh relents and lets our people go. While embarking in the wilderness, Moses receives this instruction:

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ וְיַחֲנוּ לִפְנֵי פִּי הַחִירֹת בֵּין מִגְדֹּל וּבֵין הַיָּם לִפְנֵי בַּעַל צְפֹן נִכְחוֹ תַחֲנוּ עַל־הַיָּם׃

"Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-Hahirot, between Migdol and the sea,

before Baal Tzefon, you shall encamp facing it, by the sea." (Exodus 14:2)

This verse lists three locations with proper names: Pi-Hahirot, Migdol, Baal Tzefon. I unpacked these locations through meta-translation last year as practice instructions. I want to revisit part of that teaching and focus on two of these names.

"Return and encamp" = sit and be still. "Before Pi-Hahirot/פִּי הַחִירֹת." The medieval commentator Rashi informs us that "this place is called Pi-Hahirot/פִּי הַחִירֹת because there they became BINEI CHORIN, free people." CHIRUT is explained as CHEIRUT, freedom. So this is an eponym meaning "the spot where they became free." Pi-Hahirot/פִּי הַחִירֹת is the lip or edge of freedom.

Rashi also says that this is identical to another place called PITOM. PITOM means "all of a sudden." Return your conscious, sit where you are, in this place of freedom, suddenly. In a snap of a finger *snap*. K'HEREF AYIN, In the blink of an eye. All at once awareness.

The verse continues "between Migdol and the sea." MIGDAL, which means "fortress" and HAYAM, "the sea." We each need a fortress, a form. MIGDOL YESHUOT MALKO. We need to feel safe and secure. As Hafiz says, "fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions." We know quiet and simplicity and gentleness and time are just some of the ingredients of the contemplative life. As we sit upright, or stand in prayer, finding center and balance, falling up supported by gravity, our heads supporting the sky, we create a tower and dedicate it to the practice of uncovering our oneness and belonging to the universe.

Yet MIGDAL, a fortress, can be a form of rigidity. We can climb to the ivory tower of our minds and remain aloof from the sensory world. We can cut off from our hearts and spiritually bypass. There is a dark side to meditation. We can become impenetrable, cut off, closed down. This fortress faces or is in relationship to the sea, HAYAM. The Hebrew for "sea" comes from a much more ancient, Canaanite word for the Goddess of the sea, Yama. She is cognate with the depths/TEHOM and Tiamat. Her depths are in conversation with the heights of the fortress. The ocean has the power to submerge, opposing and subsuming rigidity. Her chaos and constant motion disorient and pull us deep below and within.

Dr Daniel Siegel is a contemporary neuroscientist who makes the claim that every diagnosis in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, can be seen as a dysfunction of these two poles: chaos and rigidity. Life flows when we find balance between the two, the space between too much structure or resistance on one hand and too little predictability or order on the other. The space between is what Dr Dan has called the River of Integration. On one side the fortress, the rigid, the impenetrable; on the other side, the ocean, endlessly rocking, the depths.

Now we can read our verse: "the spot where we become free is between the fortress and the sea."

shir feit


Shir Yaakov is Kol Hai's founder and spiritual director.