June 16, 2024
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Finding True Freedom This Pesach

If you have read any of my previous articles, you will know that I am someone who looks forward to and enjoys each and every chag. I will be honest and say that this year for the first time that I can ever remember, I was not only not looking forward to Pesach, but at one point I found myself thinking how nice it would be if I could just skip this one.

Observing myself experience this wish was not easy. It would have been easier to ignore and disregard the thought. If you have worked through any emotional challenges you will know that the only way out of it is actually through it. I took some time to sit with it and explore what was driving this feeling that I could not escape, of wanting to literally be nowhere this Pesach. I discovered that the driving force behind these unwelcome feelings was that for the first time in three years my daughters will not be with me for Pesach, and Seders without them almost feels … pointless.

Of the many names given to Pesach, Zman Cheiruteinu, the Time of our Freedom, is the theme that speaks to me this year. On a simplistic level, zman cheiruteinu refers to our commemorating that God took us out of Egypt, thus freeing us from our 210-year physical enslavement as Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.

The Mishnah in Pesachim instructs us: “B’chol dor v’dor chayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatza miMitzrayim… “In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt” (Mishnah Pesachim 10).

I have always found this to be particularly challenging, to truly, honestly feel that it was I who was personally redeemed from Mitzrayim, rather than our ancestors thousands of years ago. Thinking about and envisioning our grandparents’ generation, the brave souls who persevered and survived the Holocaust, and my grandmother in particular who was liberated from Auschwitz, is the closest I have come to relating to the theme of feeling as though I was personally redeemed from slavery. And still, not quite the same.

I wonder, though, if a different understanding of slavery and imprisonment can enable each of us to experience personal liberation this year at the Pesach Seder?

In exploring of themes of cheirut and avdut, freedom and slavery, Rav Elimelech Biderman quotes a fascinating question put forth by the Maharal. The Maharal asks: If at the Pesach Seder we eat maror, which is bitter, to remember the slavery, why do we not we eat honey, which is sweet, to commemorate our freedom? Why do we eat matzah to commemorate cheirut? Matzah, which has no taste at all, is surely not the opposite of maror, which is bitter!

Rav Biderman poignantly explains that were we to use honey, something sweet to remember our freedom, we would discover that we were not truly redeemed from slavery. How so? “Ki adayin anu meshubadim l’matzav.” Eating something sweet on Pesach to remember our freedom would mean we were still in a state of bondage—enslaved to the conditions or circumstances we find ourselves in. If we would only feel sweetness because we had just eaten honey (sweet food), it would mean that our state of being would be conditional on the situation, and this is the opposite of what it means to be free.

This, according to Rav Biderman, is specifically why we eat matzah on Pesach. Matzah, which has no taste at all, is the ultimate mentor to what true liberation is: True, real freedom is achieved only when our emotional state is not tied or contingent on any external conditions or reasons. Rab Biderman describes true, lasting freedom, as cheirut pnimit, internal freedom, quoting the Maharal who describes the essence of a ben chorin, “m’huto shel ben chorin hu mi sh’shloet al atzmo.” Rav Biderman further explains, indeed a person who relies on someone or some external condition, such as someone who is happy only when there is a reason to be happy…hu bichlal eved yechashev”—this is what it means to be a slave.

Lasting and true freedom comes from within.

When we have figured out how to free ourselves from a life of conditions, and to live in a state of internal happiness and peace that is not conditional on our external circumstances, we will be truly free.

I ask you to consider, what is your condition, that which is between you and your freedom? Fill in the blank, “I will be happy when I…”

…get my dream job/less stressful boss or job … meet/marry my life partner, have children… my kids behave better … X person does or says Y … I can afford to buy X…

Or, in this case for me this Erev Pesach, when my children are with me for the Pesach Seder.

The conditions we put on our happiness are many. If this is what we believe happiness to be—the state achieved when all of our conditions are met (external conditions that are out of our control), we will certainly live a life in futile pursuit of it. Inevitably, there will always be some condition that is left unmet. We will be our own enslavers.

In “Sara Book 1,” a children’s story written by Esther Hicks to teach children the Universe’s secrets of the Law of Attraction and happiness, the wise owl instructs 12-year-old Sara:

“Remember, Sara, if you let the conditions that surround you control the way you feel, you will always be trapped. But when you are able to control the way you feel—because you control the thoughts you offer—then you are truly liberated.”

Tony Robbins goes as far as to say that when we make our happiness conditional on something external, dependent on another’s behavior or external circumstance, and therefore out of our control, we make our happiness cheap and are bound to fail in finding it. The path to freedom and happiness is finding joy and gratitude in the present moment.

“Ultimately, how we feel about our lives has nothing to do with the events of our lives, or with our financial condition, or what has or has not happened to us. Rather, it’s your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you’re going to do about them, that will determine your ultimate destiny” (Tony Robbins).

When we focus on the past we may bring up feelings of regret. When we focus too much on the future, we will likely feel anxious. The only moment we can do anything about is the present.

No one of course is a better teacher than God Himself. R’ Tzvi Kluger asks the oft-asked question, why did God wait to redeem us when we were at the 49th level of impurity? His answer struck a chord for me: So we should never say that God took us out because we did this or that, or earned the redemption in some way. At the time of the redemption, we had nothing, no merits. God took us out of Egypt just because. Because of His unconditional love for His people, His children.

At the Pesach Seder this year I anticipate experiencing and celebrating a different kind of freedom than in years past. In addition to the redemption from Egypt and Pharaoh’s slavery, I will be celebrating and re-living a personal redemption: the one that we can choose in every generation. On Seder night we commemorate not just freedom from the physical bondage of Egypt but the emotional liberation of our own internal conditional happiness. On Seder night we experience God’s unconditional love for us when He chose to take us out of Egypt without merit, a love that if we choose to look for we can find and experience every day.

For me this Pesach, although I will miss my daughters at the Seder, I am grateful to the friends and family in Los Angeles who I will be joining for Seders and spending chag with. Instead of living in regret, though, I choose to focus on the blessings and gifts in the present, and I anticipate that this Pesach will bring with it a new set of meaningful experiences. I choose to live in a state of anticipation, curiosity and delight, and I surrender the feelings of sadness and regret.

With the understanding that the ultimate redemption is an emotional one, fulfilling the mitzvah of viewing myself as having been personally liberated from Egypt may not be as out of reach this year after all.

Wishing you a Pesach where we can each discover our inner power to choose happiness for ourselves, despite the challenges we currently face, big or small. This is our true exodus,* and on the other side our freedom awaits.

Chag kasher v’sameach,

Alanna

*(Exodus: Greek word for road out).


Alanna Apfel is the founder and patient advocate at AA Insurance Advocacy, which helps therapy patients, individuals, couples and children save thousands of dollars annually on their out-of-network mental health therapy bills with their preferred therapist. In the months that AA Insurance Advocacy has been advocating on behalf of patients, clients have collected anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a year in reimbursements, depending on the cost and frequency of therapy. For additional information, please contact [email protected].

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