The Paradox of Passover
April 18, 2019/13 Nissan 5779
Passover is here with all of its beautiful spring bustle. Like many Jewish traditions, this 8-day holiday offers us a variety of doors to enter. There is the nostalgic door, through which we savor the familiar tunes, aromas, wine-stained books, and fragrant foods—all invitations to the childlike heart. Equally, Passover invites us through a mythic door that takes us far beyond the comforts of home. Here we find a meta-view of the world through the lens of the Passover story.
Which path will the Passover Seder lead us down this year?
Passover is rife with paradox. On the one hand, the Haggadah focuses on the Israelite's journey through the slavery and persecution as a cyclical national event. We sing the age-old hymn “V'hi she'amda…omdim aleynu l'chalotenu,” which literally translates to: “In every generation there are those who rise up to annihilate us." We shiver at the inherited legacy of the impacts of anti-Semitism and the notion that we must always be on guard against the world. One of the hallmarks of trauma is becoming hyper vigilant, ever on alert for attack, never being able to fully relax. Each Passover, in reiterating our never-ending communal persecution, we strengthen our collective trauma legacy and reinforce a sense of belonging to our suffering but triumphant tribe.
But Passover also provides an entirely different trope. It gives us the challenge of Ha Lachma Anya, the prayer at which we open the door and invite in the world to share our crackly poor bread. We declare our kinship with the displaced and persecuted around the planet, and focus not on our own people's struggle, but on the shared plight of humanity. We hold up the matza and say, in essence, this is the bread of humility. Because of our historical trauma, our empathy for others knows no bounds. This view of our Passover story promises that if we become aware of — and heal from — our own tribal traumas, we can be tremendously useful to the world.
Our trauma legacies can own us if we do not own them! Our intergenerational baggage—the anxiety, reactivity, and victimhood we may have inherited from our family stories—may feel familiar and warm, even comfortable. But they get us nowhere in the work of tikkun olam, of healing/repairing the world. Every year, Passover tells us that we can grow beyond ourselves, keep freeing ourselves from own limiting belief systems. It tells us there is no nightmare so horrific that we cannot wake up from it and take action.
Will we continue to carry our inherited beliefs of unsafety in the world, shame, anxiety, and belittlement? Or will we step into the positive inheritance that our history of survival bequeathed to us?
This year, let's enter into Passover like never before! We can step into this ancient holiday in a new way. We can take an inventory of the pain and the gifts that are in our ancestral lineages. We can actually use the suffering and trauma that has come down to us from our blood lines to amplify our compassion for others, and activate the positive legacies of our lineage: the moral leadership, deep wisdom, and compassionate ethics that can be of service to an ailing world.
Seder Twists: This year, I invite you to add a new twist: Bring an old family photo to the table, or tell a story of your ancestors' journey and what you glean from it to free yourself now.
At Yachatz: As you break the middle matza at the Seder, imagine breaking open your heart for all the suffering of the world, and pledge to join with others who are suffering to work toward one larger collective liberation. At Elijah's Cup, get quiet and imagine encountering Elijah himself, or another wise ancestral or wisdom figure. Ask a question that pertains to the your present concerns and then quietly listen to the response. When everyone at the table is ready, share what you heard, and pass the cup of Elijah for all to take a drink from it. We can all be prophets and healers!
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, PhD, is a Jungian psychotherapist, author, and Jewish Renewal rabbi. She is currently touring the US with her newest book, Wounds Into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Jewish Trauma (Monkfish, 2019). www.tirzahfirestone.com @tirzahfire