Happy Passover: What feels like Mitzrayim this year?

By Leonard Felder, Special to Chicago Jewish News

In the several days before and during Passover, there’s a question that can make a huge difference which could result in the holiday feeling more meaningful this year for you and your loved ones.   Whether you consider yourself a religious Jew, a not-very-religious Jew, or a definitely-not-religious Jew, here’s the question that can bring new meaning and new healing to this holiday.   You can do this quick exercise out loud as a discussion topic for 5 or 10 minutes at your Seder table, or privately on your own before or during the holiday.   

The question is, “What in your personal life, your character traits, or the world around you feels like mitzrayim this year… and what is a positive step forward you would like to take to seek some degree of liberation as soon as possible?”  

Most people think of the word “mitzrayim” as “Egypt” and historically the holiday of Passover is about the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from the harshness of the Egyptian taskmasters.   But the Hebrew root word Tz-R found in mitzrayim also means narrowness, constriction, anxiety, feeling limited or trapped, or having tzuris (aggravation, tensions, frustrations, tight spots).  

So if you and your loved ones take a few minutes to ask “What feels like mitzrayim this year personally or globally…what feels like something that enslaves us or aggravates us or tightens us up in a feeling of constriction or being trapped in an old pattern,” it can provoke a fascinating conversation in which each participant is on equal footing.

We all get twisted up and aggravated by something.   We all need a positive step forward to move toward liberation. We all have something we want to liberate, improve, or burst out of narrow limitations this year.   

When my wife, my son, and I have asked this question at recent Seders, some of the answers that people have given from the heart are:

    –“I seem to be constricted by my fear of change, but this year I do need to open up and make some important changes.”

    –“I sometimes feel trapped by my addiction to checking my cell phone and my Facebook page constantly.  Maybe this year I could break the habit enough to be more loving and available to my family and friends for genuine face-to-face conversations.  What a radical idea!”

    –“I guess one could say I am enslaved by my late night snacking.   For me, liberation would mean taking specific steps toward a healthier way of dealing with my inner agitation.”

    –“When I think of the Passover story, I connect it to the narrowness and harshness of how people talk lately about refugees and I’m going to do something each month to support efforts to help refugees and their families.”

    –“Sometimes I feel trapped by all the gossip and snarkiness I hear when I’m with certain groups of people who claim to be open-minded but are quite narrow and definitely limited in their thinking. To break free, I’m going to do all that I can to steer clear of the negativity and socially-sanctioned meanness that are so prevalent these days.”

    –“I get upset when I think about the huge numbers of young women in repressive societies who aren’t allowed to go to school, get a good education, or start a business… and I’m going to begin supporting groups that are addressing this important issue.”

There are no right or wrong answers to this Passover question of “What in your personal growth or in the repair of the world needs attention and liberation in 2017?  What might be a positive step forward out of mitzrayim or enslavement?”   As I describe in my recent book “More Fully Alive:  The Benefits of Using Jewish Wisdom for Responding to Stress and Overload,” one of the joys of being Jewish is that there are such profound questions and useful tools available from Jewish sources to help us be more mindful, more compassionate, and more effective in repairing what’s broken in ourselves and in the world.   

You might be surprised at how much a personalized question like, “What could be a liberating step out of mitzrayim this year” can help your Passover feel more meaningful, accessible, and energizing.   Using the Passover story to take positive steps out of our current enslavements, addictions, narrowness, and tight spots can begin with just a question and a conversation during the week of Passover.   But oh how wonderful it will be to taste the sweetness of freedom from the things that hold us back as individuals and that oppress countless others in the world that we want to help on their journeys toward liberation.

Leonard Felder, is a psychologist and author whose books on how to use Jewish methods for improved health and relationships have sold over one million copies.   For more information, visit www.morefullyalive.net.

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