Updated: Feb 2
Jewish slaves didn’t build the pyramids. So why do so many kids like me, who grew up going to Passover, think so? This is my story of how this belief had fundamental impacts on my life, how it changed, and what this journey means for me. I hope my story provides insight or guidance if you have beliefs that no longer serve you.
My story begins with my Jewish upbringing. And it was transformed inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. I now experience less victimhood, more ownership of my life, and more responsibility for where I am.
I can now more easily be productive in the face of adversity. I am better at changing the meanings I make and coping with feelings that create resistance inside of me.
I traveled through Egypt with my wife and four friends at the beginning of November 2022. And that’s when a new beginning was written for my story.
This new beginning started fifteen years ago. I was in a group conversation at a party with my dear friend Steve, who was the catalyst of this whole adventure, and who acted as the guide throughout our travels. Steve and his wife have an Egyptian import business and love to share the awe of Egypt’s past and present.
Steve was commenting on the magnificence of the pyramids. To this, I quipped "yeah, but they were built on the backs of slaves."
I was born half-Jewish and culturally consider myself a Jew. My family told the stories during the holidays and I came away with two main messages. One, we loved each other and were each other's biggest fans, even when we drove each other crazy. Two, as Jews we were the perennial victim. Not just the Holocaust mind you, but all throughout history.
And it’s not just about “the Jewish people”. In my family, as in many, it's even closer to home. My grandfather was born in Russia and had to escape during the Pogroms with his family when he was young. His mother was murdered, the rest of the family fled, and his older brother was killed in the escape.
I don’t mean to say that every Jewish person in the world is plagued by being a victim. This is my story, the way I see my life. Victimhood is a problem throughout the world - many people look for someone or something else to blame when something goes wrong. And each of us has our own story about why we are the victim. Christians, for example, can all consider themselves a victim of original sin.
There is a joke that the point of every Jewish holiday is "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat." Nowhere does this show up more than in the story of Exodus. It is the Jews against the Pharaoh, the person most responsible for building the pyramids. The Jews were slaves, victims - and were only freed when Moses got help from God.
Therefore, based on what I learned in my upbringing, the pyramids were built on not just the backs of any slaves, but my enslaved ancestors. But the timing doesn’t work out. By accounts I could find, the pyramids were built thousands of years before Moses was born. But alas, engrained stories find strong toeholds and deepen our victimhood.
When I commented to Steve that the pyramids were built on the backs of slaves, he responded, "that's one way to look at it.” That was a head-scratcher for me. You mean that's not what everyone thinks, I thought to myself. So I asked, "what's another way to look at it?"
He responded that they were built by a race of people so devoted to their worship and self-realization, and so driven by moving on to a beneficial afterlife that they were able to access extraordinary levels of collective human achievement.
It hadn't even occurred to me to consider something else. If Jews weren't victims of the pyramids, it opened the door to not being victims of so much else.
And if that were true, what would that mean about my personal relationship with victimhood? Steve’s story took a foundational component of how I saw the world and created the possibility of something different. And there it lay as a possibility. Until the day I visited the pyramids.
After twenty-four hours of travel, we arrive in Cairo late in the evening. On our first full day, we head straight to the pyramids. We arrive at the Giza Pyramid Complex, buy our tickets, and walk up to the Great Pyramid of Giza, built by pharaoh Khufu around 2600 BCE.
The enormity of it instantly blows me away. I had no idea how much standing at the base of this structure and looking up would fill me with awe. Sensation wells in my body and instantly the thought appears "this was not built on the backs of slaves."
The possibility from that party conversation fifteen years ago floods in, opens me up, and my old familiar stories of being the victim are challenged anew.
After some time of awing and gaping, and some choice photos, we start a walk around the Great Pyramid. We will wind up at the entrance to go inside the pyramid to the inner chamber.
We are dumbstruck by its size and marvel at how the ancients (as they are referred to) could have built this so long ago with no modern-day machines.
I am reminded of a lesson from my tai chi sifu. He is a seventy-two-year-old Chinese man who can throw people twice his size. When he gently demonstrates on his students, we can feel the electricity coming out of his hands. He often says “I’m teaching you the way ancient people moved.”
I can imagine that an entire race of people able to harness the skeletal-muscular potential that my sifu demonstrates, combined with ahead-of-their-time engineering skills, would be able to accomplish amazing feats.
Steve tells me that during pharaonic times, it was the custom that workers who participated in building the ancient temples were killed once the work was completed because only priests and pharaohs were allowed inside.
He shares his picture that the ancients were willing, and even lined up, to work on the temples and be killed afterward. They could live in devotion, working their asses off to honor their gods for generations to come, and then be ceremonially killed and get a ticket to the afterlife. I see it too. My head-scratching is now my head nodding.
We complete our circumnavigation and arrive at the entrance. We go inside the Great Pyramid. After a short distance walking upright, the corridor narrows horizontally and vertically. I’m now crawling. We start going up. It gets steep. We are aided by horizontal wood edging to prevent our feet and hands from slipping.
We continue in this manner for maybe five minutes. It then opens up to a 30-foot-high corridor with stairs going further up. The massive stones of the pyramid are stacked on either side. The air is hot and sticky. The metaphor of following your breath to go inside yourself is not lost on me.
At the top of this corridor, it's time to stoop again for a short spell and enter the Inner Chamber. This room is maybe twenty feet by fifty feet, with ceilings about 20 feet high. The room is bare stone all around, with a now-empty sarcophagus at the far end.
I’m in the middle of the Great Pyramid. I can't even comprehend how many stones are between me and the open air- in every direction. If ever there was an energy vortex, this is it. You can almost see the air vibrate. You can certainly feel it. I put my hands on the wall. With this gesture, I feel as if I'm touching every stone in the pyramid, and every hand that was a part in placing each stone.
I am moved to also place the top of my head, my crown chakra, on the wall. I can feel the power flowing through my body. I sense all the old stories of my ancestors, of being the victim over and over again. I see these tales as twisted nerves wrapping around my spine, constricting me.
The power of new stories, symbolized by the pyramids built by a devoted ancient civilization courses through me. I feel my personal relationship with being a victim of my circumstances begin to change. I watch as the twisted nerves in my spine straighten and allow more energy to flow.
I claim more responsibility for who I am, where I've come from, my present state, and where I'm going. My spine straightens and so much is moving through me that time coalesces. I am my ancestors. Our stories converge. Together, we are free.
My eyes well with tears, my hands expand on the stones, and my spinal nerves fully extend and allow all sensations to flow. My story is rewritten.
As I withdraw my head and hands from the wall, I am altered. I know what happened. Yes, there are still tears in my eyes. And I know where I am. I'm in the same room, but it's different. There's my wife, there's Steve. And I know who I am. All the same, but different.
We go back through the short narrow passageway. Back down the stairs in the tall corridor. We get a little winded and sweaty scrambling back down the long stretch on all fours and walk out the portal of the Great Pyramid into the outside world.
Is this what it feels like to be born?
I always welcome questions and comments about what I share. What long-held cultural or contemporary beliefs may be holding you back in how you relate to yourself, others, and the world?