Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Mitzrayim and Me

In 1996, just after Rabin was shot, I flew through a blizzard in NY to Tel Aviv, and spent the next eight months in Israel. There were bombs on the buses, that spring, the #18 in particular. There was a bomb that killed children the day before Purim. There was also a beautiful spring, and a lovely summer, and some wonderful, wonderful friends to share my time there with. Some of these friends recruited me to hang out on an archaeological dig with them over the summer, which was great fun. On one of the breaks from the dig, we went to the Sinai, the closest I’ve ever gotten to Egypt.

The closest I’ve ever been to Mitzrayim, however, was this past year. Instead of finding myself a happy new mom with a beautiful baby, I developed (fairly severe) postpartum depression. I didn’t realize it, of course – I just thought I was having a hard time. Or maybe that I was a really bad mom. With a horrible life. And no sleep. And no way out.

Thankfully, after a long struggle, I am now in a better place. Much better. Ecstatic, by comparison. And although life isn’t easy (my husband’s in grad school, I work full-time, the 7-month-old baby still wakes up every 2-3 hours all night long), I feel as if the future is wide open, expansive – my options are open, and I have the ease to consider new strategies, opportunities, ideas, all sorts of things which were closed off when I was so depressed that even ‘one more thing’ felt like it would crush me.

Although most people (B”H) never have to go through such a thing, we all have our hard times, our narrow, constricting places. This year, the Pesach seder has acquired a new meaning for me. In the past, when I have tried to feel as though I, myself, had been led out of Mitzrayim, it felt like play-acting. What could I teach my children about liberation, me, who had always been free? For many of our ancestors, this injunction no doubt felt similar. And for others, perhaps it felt like a mockery, as their daily oppression made the seder participants long for true freedom, in which they might live and worship openly and without fear. For those like me, it required imagining what crushing burden might be like; for others, it required imagining freedom. To regard yourself as personally having been led out of Mitzrayim requires a genuine understanding of both, in order to feel the overwhelming joy and gratitude at the core of this holy time.

So why are we commanded thus? Is it to seek out experiences of suffering, in order that we may feel joy at their cessation? (ie., “Why are you hitting yourself with a hammer?” “Because it feels so good when I stop!”) Or to seek out experiences of joy, to counter ongoing deprivation or sadness? Hillel knew, a good sandwich takes both something sweet and something bitter – the contrast makes the whole thing better.

But I believe the real reason we undergo this practice of gratitude every year is so that, when we do have something for which to be genuinely thankful, we recognize it, and recognize the source of our blessings. Surely, this is zman cheiruteynu.


Blogger YMedad said...


3/29/2007 4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To ymedad:
My mother z"l often said "If you haven't something nice to say, shut up"

Pesach Kasher V'Sameach to all.

3/29/2007 8:04 PM  
Blogger YMedad said...

Not nice? Gee, I read this word "yawn" twice at another blog where they were discussing an historical event when Jews fought other Jews and handed them over to a foreign occupier of their country to be arrested and perhaps even hanged (and in the process, beat them up, tortured them and even put a gun to one person's head and playfully pulled the trigger and although the chamber was empty, the poor fellow didn't know that), an even which has ramifications for us here in Israel even today. If that could be done there, why can't I do that here? I mean, I didn't use the word "shut up", even in a second-hand quotation. Maybe the person who wrote "yawn" should learn from your late mother who was wise?

3/30/2007 3:30 AM  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

yeah, yeah, yeah - look, the yawn was not about what the Jewish Agency did or didn't do, it was about a post mentioning that Kollek was part of them. About which, frankly, who now cares? Kollek is dead. Sheesh.

3/30/2007 12:11 PM  
Blogger YMedad said...

Okay, I'll accept your apology disguised as an explanation which I was supposed to understand in your terms but comprehended in my terms.

Just think about all those people Kollek sent to jail, to exile in Africa and what-not. Think of it is terms of marror. See, now we're back to Pesach and it's relevant.

A freilicha Pesach.

4/01/2007 2:26 PM  

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