Updated: Dec 30, 2020
This time of our lives is a complete emotional roller-coaster. I know I'm not alone when I admit that one moment I find myself patting myself on the back for my incredible resilience and then the next moment I’m curled up in the fetal position bawling my eyes out.
Even though I have worked hard on my "proactive mental health" over the years, this new reality has reset my system into dysregulation and hit harder than I would have expected.
I don't think I could describe how I am feeling better than the words of creative genius, Charles Dickens at the beginning of his book “A Tale of Two Cities”;
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”.
But as different as this current situation may seem, we are not strangers to this paradigm of living two realities at the same time.
The Haggadah’s ingenious formula is set up to help us relive the Pesach experience; allowing us to tap in to the power of storytelling and creative expression. The Haggadah is the definition of all the modern educational buzzwords. It's a differentiated instruction and a multi-modality lesson plan. It is the ultimate inquiry project.
This year especially, we can really understand how it's possible to connect with two realities simultaneously. We feel the depths of the plagues experience as strongly as we connect with the themes of hope and resillience (Rabbi Dr. Saul Haimoff explains this further in his recent blog post).
The beauty of Torah and traditional practices like the Pesach Seder, is that as we get older, we connect to it in different ways. It never gets old because each year we delve deeper and deeper into the story-line, peeling back the layers until we truly feel the connection to our personal story-line at that given time... or as I would like to now call it, our “theme of the year”.
What do I mean by that?
Given that New Years resolutions don’t work, there has been a growing trend over the last few years to instead, identify your “theme of the year” and live within that theme.
But forget New Years... now is just as good of a time as any to reevaluate the way we have been living our lives and adopt a new theme of the year. Let's figure out what we plan to change now. The message is very clear - things need to change in our lives. What do we plan to learn? How do we plan to grow? How do we want to look back on these times?
As I sipped coffee with two of my good friends/neighbors in the freezing cold on lawn chairs this past shabbat (don’t worry we were all at least 12 feet apart – extra makpid), we discussed what our own personal messages could be from this whole experience. One of my friends felt that she was generally too focused on materialism, and this experience is helping her to put those desires into perspective. My other friend felt that we are too fast paced in our daily lives and that we need to refocus our priorities, spend more time with the people that matter.
I thought about my answer. But I could not think of just one.
I told myself that I would reflect and write it all down after shabbat, and maybe come up with my own new theme of the year. Honestly, there were too many to choose from, so I came up with my top 3 themes. Ready?
THE YEAR OF UNDERSTANDING THAT I CAN’T CONTROL EVERYTHING
It is inevitable that life will present us with situations that are beyond our control.
When we can learn to identify with freedom in whatever “bondage” situation we find ourselves in, we can better access this message. When we can recognize our limitations and embrace vulnerability, we can then "let go and let G-d", free up some of our energy, and be able to recognize pain and suffering while still seeing the good.
I have to keep reminding myself that it’s OK to not be in control of everything.
My 9 -year-old son actually wrote something beautiful for one of the questions in our Proactive Haggadah that inspired me;
“We can feel slavery within freedom but only some can feel freedom within slavery. We get sad when we think about how long we have been in exile, but we have hope that soon we won’t be. The fact that Moshe had a burnt tongue and still managed to take care of the Jews in exile is amazing. Even though he had this issue he still stepped up. He didn’t let it get him down. He realized that he could only control what he could control.”
THE YEAR OF FAITH BUILDING
Faith is not a given, it’s a practice.
Faith requires regular maintenance and workouts just like physical health and mental health. When firefighters are not actively putting out fires, they are in constant training, so they are in good shape when it comes time to dealing with crisis situations.
Not everybody chooses faith. Crisis situations are heavy whether we are prepared for them or not. But if we have not been actively working out our faith muscles during calm times, I can imagine that faith might be a heavy load to carry when times are tough.
In the biblical narrative, right after G-d tells the Jews that He will redeem them from Egypt, he says, “And you will know that I am the Lord your G-d.” (Shemot 6:6-7)
Why was it necessary for G-d to say this? Would witnessing miracles not be enough to instill faith in those that questioned? Not really. Faith is a choice.
Each plague came with a warning. When Moshe warned about the 7th plague of hail on Egypt, the Egyptians who feared G-d brought their animals inside so they would be safe. Those that did not believe left their animals outside, where they were killed by the hail.
At that point, all of the Egyptians had already witnessed six miraculous plagues. How on earth was it possible that so many of them ignored Moshe’s warning and left their animals outside to die?
The answer is a timeless one. Failure to believe in G-d is not a result of a lack of knowledge, but rather, it is a choice. If someone does not want to believe in G-d, then even the greatest of miracles will not shift their mindset.
There are many small miracles every day when we open your minds and hearts to seeing them. I want to make sure that I prioritize regular low-impact faith workouts this year so I can be better prepared to face inevitable high impact situations with stronger muscles.
THE YEAR WE REMEMBER THAT WHAT WE DO (OR DON'T DO) MATTERS
The subject of interpersonal obligation comes up a lot in table discussions at our house. My husband is working on the front-lines as a director of acute care programs in a bunch of hospitals for a private company. His job is to help keep people out of the hospitals. This is especially important right now.
When I see people disregarding protocol and making light of medical advice (even within the medical world), it triggers a very heavy response.
We are all part of a collective whole, and this virus teaches us that what we do matters. When we fail to take precautions, learning from those who are a few weeks ahead of us in this pandemic, we are showing a lack of care, not for ourselves, but for others. It’s like a smoker who says “I can do whatever I want with my body – it’s my life”, while their child is sitting next to them taking in the harmful second hand smoke that we know to be incredibly deadly and even more harmful that the first hand smoke.
We need to remember that not EVERYTHING is about us. We need to look outside of ourselves and think of the impact our actions have on other people.
One of my favorite TV shows is "The Good Place", which actually places a very heavy emphasis on what it means to be in a relationship with others. The whole show grapples with philosophy, and throughout the moral interplay, one of the questions that comes up a lot is “what do we owe to each other?” based on T.M. Scanlon’s writing.
In the end of the day, there are rules for living so that we can all function together. Some make up their own rules, but generally those people are not taking the collective whole into consideration.
When literally all the big rabbis and priests and doctors and politicians are recommending a specific practice to help keep others safe, do we not owe it to each other to comply?
One of my favorite mom lines that I say quite often (and my kids hate) is; “When one person drills a hole in the boat the whole boat sinks”.
It is so true though. We are all in this together.