a 19th century painting of the scene
"The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea" by Henri-Frederic Schopin

Ready to move your emotional home to the Promised Land?

The Torah column is supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.


Leviticus 26:3–27:34

If you watch the news, I’m sure you’ve seen people who live in areas that get hit often by hurricanes or tornadoes. They collect what’s left of their lives and begin to rebuild — and then it happens again … and again!

You’ve probably asked yourself: “Why don’t they move?”

The reason is because that is their home. It’s what they’ve always known, the world in which they make sense to themselves. They don’t want to leave what’s familiar, even when disaster looms over it.

Something similar happened with the Jews after the Exodus. The Jews had been enslaved for generations. The memory of their freedom was impossibly distant. All they knew was hardship, mistreatment and being crushed under the boot of despotism.

After 200 years, God delivered them from Pharaoh, and brought them out of Egypt, as mentioned in this week’s parashah. You would think they would be happy. But every time they faced hardship, they complained to Moses. “It’s hot. We’re tired. We had better food in Egypt. Moses, the water is not distilled out here; let’s go back to Egypt.”

Why would they want to go back to Egypt? Because it was their home. They had become comfortable being victims because it was all they had ever known. It was the misery they knew, as opposed to the freedom that was foreign.

Their parents and their grandparents were all slaves. They didn’t want to leave what was familiar — even when it was awful.

It is easy for us to tell people living in a hurricane zone that they should move. It is easy to criticize the Jews for wanting to return to Egypt. It’s harder to realize, and to admit, that we often do something similar. We all have an emotional home that we keep returning to (see “Life Force” by Tony Robbins and Dr. Peter Diamandis).

For some people it’s happiness, love and gratitude, but for others it may be fear, anxiety, worry or depression.

The emotional home is the place where you feel most comfortable, to which you often retreat. It’s not always good for you. But it’s habitual. You know the landscape, and every nook is as familiar to you as the back of your hand.

Have you ever had a dinner date with somebody you care about — your husband, your wife, a good friend, a relative — and you’re supposed to meet at 7 p.m. You get there at 7 but they are not there. You wait until 7:30, and they’re still not there. When that happens, what do you feel as you (once again) scan the restaurant for them?

Some people get angry.

Some get worried.

Same scenario, very different reactions. Why are people in the same situation experiencing it so differently?

They are both going back to their emotional homes and their comfort zones. What they see happening outside is colored by how things feel inside the house.

Let’s take this one step further.

How does the angry person react when the friend arrives? Let’s just say it won’t be a very pleasant dinner. How does the concerned person react when their partner arrives? They’ll treat them with compassion and concern. Notice that it’s the same event, identical circumstances, but very different experiences.

So here’s the most important thing to remember: the quality of your life is the quality of your habitual emotions. Where you live emotionally determines how life feels to you.

The good news is that you can “move” your emotional home, just as you can move into an actual house. You just need to be open to changing your habits.

The Exodus reminds us not to rush back to our emotional Egypt.

Sometimes it’s time to move from one emotional home to another, perhaps to upgrade to something that’s more beautiful, nurturing and fulfilling, so that we can go into our Promised Land.

Rabbi Dov Greenberg
Rabbi Dov Greenberg

Rabbi Dov Greenberg leads Stanford Chabad and lectures across the world.