Friday, March 30, 2012

Pesach: Affliction and Freedom

Sometimes our strengths and weaknesses can be one and the same.

Carl Jung famously noted that the adaptions that we make in childhood stop working in middle age. The resources and character traits that we tend to draw upon as strengths over the course of the first half of our lives can become obstacles holding us back as we grow older. Beliefs and actions that were once liberating can come to enslave us. At the same time, that which binds us can, when re-framed, become a path to new creativity and freedom. Our challenge is to re-orient ourselves, to let go of tried and true ways and take out—or create—new maps. This is one of life’s most difficult passages, for change rarely comes easily. It is hard for us to recognize when our former assets have become liabilities and we must embrace our vulnerabilities as a path to new strengths.

The Passover seder—and the portion for this Shabbat, which marks the first day of Pesach—points to this paradox at the heart of things. In Exodus 12:39, we read that we eat matzah because, upon leaving Egypt, our ancestors moved so hastily they did not have time for their dough to rise. Yet, in fact, those same ancestors actually consumed matzah before leaving Egypt, on the night of the Passover itself, at the first seder (see Exodus 12:8). In other words, matzah is both the bread of slavery and of freedom. We affirm this duality at our own seders, describing matzah as both lachma anya—the bread of affliction—and the symbol of our liberation.

One of my teachers in Israel, Biti Roi, once told me: “Either/or” is only for math. Life is about “both/and.” That which is a source of deliverance can come to enslave us. And that which has kept us in bondage—our fears and anxieties—can become sources of hope.

As we celebrate spring and Pesach and their message of renewal, may our bread of affliction become a feast of freedom.

Chag samayach v’kasher—a joyous and kosher celebration.

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