Not everyone loves Pesach. Despite the fact that this is the time when we celebrate the redemption of the Jewish people and the freedom that came with it, many of us ironically feel more enslaved this time of year than any other point on the calendar. We slave in the kitchen preparing food, and we slave on our floors scrubbing them to get rid of any crumb of chametz.
Some feel like they are suffering having to sit through long Seders with family, who always manage to find the right words to get the entire family in a fight. Some even dread Pesach’s arrival because they are anxious about spending so much time with family, anticipating what someone will inevitably say to get under their skin. How do we avoid getting dragged into the same arguments every year at the Seder? How do we not take offense to the same annoying joke made at our expense each year?
An Answer Found in Matzah
If we look to our sages, we can often find deep answers to difficult questions. In his commentary on the Haggadah, the Maharal offers a great insight on matzah. He asks why it would be referred to in Rabbinic literature as “Lechem O’ni”, which is traditionally translated as “bread of affliction” or “bread of a pauper”. This seems entirely contradictory since freedom generally implies the ability to do whatever we want, while poverty is generally associated with being prevented from doing what we want.
In explaining this apparent difficulty, the Maharal notes that matzah is not bread that is eaten by the poor. There can be fancier versions of matzah (and the prices nowadays seem to be in consonance with this notion). However, the essence of matzah itself is poor in that it is devoid of all additives. An additional approach is that in some ways, a pauper is freer than the wealthy person. Our sages teach us in Pirkei Avot 2:7 that the more possessions we have, the more worry that comes. When we are heavy with assets, we can also be heavy with concerns for maintaining our status. The Maharal suggests that someone with no possessions is in a way more free than someone with great wealth because he will not be restrained by his ties to worldly things.
Achieving Freedom from Family Conflicts
How do we take the message of the Maharal and find our own freedom? By stripping away all of the layers that we have and taking an honest look at our real basic elements. Doing this allows to identify what our flour and water are, and we shed all of the additives that distort our true selves.
To show this approach in action, I once worked with a client who dreaded Thanksgiving because he always ended up feeling upset by the end of the holiday. His siblings would push buttons he didn’t even know he had, and his grandparents would fight with his parents. The whole event was miserable. When we processed what was going on, he realized that everyone was just fighting for attention because their own needs weren’t being met in healthy ways. So, they would find substitutes to get the approval and attention they craved.
Realizing this was the key to navigating lengthy family meals. He was able to go to the next family function and not play into all of the power struggles and fights for attention since he didn’t feel the need to fight anymore. Because he removed all of his layers, he was able to be in touch with his insecurities and vulnerabilities. He didn’t feel as hurt when someone pointed them out. The more confident he was in whom he was, the less others were able to bother him. Getting down to his basic elements was the most liberating experience he’d ever had. It freed him from the scrutiny of others and allowed him to feel happy with himself.
Let’s Do It
This Pesach, let’s internalize the words of the Maharal. Let’s strip away all of our additives and focus on the message of the matzah, not the marror. Instead of highlighting the bitterness of servitude, let us express the beauty of true freedom.
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