Passover is THE Jewish story. Yes we became liberated from bondage, and more importantly, the fundamental message of Judaism is told again and again in this story and throughout Jewish literature. “Be Kind to the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Rabbi Ira Stone teaches that the goal of Mussar is to learn to bear the burden of other people – which itself directly translates from this Passover lesson. So let’s take this opportunity to do a Passover Mussar practice.
Remember that Passover is not only about ancient liberation but personal liberation. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is translated as “narrow place.” Slavery in Egypt confined us to a narrow place, with constrictions on our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. The Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlov (1772-1822) said, “The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, in every year, and in every day.” Exodus is the story of liberation from the things that hold us back. By practicing Enthusiasm, Order, and Honor, we can begin to exit our narrow place.
Focus on Enthusiasm in your Passover Mussar Practice
In the Mussar classic Path of the Just, Rabbi Luzzatto makes Enthusiasm a key pillar of personal transformation. In part, this is because he argues that our natural inclination is to be “lazy.” While I dislike the judgmental connotation of the term, the fact remains that many of us would prefer to just avoid the hard work of personal change. I saw a great cartoon with two panels. In the first, the speaker asks who wants change? Everyone raises their hand. In the second, he asks “Who wants to change.?” As you may have guessed, not a single hand was raised. Even when we are unhappy about something, the Evil Inclination will supply us with ample excuses and fears to prevent us from taking action to make it better.
Luzzatto points to Abraham, who ran around his camp to welcome guests, and Rebecca who hastened to water a guests camels, as examples of our behavior. We should run to do good. When we do, we unlock an inner fire as our “emotions are aroused and [our] enthusiasm waxes stronger.”
Moses saw a flame that did not consume, that led him on a path of discovery and personal growth, that led him to take on a seemingly impossible task. Moses was reluctant at first, but the Divine helped him grow personally to take this task on. And one way he helped was to give Moses a plan.
Practice Order by Creating a Plan to Change as Part of Your Passover Mussar Practice
The Hebrew word for Order is Seder – yes, that meal we have every year at least once during Passover. Moses presented a litany of excuses why he could not lead the Israelites out of Egypt, including worries about his speaking ability, and fears that the people will not believe him. In response, God gives Moses a plan, teaching him a few miracles to show the people, and reminding him that his brother can do the talking when needed.(See Exodus 4:1-17 for the full story). While you may be unsure of the Divinity, forming a plan of action is a sensible approach to bring about personal change. What are some small miracles that you can perform to help you on the way? By miracle, I mean some action outside of your comfort zone. I have a friend who was a cut you off, screamer of a driver. As part of her Mussar practice she started letting every car that wanted to merge in front of her. She became a calm driver, and as far as I’m concerned, it was a miracle.
The second part of the story is equally important? Who will be the Aaron in your life, a relative, friend, or mentor who will help you on your journey? Part of the challenge is to be bold enough to commit to change, and to ask for someone for help.
Balance Honor in your Passover Mussar Practice
Part of the answer to changing oneself is paradoxically to think less about yourself. When we focus our energy on serving others, we can take a break from our own worries, and the path of such service will carry us outside boundaries that are keeping us stuck. And, often we hold ourselves back precisely because we are framing the issue in a self-centered way. Try doing something particularly loving for your partner or for a friend. Listen without speaking. Bringing the focus away from yourself will provide you a breath of fresh air, to carry your life in a new direction.
Now of course, your narrow place might be excessive service to others. In fact Tova Ross wrote a great article for Tablet about overcoming her narrow place of people pleasing. Ross shares an inspiring story of he she came to recognize just how miserable and unhealthy she was making herself trying to be well liked. Passover teaches us that we should remember the stranger, not that we should become a stranger, nor make self care a stranger in our life.What is the narrow place you are seeking liberation from this year? What soul traits can help you overcome it? Please share below.
What Soul Traits are keeping you in your narrow place? Take the Soul Trait Profile Quiz to find out. Click here now to take it.