Passover–What Is This?

Group portrait of Passover Seder, Manila, Phil...
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By M. Alexander

Passover was never a holiday that I looked forward to celebrating.  Old people reading out of a book?  I might as well watch CSPAN.  Magical disappearance of a glass of wine? Give me a box of Franzia and I’ll make it disappear even faster, then reappear, then disappear.

Why is this night different from all other nights?  On all other nights, I eat leavened bread on the table—on this night I must be inconspicuous, stashing my meatball sub incognito.

I ask questions, many questions.  Why do I have to be here? How much money will I get if I find the Afikoman? Will my family trip if I drink another glass of wine? How much longer before I get to eat?

Over the past nine months, I have heard many people at Beit T’Shuvah talk about Passover as the holiest day for a Jewish addict.  Our dependence on drugs is slavery—Pharaoh disguises himself, wearing the cloak of Heroin, Cocaine, Alcohol, Gambling, Money, Power, or Food.

I now know that I am personally making the exodus out of slavery; this is of the utmost importance to my continued recovery.  But I can’t be completely self-absorbed.  Passover is also about helping my people make the same exodus.  It is a holiday that stresses the importance of community, a celebration that marks strength, a Seder of remembrance, and it is a festival of hope.

We need our community to aid us in our journey to freedom, we need strength to continue trudging, we must remember the cost of freedom, and we must commemorate those who did not make it.

And above all, we must hope for all who are still enslaved—in Congo, in Sudan, in poor inner-cities, in wealthy suburbs, in our own minds—let us pray: next year in Jerusalem!

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2 thoughts on “Passover–What Is This?

  1. Matzah, Sobriety and Euphoric Recall

    In sobriety there are sometimes very difficult days, challenging my very committment to the pursuit of a spiritual way of life. Abstinence from my choice false idols; instant gratification, chemicals, self-pity etc… can seem impotent in the face of boredom, depression or anxiety. The memory of that rush of escape following the self-indulgent act of “using” can trigger fantasies about the way it was, before I chose this rigorous path.

    The escaped Hebrew slaves had a similar temptation when the going got tough out in the desert; they had selective memory of their captivity in Egypt, and minimized or even omitted the experience of suffering and degradation. They began to lie to themselves. I too tell myself lies. When I am insecure, fearful or feeling alone, the thought of lifting myself up by returning to my own slavery, especially returning to lower companions, can be powerfully seductive. One of the meanings of the Pesach Matzah for me is to remember to refrain from choices that keep me enslaved to my lower self, so that I may be closer to God. Those poor choices can include drugs, toxic relationships, and my over-inflated sense of self. Flattening my ego (like the flat bread of memory), being ‘right-sized’, is a kind of freedom that for me is superior to the freedom to use, fill up, or get ‘high’ with things that seem to feed my empty soul, but are really only temporary and false pick-me-ups.

    At these moments I have to pause and remember that it wasn’t all good back in the good ole days…
    The exercise of writing a “Euphoric Recall” at Beit T’Shuvah has been invaluable in reminding me of the low place I will find myself if I return to using. By pausing, reflecting and examining I gain insight into the lies I tell myself. The immediate sensations of euphoria, power, belonging and self esteem that I get from my personal “false idols” quickly give way to feelings of powerlessness, panic, loneliness, self-hatred, desperation and terror. Better to ‘sit with’ the current uncomfortable feelings now: write, reflect, pray, and remember—going back to captivity is not what God wants for me!

    In this season of re-birth and new beginnings I celebrate being delivered to a place of relatative peace and stability. With the support of God, community and a program of spiritual maintenance, most days I am blessed with feelings and emotional states like patience, connection, openness, faith, integrity, clarity and tolerance. I don’t want to go back to that life of false gods, and I am grateful for this festival to remember and re-dedicate myself to the true purpose of my soul; to cleave to Ha-Shem with all my might, and expand myself not with lies but with the true breath of Ruach Elochim.

    1. I absolutely love with you just said Melissa! Sometimes it feels like, when I’m sober, every day is a new day that has endless potential. When I’m not sober, things are a lot more “safe.” I know exactly what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen.

      Euphoric recall is more that concept of “ignorance is bliss.” It’s too late to return to slavery once we’ve been freed.

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