Pesach ponderings from a Jewish psychologist

Pesach ponderings from a Jewish psychologist

Pesach time tends to be a challenging time of year. I don’t know if there is any statistical research backing this up, but some of my colleagues fondly call March/April ‘mad month’ because psychiatric hospitals and clinics tend to fill up at this time.

Something about this time of year tends to tip us over. I wonder if it is connected in any way — as I once heard in a Kabbalistic teaching — to Pesach being a time when we see ourselves more clearly. There are many things that show us uncomfortable things about ourselves during the rest of the year. Our partners, for example, may point out our flaws — sometimes with irritating relish. Then there are our children, bless those little mirrors. It’s difficult to not see yourself in the face of your children isn’t it? We do our best to blame our children for what we see but it’s hard to avoid seeing ourselves when we lose our temper, struggle with honesty avoid socialising and sometimes don’t really care… Our children are a bright and constant light unto our flaws (and our greatness) — which I think is a big reason we react to them so strongly.

But Pesach. Whew. Pesach is like someone (I wonder who) switches on huge floodlights to the stadium of your life and all of a sudden you can SEE yourself. This can be lovely — but is potentially very uncomfortable indeed. Those of us who have a more tentative grip on ‘being okay’ are vulnerable to tipping over into being ‘really not okay’ while the rest of us go more discreetly mad for a while.

So let’s have a look at the liberation that this light offers us — the bright side, so to speak. All of our self-damage comes from the core ideas to which we are enslaved; painful ideas such as “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not worthy”, “I don’t really belong” — none of which are true. So this Pesach, ask yourself, “Who is my Pharaoh?” Which thoughts and beliefs keep you small? How do they lash you down angrily when you want to rise up and shine?

When your inner Moses, the part of you that witnesses this slavery of self, comes into your Egypt and says, “Let my people go!” — or in psychobabble, “Stop this pattern, stop treating yourself like this, you deserve better” — what does your Pharaoh say?

A time of transition

For me, Pesach and Easter are about the light of awareness coming into the darkness of ignorance. Both are about leaving behind the old way that is now seen to be dysfunctional and stepping towards. a new and very different paradigm. The new way is usually some variation of a paradigm of self-worth and spirituality.

The theme of new life following the death of the old runs through both holidays. The Jewish people left their familiar lives behind and wandered lost in a desert in search of the Holy Land — something better than the suffering and disrespect of the past.

I suspect it was the wandering that allowed them to slowly release the old ways, the ‘lost-ness’ that led to purification, a new generation of being. Only then did they find what theywere searching for. The death of the old way finally led to the inner holy place — atrue connection to, and trust in, God.

I have found it is useful to be ‘in awareness’ in this period prior to Pesach and Easter, as it is often an intra-psychic time of battle between the old ways and the new desired ways, the ways of truth — the holy journey of being in alignment with your soul. Transition phases tend to be tricky and it helps if you know what is going on.

The battle begins with a sometimes painful dawning of seeing what was previously hidden in your shadow. The bright light shining in your darkened internal room shows up the ignored dirt and cracks in your life right now (hence the need for the thorough cleaning of ‘chometz’ from your inner house). Then comes the battle for freedom with many plagues of irritations and sufferings, both physical and emotional. When the old way finally acknowledges that the new way is the only way forward, there is an excited rush towards freedom, as you take action towards getting to where you long to be.

This rush is followed shortly after by a chase across the desert and through the sea as part of you realises what has happened and panics. Following this is a sometimes protracted period of feeling lost in the desert, uncomfortable without the old familiar dependencies, anxiety, searching, self-doubt, a feeling of disconnect from, and questioning of, God.

Finally after some false starts, losing hope and turning back to old ways and false gods (oh those cigarettes and that chocolate…), the new ways demonstrating their dismay by breaking the gifts of God, you having to climb back up the mountain and wait even longer before the clarity of knowledge returns… after all this, the new ways begin to become more familiar, they slowly become daily practice, your faith solidifies and then… you enter the Holy Land. The place you so badly wanted to get to. Amen.

Oh, and yes, this happens every year — a schlepp no doubt, but potentially an exciting one.

May your journey through your inner desert be gentle and fruitful this year. May you not lose faith. And may you find peace and joy in your liberation.

— Happy Pesach.
In light,
Eilat Aviram