As many of you have been asking me – yes, I made my decision about whether or not to stay in Israel! But before I talk about that, I want to share with you some of what’s been on my mind.
Tonight is the beginning of Passover (Pesach). A huge holiday for the Jewish people.
It is a holiday of the journey from slavery to freedom. We are remembering the story of when the Jews were slaves in Egypt (Mitzrayim – coming from the Hebrew word for narrow) for years and years and years, exiled from our true faith and way of life, and how that exodus toward freedom took place over time. The Sedar (the big meal experience we have) is a way for us to not only keep telling the story to future generations, but for the people participating to experience (as much as we can) what our ancestors went through. We do this 1. because it is deeply relevant to our history and 2. because we are still going through it, in our own ways, today.
We don’t eat leavened things (hametz) for a week to represent the culture we left behind in Egypt, which represented enslavement to ego. A people who built pyramids to celebrate themselves. Bread, during this time, represents worshipping ego. It is puffed up, full of air. When we do this extreme cleaning of our entire homes, cleaning out every inch of every corner (don’t even get me started on how intense this process is!), burning the last of the hametz we find, it is to serve as a cleansing of our souls. Getting rid of whatever is enslaving us. We eat matzah (unleaved bread) for a week to represent this same thing, the conscious freeing ourselves of ego. Matzah is the bread of affliction at the beginning of the Sedar and becomes the bread of our freedom at the end. They say that when you take the first bite of matzah at the sedar, the act in itself is freeing. (It is the only food that we are commanded to eat by the Torah – This is some holy stuff!)
So why do we do all this? Why are we so deeply tied to this symbolic holiday? Well for me, it’s an incredible way to be consciously bettering ourselves. Breaking our enslavement to our own egos, our own Mitzrayims. When this happened historically, when the hebrew people (not yet jews) were freed from Egypt, they then started wandering in the desert, trusting this one guy (Moshe Rabinu – Moses) to lead them to freedom. It took weeks before they understood what the purpose of this commitment was, needing to go on faith. Needing to go through many stages of freedom – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. But after 7 weeks (49 days), Moses went to Mt Sinai, talked to God, got the 10 commandments, and the people entered into a covenant with God. It wasn’t an arbitrary assignment, like ‘Hey you guys are here, so you’re all Jewish. Cool.’ They needed to enter into this covenant, to consciously accept God, Judaism as a way of life, before being led to the promised land (40 years later!)
The Sedar, and Pesach, are ways for us to go through our own narrows every year and come out the other side. Not only to keep the story alive for generations to come but to take a light to the corners of our beings, clean out the dust, and arise into something new. Elevated. A lighter being, perhaps. It is said that a new piece of soul comes into us every Pesach. And after the first night, we start something called Sefirot HaOmer. We count for 49 nights, until Shavout, marking the time it took between us leaving Egypt and reaching Mt. Sinai. During these 49 days, we are preparing ourselves for this new part of our soul to be integrated.
Each week has a theme, and each day has a sub-theme. (This process is no joke!) The theme of the weeks correspond to 7 of the 11 kabbalistic components/energies of the soul (see diagram below). The 7 areas (midot) we work on during this time are Chessed (generosity, love, giving), Gevura (justice, knowing, sacrifice), Tiferet (beauty, grace, compassion), Netzach (endurance, trust in God, eternity), Chod (consensus, splendor, acquiescence to truth), Yesod (truth, implementation, foundation), and Malkhut (kingdom, mastery, reflected light). Then the days of the week start with the chessed of chessed, then gevura of chessed, tiferet of chessed, and so on. They say that each of us are rooted in one of these midot but it is still important to do tikun (work, healing) on all of these areas. We don’t work on the top 4 sefirot (keter – transcendence, binah – discernment, chakmah – insight, and dat – knowing) during this time because the bottom 7 are the ones most subject to flaw as we go through life.
WHOA that gets complicated. Luckily I have a handy little guide to take me through each of the days with thinking points and such. But hopefully you get the gist. Needless to say, I have a lot to be thinking about during the vacation from classes! Of course, freedom and what it means has been on my mind as I prepare for this holiday, this cleansing process. This process and this story tell us countless things, but I think one of the most valuable is that few of us are actually free. Freedom, the process of becoming free, or exodus, happens slowly. Consciously. (I have met people in prison who are more mentally free than I am, yet live behind barbed wire and metal bars. Go figure.) Figuring out what my personal Mitzrayim is, and how I can free myself has been so valuable. So, I invite you to do the same, no matter how you identify spiritually. Spring is upon us, a time for rebirth. What are you enslaved to? Materialism? Consumerism? Body image? Your own expectations? The past? Relationships? We all have something. And the more aware we can be of these things, the clearer our path to our own exoduses will be.
I can think of many things that enslave me, ranging from lifelong struggles to more superficial concepts. As I was making the decision about whether or not to stay in Israel longer, I wanted to be sure that my decision wasn’t influenced by any of these things. That I could get to a place of stillness and clarity so that the decision would arise naturally and it wouldn’t feel much like a decision at all. Doing this meant really working out some knots, dealing with feelings of elation and despair, sometimes within seconds of each other. As I was struggling with this one day, I decided to take a nap and I had the most comforting dream. I was walking into the woods and starting to go down this path. It was green and beautiful and the sun was shining through all the leaves in these amazing rays. I felt so happy to be there. Suddenly, I was in front of myself, or rather my conscious self was now separate from my physical self (Or I had two selves? Not really sure. But I was in front. Whatever that means.) And I turned around to see myself walking down the path and I had this huge smile on my face as I hugged myself and said, “Welcome home. You’re finally here.” And then we floated away. The not-so-unbearable lightness of being. A few days later, I made my decision to stay here for another year, and after some initial freak out about what that meant, I feel like I’ve returned to the feeling I had in the dream. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Free of that which holds me down. For this moment anyway!
So kudos to YOU (especially if you read all of this) and your path to freedom, whatever it may be. Whether we have to wander in the desert for 40 years before we ‘figure it out’ or if we happen to become truly free tomorrow, I’m just happy to be on the path with you all.
Wishing you a holiday or a season filled with insight and freedom, in whatever ways you need it most.
לשנה הבאה בירושלים