(five minute read)
For those of us who have been enslaved by physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or sexual abuse, Pesach is our story and the Seder is our guide to healing.
At the Seder, we find the answers to our deepest questions:
Why was I abused?
How do I get out of it?
I left the abuse behind, what now? How do I heal and move on? How long will this take? Will I always feel this awful?
How do I believe and trust in a God that allowed me to be abused in the first place??
The Pesach Seder holds the answers to our mental and emotional freedom.
As a Jewish nation we suffered abuse and torture for many years in Egypt. It broke us physically, spiritually, and mentally, as abuse does. We could not get away from it on our own. All we could do was cry in pain, and ask, "why?"
Then, miraculously, we were freed. The slavery and abuse ended very suddenly through open miracles, and we could breathe a sigh of relief and move on with our lives... Or so we thought.
Yet, true freedom eluded us. We left the abuse of Egypt behind but were still enslaved mentally and emotionally. Slavery and trauma, stole our ability to trust. We could trust no one. Not Moshe (Moses), and not even God. We went into a deep and blinding denial. A denial so strong, we created and worshiped a golden calf, a fake god, just after personally seeing God at Mount Sini!
As victims we were needy and confused. We tested God every step of the way, because we had to. We had to make sure He wasn't going anywhere, no matter what we did. We complained, rebelled, and wanted to go back to Egypt. Abuse and slavery was our normal. At least in Egypt we knew what to expect, and had an identity. We were slaves, victims. We were not yet healthy enough to claim our freedom and enter Israel. We would need forty years of desert therapy to recover from our deep trauma.
Through all of our struggles, mistakes, and victim-hood, God loved us, forgave us and gave us more chances. He held us close, fed us, and showed us the way through the desert of recovery to Israel, and mental and emotional freedom.
But, as my teenagers say, "What the...??!!" Why did God want us to go through a horrific experience in the first place? How could any good possibly come from such horror, such evil, such trauma and brokenness?
I believe that as a nation, (and as individuals), we have a unique and challenging mission to accomplish in this world. In order to complete our mission we need a very specific set of skills and training. The depth of clarity, compassion, empathy, integrity, sense of self, and mental strength that we need in order to accomplish our national mission and bring this world to redemption, is unparalleled. As a nation we acquired these traits from our experience moving from victims to survivors when we left Egypt. Nothing can compare to the way Jews as a nation, "get it." Like a good therapist who has themselves healed from abuse, we Jews "get"abuse and persecution like no other nation. We are champions for justice and human rights in the world because we have been there and we know. Egypt was elite training for our elite mission. We are the navy seals of the world. Not many can get through that kind of training, or even want to. But the ones who do are the strongest.
When I was about 20 I attended a workshop by Dr. Miriam Adahan. She had us write down our worst challenges and pain. Then with our left hand she asked us not to think, but to allow the voice of our eternal soul to answer the question, "why?" Why do I have to go through this? Why is this happening to me?
I was not in a very good place in my life at twenty. I thought God was punishing me. I was angry and hurt. I wanted to die.
I watched as my left hand scrawled "In order to heal and help others."
I laughed at the ridiculousness. I couldn't even help myself how was I supposed to help anyone else?
But deep inside my soul I had a glimmer of hope to guide me during the coming years of darkness. I had to acknowledge that a part of me obviously believed I could one day heal and help others. After all, I had written the words.
One of the most important lessons of the Seder is to respect the process of recovery. To respect our confusion, our pain, our need to test. When we leave an abusive situation we are not OK. We may not be OK for a good while; years,even. We have to rebuild ourselves from scratch and that is an enormous task. We need the space and time to do it. We need resources, we need support. And we need an all powerful and all knowing God to love and accept us unconditionally, with all of our baggage.
We need a God we can be as real with as it gets. We need to complain, to get angry, to yell Why???!!! And, Where were you?!?!
We must turn to our God (the real God of unconditional love and acceptance, and not the fake god's of Egypt) and demand the help we need and deserve, and expect it.
God loves us and will not abandon us during this painful process. It may take a while, but he will lead us out when little by little we learn to trust Him and let Him in...
At the Seder we meet four sons, all of them parts of us. We have that wicked voice that dissociates from the rest of us. The wicked voice points his finger, judges, condemns, criticizes and blames us for our suffering. Our wise voice asks real questions because he wants to know the truth. He wants to understand deeply. Our simple voice just wants to know what's happening, and what to do next, and the silenced child doesn't say a single word.
At the Seder we learn how to respond to our inner world. Each part of us needs and deserves our attention and a response. Our wise voice is the one to nurture in depth. Our abusive blaming voice is to be silenced quickly. Tell him to shut up, knock his teeth out. He is a remnant of our abuse. The simple voice needs simple uncomplicated instructions and guidance. And the silent child needs to be held and told what happened. "You were hurt, but now you are safe. It is not your fault. I've got you. I'm not going anywhere."
At the Seder we learn that it is not only a good idea to talk about our slavery, it is a mitzvah, a commandment! Not only do we have to talk about what happened, we have to re-experience it, and relive it with all of our senses. As painful as this may be, it is the only way through trauma. We have to own it and acknowledge what it did to us, how it feels, and how it felt, and recognize that we are no longer there. And, we have to do it slowly, in a safe place and in a safe way, and with the support of family and friends. Denying or minimizing what happened to us is a sure way to repeat the abuse mentally, with ourselves and our loved ones.
On the other side of the Seder is healing. But first we must involve ourselves in the process.
As Jews, not only do we have to spend one night a year exclusively on the topic of our slavery and redemption, we also have to remember every day (in our prayers,) who we are, where we came from and where we are headed. As a nation WE ARE SURVIVORS! We are free! At the Seder we touch our slavery and freedom in the same moment and celebrate how it turned us into the indestructible nation we are today. We too, can learn to touch our abuse and our healing in the same moment, and celebrate how it made us the amazing courageous, and compassionate, survivors we are today!