BY Daniel Bortz
Do you ever have those moments where an idea hits you that completely changes the way you look at an entire subject matter? When learning about the events and stories of the Torah, many of us wonder how they relate to our lives today. King David’s poems about escaping death at the hands of his many enemies is very moving, but in San Diego I personally don’t feel my life is in danger.
But years ago I learned a teaching of Rebbe Nachman on Psalms. He explains that the enemies that David is confronting and asking Divine assistance for are internal. Sure, King David needed help to survive human enemies, and every Torah story is describing a physical experience. But Torah’s wisdom is eternal. I now understood that every story and detail is happening within us, teaching us applicable lessons in every generation and location.
When we read Psalms, like King David we call out to G-d for help in our time of need, finding solace in our faith during intense struggles with darkness. We ask for help in defeating our internal enemies: Temptation, sadness, feeling lost, low self esteem, relationship trouble – nurturing our faith that we can and will overcome it all and triumph.
On Passover, we commemorate the physical exodus from one land to another – via a splitting sea. Every detail also signifies an internal exodus from one state to another. Egypt in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim” and the term for limitations is spelled the same: “Maytzarim.” During this holiday, especially the Seder, we have the power to tap into a special energy to leave our inner limits behind and become a higher version of ourselves.
This one time exodus from Egypt is a Jewish obsession. We recall it a minimum of three times every single day in our prayers. When I won a sporting achievement, I may have gloated for a week…But not 3,300 years!
But now we can understand. This exodus from our inner Egypt into a promised land of potential is a daily struggle. It’s happening right now within each of us. We free Americans may be physically free, but we can still be enslaved inside to negative traits and mental restrictions.
What does being truly free mean to you? Is it the ability to do whatever you want whenever you want? That can lead to good or just as easily to a life of fatal addiction.
Judaism says that real freedom is when no temptation rules you, when you’re not enslaved to your first impulse. When people ask me if strict Shabbat observance feels restrictive, my initial logical impulse might be to say yes. But then I realize it’s the only time of my week without my eyes glued to my phone or computer (hey, I may be a Rabbi but I’m a millennial one). That’s the Jewish secret: Having an intentional structure creates freedom. Living a disciplined life with boundaries to what you let into your life allows your best self to excel, staying true to your beliefs.
Your inner mindset is more important than your physical situation. Let’s start working from within. Think of one thing that you feel is holding you back from realizing your potential and living a happy, fulfilled life. This Passover, close your eyes and visualize what you’ll feel like once you’ve conquered that issue, what it’s like to be that ultimate version of yourself.
Wishing you a happy and healthy Passover of freedom!