Hours before Passover

afikomanThings I’ve written about this holiday in the past:

and on Passover + Richard Armitage:

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My apartment is both clean and kosher l’Pessach and I’m dilatorily grading papers and waiting idly for the holiday to begin at sundown and writing. I’m spending the first two nights in exactly the same way that I did last year — first night with the Chasidim, second night by invitation of the Fuzzies with the Peskies and Mr. & Mrs. Department Chair — and looking forward to both tremendously. This year I also plan to attend morning Shacharit at the Chasidic shtibl (something I haven’t done on Passover since maybe 1997).

I’ve indexed previous posts above. The main theme of the holiday is “liberation” — liberation from Egypt, in Hebrew “Mitzraim,” which also means “narrow.” It’s my favorite Jewish holiday.

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What I’m contemplating regarding freedom — from the Haftarah for parashat Parah (a few weeks ago), a remark in the ArtScroll Ezekiel commentary, pp. 534-5, on Ezekiel 36:16-38, reproduced in the Stone Chumash:

Freedom of will in moral matters is the first and irreplaceable condition for living one’s life on the higher plane demanded by the Torah. Belief in man’s freedom of action, however, is endangered by the fact that man cannot avoid death and that he is subject to the superficial limitations imposed by the forces of nature. […] if man, like all other organic beings, cannot escape the spell of an overpowering force — then there is no room for the moral “you shall” next to the physical “you must.” Moral freedom of will would then be an illusion, and the Divine law of morality with its demand for total free-willed devotion … (R’ Hirsch, Numbers 19:22).

For this reason, when G-d forgives man’s sin and grants him a new heart and a new spirit, He is imbuing him with […] the state of mind in which man is the sole master of his actions. A living (and therefore a pure) person uses his body as he wills; it is his tool to use as he sees fit. The regenerate sinner, upon returning to the state of purity, joins once more the state of the living — and the free (Chazon HaMikra).

Reading stuff like this is so hard for me because of growing up in a “no human free will regarding salvation” tradition.

That said — the point of the commentary seems to me to be that G-d restores to the sinner his/her free will because one cannot live morally unless one maintains the capacity to choose. Freedom is thus not so much an objective condition relating to circumstance (it’s not: I am unfree because I am here) but rather a recognition of one’s capacity to decide (I am free, because I *chose* to be here). I am unfree when I allow myself to be enslaved by forces I feel unable to control, especially material / physical constraint, because in fact I always retain the capacity to choose; I am free when I chose from my own uncontaminated will to act or be. Similarly, one acts morally when one acts while out from under the constraint of material and non-divine forces; morality is thus not so much a series of acts in itself (doing X is moral) as it is a series of acts committed when the actor stands in a particular mental / emotional space to commit those acts (acting freely is moral).

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passover+italicized+with+tagline_croppedLast year, I felt truly free. This year, not so much. Erebor is still heavily on my mind. I had convinced myself that the the window for the successful resolution of that quest was over, but yesterday Gandalf called for a long talk, and now, although I’m not convinced he’s right, I’m also not convinced he’s wrong, either. He’s in a position to understand a lot more about the structural factors than I am. Then again, nothing’s going to get answered this week. Just when I finish with Passover, Holy Week starts, so I’m going to be stuck with these questions until at least next Monday, no doubt. Until that situation resolves itself, my will is going to feel constrained, I’m afraid.

I keep telling myself I could call up Erebor and tell them I’m done, I’ve had it with waiting, but I’m not brave enough to do that, either. Would that just be out of fear? Does that mean I still want to move in that direction? If so, why can’t I know or admit or feel that? Is my capacity to desire things for myself really that damaged?

What is this experience supposed to be teaching me? Apart from the fact that the last seven weeks have involved a lot of miserable Monday-morning quarterbacking. At least when I had talked myself into believing the quest was over, last week, I had some space from the stream of self-abuse. Servetus, you don’t fit in anywhere, you are not good enough for anything. When I let go of wondering about Erebor, I started to think of alternative futures that didn’t involve Erebor, university courses, new foreign languages, cross-country moves, resumés, stories I could tell about myself. But now it’s back.

The extreme dysphoria associated with grading, too, has constrained my capacity to act in the last weeks. I’ve become so afraid of my negative feelings that it’s become easier simply to deny that I have feelings than to confront them. And that means I get involved in all kinds of dysphoria-avoiding activities rather than confront the negative emotions. I know that this cannot go well even if it’s possible to exist on this plane for a time. It works itself out in my writing, so that I’m writing to respond (unfree) rather than to work creatively following my will (free). I do not do the good things I will; the evil that I do not will, I do. Or something like that.

And, oh, mom. Moderate good news continues to come from there, but I do not have the least idea what to do about this summer. These conversations are so painful, where neither of us feels free to say what we really are thinking. Trying to remind myself that I will be acting most morally when I am acting according to free will and not following the dictates of human constraint. I don’t know what this means, in concrete terms, but at least I can start to think about it.

No one can love under external coercion.

We are obligated to discuss Passover and the liberation from Egypt as if G-d had liberated each of us personally. I believe that the Messiah is coming, though he tarry. I believe that I was liberated from Egypt. As I have experienced liberation in the past, I will experience it again in the future.

***

The sun is shining, the end of term’s a month away, I have work and a car and money in savings and so many friends real and virtual and a family and I live in a prosperous country with peace and the rule of law.

I have received, as I learned as a child, so much. A body and soul and all their powers, food and clothing, home and family, daily bread, and all I need from day to day, protection from danger and preservation from evil, through no merit of my own.

“For all of this I am bound to thank and praise, serve and obey [G-d]. This is most certainly true.”

Give thanks in all circumstances.

***

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And so I will say again tonight:

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.
Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat;
whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover.
This year we are here; next year in the land of Israel.
This year we are slaves; next year we will be free people.

***

I plan one more post here this afternoon, in order to put Armitage back on top of the blog.

Guylty will be *ooof*ing tomorrow for your delectation.

I hope / plan to be off comms until late Wednesday, which may mean early Thursday for you, depending on where you are. Or it may end up being slightly later since I have to teach on Thursday.

Chag Sameach to everyone who’s celebrating Passover.

Best wishes for imminent liberation from whatever’s imprisoning you, to everyone who reads here.

~ by Servetus on March 25, 2013.

10 Responses to “Hours before Passover”

  1. Chag sameach to you, Servetus! I hope your prayers help you clear your mind so you know your will.

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  2. Best wishes to you too. Get away from it all and ENJOY being off-comms.

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  3. All the best wishes for you to find your freedom and your unique way, Servetus!

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  4. May you find peace during passover.

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  5. Best wishes Servetus! 🙂

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  6. Take care Servetus!

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  7. Pesaj kasher ve sameaj!!! 😉

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  8. Happy Passover Servetus ! 🙂
    PS: Now,back to the cleaning before Easter

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  9. Happy Passover! 🙂

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  10. Thanks for all the wonderful Passover wishes, and best wishes in turn to those who are celebrating Good Friday today and Easter on Sunday!

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