Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Passover Psychology

A Pesach Dvar Torah from A that should have posted last week

The Pesach story is one of those parts of the Torah that makes me think that God was involved. Not because of the tales of supernatural events. Rather, it is the masterful, realistic portrayal of human nature in these verses that causes me to take the story seriously.

The Pesach story deals with a theme that is central to what is known in pop psychology as self-actualization. It is this lesson that the Gemara says we are supposed to take out of retelling the Pesach story on the Seder nights. How exactly do we do this? By “Starting with saying the bad, and ending with saying the good”. The Amora 'Rav' says this means starting the story by telling over our idolatrous beginnings and ending with God introducing us to monotheism. 'Shmuel' says it's done by starting with our slavery to Pharaoh and ending with our miraculous freedom. The Haggadah does both of these.

Unfortunately, the Haggadah and it's myriad pshatim seem to confuse the crap out of many people because it's central theme is not laid out. Is that done purposely, as part of the “And when your child shall ask you” motif? Possibly. Who knows? What I would like to do though, is look at the Pesach story as a story of attaining 'mental freedom', and tie this into understanding “Starting with the bad...” and the opinions of Rav and Shmuel.

There is a problem with being physical. That problem is survival. We can only survive by consuming physical resources. However, there are many other people who need to survive using those same resources. This is what causes physical beings to compete with one another. If you don't fight, you're dead. However, in a totally competitive universe, religion can become pathological. Praying to different forces to gain a competitive edge, currying favors through any means possible. Unbridled competition, historically, also lead to slavery.

The effects of slavery are similar to those of physical and sexual abuse. It is the ultimate form of invasion, barring murder. The psychological effects are devastating and nearly impossible to recover from. The Jews in Egypt tried to hold out a small resistance to it. They held onto their Hebrew names, dress and speech, to whatever extent was possible. They were a stiff-necked people after all. But when push came to shove, they had given up on hope. Moshe was told to get lost. And even after a miraculous exodus, when they were confronted with the news of Pharaoh chasing them, they reacted by giving up and making cynical comments to Moshe (Ex. 14:11-12). They *knew* they would lose to Pharaoh. They were untermenchen.

But weren't they right? After all, they were in no position to fight Pharaoh. Well- God knew that. And He didn't get angry with the Jews for complaining then. Yes, He had shown them that he ruled all elements and that they had no earthly or heavenly being to fear, but Him. Yes, showed them that they were worthwhile human beings, special, cared about, chosen by God, one nation from the midst of another. And they even trusted in God enough, during the plagues, to sacrifice their masters' diety and put the blood on display. But two hundred years of being shat on isn't erased with a few weeks of therapy. When God wasn't holding their hand while they faced insecurity, they reacted with their ingrained slave-mode of behavior. When the invisible superpower finally stopped showing His hand, the face of Pharaoh was still as visible as it had always been.

There did remain something, though. They had seen enough to know that Moshe could face up to Pharaoh. And Moshe was still there with them, the faithful shepherd, as always. So when he prayed to God at the sea, God told him (Exodus 14:15): “Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the children of Israel, and they'll travel.” Rashi quotes the Mechilta, that the merit of the Patriarchs and Israel's faith in God to leave Egypt was enough split the sea for them. God knew that they had to take small, guided steps at first.

And we see in the desert that the big sins that they were tested with were always ones of faith: Moshe leaving them at Mt. Sinai, them sending spies to test out if the land was dangerous, no water at various places, surviving on seemingly unsubstantial food. They, understandably, had tremendous 'trust issues' that God was trying to work them through in order to transform them into self-actualized, people. The 40 year long therapy was designed to replace their reliance on human beings for support, with God. (This is probably why Moshe had to be the most humble of all men, so that he didn't take advantage of the situation and become the cult leader that they were dying for him to be.)

This would eliminate the need for their natural physical competition. Abraham famously asked God, (Gen. 15:8) How will I know (that your promise will come true)? Abraham, the rational monotheist, tried to make a deal with God! And since he needed it, God made it. But he also designed the 'melting pot' of Egypt then (15:13) to rid the Abrahamaic line of the natural competitive, idolatrous nature in their blood.

And they did have a moment of unity- the result of replacing competition with reliance on God- when they arrived at Sinai. Unfortunately, it didn't last, and besides for a few individuals, they were too scared, or unready, to let the therapy take full effect. Their children, however, were rehabilitated enough to take on conquering the land of Israel! (That's high marks for Dr. God in my opinion.)

And that's the lesson of Pesach, as I understand it. To erase the physicality of competition and replace it with the spirituality of faith. And even though we don't have God holding our hand today, the Haggadah tells us to role-play going through the pain of slavery, and the relief and exultation of the Exodus. This therapeutic technique (done in a group setting, by the way) is designed to help us actualize our spiritual self, which is, after all, the point of the whole exercise of existence according to Judaism.


Anonymous said...

What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

6fXof 1uHns 0wLuc 6aRqy 3gGqu 7uGsr 9jVmc 1wEww 4hIuy

Anonymous said...

Hey, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues.
When I look at your blog site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet
Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you
a quick heads up! Other then that, terrific blog!

Feel free to surf to my web page :: unhook
My page :: clothesbasket

Anonymous said...

Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in
Yahoo News? I've been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks

My webpage ... Online Backup
Stop by my blog : design

Anonymous said...

I'm new to developing web sites and I was wondering if having your website title related to your articles and other content really that crucial? I notice your title, "Blogger: DOVBEAR " does seem to be spot on with what your blog is about yet, I prefer to keep my title less content descriptive and based more around site branding. Would you think this is a good idea or bad idea? Any kind of assistance would be greatly valued.

Have a look at my blog - philippic
Check out my weblog :: renascent

Anonymous said...

Hello! My partner and I frequently write guest articles or blog posts for other
blog site owners to help increase publicity to our work,
as well as provide fantastic content to website owners.
It's a win win situation! If you're interested feel free to email me at: murray. so we may discuss further. Thanks
alot :)!

Check out my blog post :: savor

Anonymous said...

I'm new to developing internet sites and I was wondering if having your website title relevant to your articles and other content really that important? I notice your title, "Blogger: DOVBEAR " does seem to be spot on with what your website is about however, I prefer to keep my title less content descriptive and based more around site branding. Would you think this is a good idea or bad idea? Any assistance would be greatly valued.

my web-site: heavy stumps

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I
could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having problems
finding one? Thanks a lot!

my web blog: vage

Anonymous said...

I'm starting up a new online website directory and was wanting to know if I can submit your website? I'm
trying to grow my directory little by little by hand
so that it maintains good quality. I'll make sure and put your blog in the appropriate category and I'll additionally
use, "Blogger: DOVBEAR" as your anchor text. Be sure to let
me know if this is okay with you by mailing
me at: Thanks!

Also visit my website; pakerice

Anonymous said...

Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It's on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

Also visit my site; sds tree

Anonymous said...

Howdy! My name is Celia and When I just wanted to say your weblog is
awesome! It truly is amusing simply because I use to have a blogging site that virtually had an identical web address: mine was only a few
letters different. In any case, I'm a big admirer of your weblog and if you ever would like a guest write-up make sure you email me at: I love writing!

Also visit my web blog :: stumps

Anonymous said...

michael kors bags omdhfcah michael kors handbags wnxiucij michael kors outlet riutmsem michael kors purse ptnxiesp michael kors purses ljagxiuo michael kors sale tesxdvar michael kors ytyfhbpu

Anonymous said...

Coach Outlet dvuutpcn Coach Factory Outlet wzkofhfn Coach Factory dooxyrvp Coach Outlet Online lcufuygr Coach Outlet Sale rxnjugma

Anonymous said...

Please let me know if you're looking for a article author for your blog. You have some really good posts and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely
love to write some material for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine.
Please send me an e-mail if interested. Kudos!

Here is my web blog luggage shops paris

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughtss on electronics x. Regards

My website :: laptop online shopping

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of snoring aids that are available
in the market. Going back to the natural home remedy ways of curing
certain illnesses is what many physicians call for today's changing environment.
People who snore wake up more often through the night than.

Have a look at my blog post stop my stop snoring chin strap (

Anonymous said...

Nice answers in return of this matter with solid arguments and describing all regarding that.

Look at my website Recycle Mania Store

Anonymous said...

学生は幸いなことに、これは子犬であるかどうか、ニューバランス スニーカーああ、あなたのボーイフレンドは、グッチ ネクタイこのように何歳であるかの愛の時代も、ugg ブーツ家族が好きではないようにするために、エアマックス·聖歌、あなたを愛して

Also visit my page - グッチ サングラス