Before you sit down for yet another seder and break another piece of matzah, it may be worth remembering something vital.
Remembering is what millions of people will be doing this Saturday night, gathering around tables and conducting the ritual Passover seder.
The ‘seder’ literally translated as ‘order,’ is an organized, multi-sensory re-enactment of the Israelites’ enslavement and liberation from ancient Egyptian slavery.
Within the retelling of the story, the youngest participant asks in song, “why is this night different than all other nights?”
Remembering slavery and emancipation happens on seder night, but it is also a fundamental part of the Torah tradition to remember our ancestors’ enslavement and liberation multiple times each and every day.
The enslavement and liberation of our ancestors is a foundational part of our collective story, and our collective DNA.
How did this bitter time in our existence make it to the front and centre of our prayerbooks and our collective consciousness?
What is the wisdom of remembering and retelling, discussing together, and making meaning each year anew?
We are commanded in the Torah: “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.” (Levitcus)
The commandment to ‘love the stranger,’ appears thirty-seven times – more than any other commandment in the entire Torah.
We can understand from this repetition that there is great power in this commandment, and tremendous importance in both loving the stranger, and acting with empathy to reach out to those in need of mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual liberation.
While our seder tradition is over 2,000 years old, its practice of experientially retelling a story through the senses is remarkably consistent with what cutting edge psychology is presenting in some of the newest and most effective healing modalities.
Dr. Edith Eva Eger, 93 year old expert trauma psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz, teaches a powerful practice of self-healing in her brand new, best-selling book “The Gift.” “That was then, this is now,” she calls this practice of freeing oneself from victimhood, and she writes, on page 27:
“Think of a moment in childhood or adolescence when you felt hurt by another’s actions, large or small. Try to think a specific moment, not a generalised impression of that relationship or time of life. Imagine the moment as though you are reliving it. Pay attention to sensory details – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations. Then picture yourself as you are now. See yourself enter the past moment and take your past self by the hand. Guide yourself out of the place where you were hurt, out of the past. Tell yourself, “Here I am. I’m going to take care of you.”
This past year I first discovered “Dr. Edie” in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. She shared something on that episode that will stay with me FOREVER. She explained that we cannot compare our suffering to the suffering of anyone else. She believes that people today can live in a prison of the mind just as painful as her own harrowing, hellish experience in Auschwitz. “Expression,” of our emotions, she teaches, “is the opposite of depression.”
Perhaps this is the ancient wisdom behind the experiential element of the seder: each and every soul at the table goes through the retelling and personally experiences it as his or her own.
Recalling our struggles- both collective and individual – and making space to notice, feel, and process these experiences is vital to experiencing true freedom and healing.
A master of artistic expression, Pablo Picasso, once said:
“The meaning of life is to find your gift.
The purpose of life is to give it away.”
In order to find the gift in our life, Dr. Edie – and the wisdom of the Passover tradition – point us to looking deeply in to where we’ve struggled. Not to focus pessimistically on our pain, but to do the work of cultivating empathy, finding the lessons, and then using them to make the world more whole.
Wholeness is a central theme of this holiday – we begin the evening by breaking a piece of unleavened bread, and getting in touch with all that is broken within us and within our world. We set aside the bigger piece, and “gamify” its search, creating the ultimate encore for the evening.
The matzah itself represents brokenness- perhaps we can call it ‘the space between.’ The letters which spell “Matzah” (unleavened bread) and “Chametz” (leavened bread, forbidden on passover) have one tiny difference in their Hebrew letters. Chametz has a “Chet” and Matzah a “Hey.” “Chet” and “Hey” are near identical letters, but Hey appears broken in one part.
The unleavened bread – the Matzah – represents humility, and embodying that humility requires vulnerability and courage. When we heed that call of courage and share our struggles and earned lessons honesty, we make a space, like the letter Hey, for another human to connect with our story – to see themselves within the paradigm of a ‘happy ending,’ and we thereby create a ‘wholeness’ that transcends us both.
It may not be easy to share our imperfections, but today, more than ever in recent history, vulnerability its becoming an iconic trend.
Just this morning, while scrubbing my kitchen countertops, I listened to Dr. Nicole La Pera, The Holistic Psychologist, speak on The Broken Brain Podcast. She shared her own personal journey struggling with anxiety in a refreshing way: her model of teaching eliminates the hierarchy of healer (or teacher) above patient (or student). Instead, she utilizes a human-centered model of sharing earned lessons learned from experience, and generously offers hope and a path forward to those who are seeking.
This radical humility and honesty is what so many are seeking right now. La Pera’s brand new book, “How to Do the Work,” was published last week and is already #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Dr. Nicole has taken issue with clinical psychology in its “lack of empowerment.” She explains, “We are now showing people the power of choice, habit, and environment: that they can change if they do the work.”
Timely words of wisdom for this mother of four cleaning countertops and scouring the house for all traces of leavening on the eve of Passover. But that scrubbing, as I’ve come to understand can also be a part of ‘the work.’
If cleaning our homes of leavening is symbolic for seeking out all of the places in life where we’re not being humble, open, and vulnerable enough to create meaningful connections, I can definitely lean in to this one.
Where in our lives are we not being honest about our feelings?
Where, in the spirit of Dr. Edie’s work, can we express our emotions in order to process them and heal?
Where in our lives have we gotten stuck repeating patterns and habits that don’t truly serve our life visions?
If this last year has shown us anything at all, its that we are all in the same storm. (please note that I did not say ‘same boat’) In every corner of the globe- on every level of society – we are all susceptible to the struggles of being human. This last year, like most if not all disasters, has been the most devastating for the most vulnerable populations among us.
Watching from a distance, in my experience, has been painful and frustrating. I have found myself wishing that I could do more. I am trying to learn how to solve bigger problems, and I have come to one conclusion for sure. Solving big problems cannot be done alone.
This past year most people have experienced the greatest isolation of their lives, as well as the newfound realisation of global interconnectedness via the miraculous technologies that we have now come to accept as normal.
If you find it hard to believe that the seas split open for our Israelite ancestors, they would likely find it even harder to believe that we are having real time video chats across oceans via invisible waves and hand held wireless devices.
We are, for the first time in human history, no longer limited by geographic distance. Unlike our ancestors for nearly all of human history, creating bridges of communication no longer necessitates meeting in person and the possibility of squabbling (or warring) over the perception of limited resources.
For the first time in history, we can fulfil the commandment of loving the stranger from the comfort of our living room couches while chatting live on zoom.
We can reach across physical divides with greater ease than ever before, to connect, honour our differences, and find, as well as collaboratively create what will ultimately unite us.
We can, if we choose, revisit the painful parts of our collective history, and learn to tell a new story that honors diverse, and even conflicting perspectives.
We can dig deep within for the lessons, experiences, and ultimately the gifts that we are here to exchange with one another to make our world whole once and for all.
This human experience – in all its variances – comes with trial and tribulation. We all struggle, and in allowing ourselves to truly feel our struggles and receive the lessons that they are here to teach us, we can own them, and ultimately, put them to good use.
This Passover, let’s acknowledge our brokenness. Let’s relive the transformation from slavery into redemption in its fullness, and let’s search for the meaning and the gift in it all.
Rather than trying to run away from our broken hearts, or repress the pain of generations past, let us have the courage to be with what is.
The Passover seder gives us an opportunity to feel all of the feelings – from the bitter oppression of slavery to the jubilation, gratitude, as well as the anxiety that comes with freedom.
None of us will be truly free until we are all truly free. I’m not sure who said that, but I believe whole heartedly – and honestly – broken heartedly – that it is 100 percent true.
Perhaps this year will be different than all other years. Perhaps we can allow ourselves to lean in to our true feelings – all of them – and glean their lessons.
That one vital thing to remember is that your genuine experience matters. Only you can feel it, and only you can find and share its gift.
This year, may we grow in our capacities create a more connected, and more whole world.
This year (if it’s not too late to hope for lifted travel restrictions….) In Jerusalem.
A meaningful and liberating Passover to all.