Vaeschanan 2022: How to Fall In Love With G-d

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Anshi Sfard

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the famous first paragraph of Shema that we recite twice a day. Deuteronomy 6:5 states וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכׇל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכׇל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃ You shall love your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Sefer Chinuch, in his compilation of all 613 mitzvos learns from this verse the commandment to love Hashem. One is not just required to observe the mitzvos by performing certain actions and refraining from doing others, but one is required to invoke a feeling of love to one’s creator. 

How does one love G-d and fulfill this mitzvah? Isn’t love a feeling not a choice/action? The Sefer Chinuch asks this question. He writes in Mitzvah 418 quoting the Sifri:איני יודע כיצד אוהב אדם את המקום I do not know how a person is supposed to love G-d. 

Sefer Chinuch suggests that the answer lies in the next verse. וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. The performance of mitzvos will invoke feelings of love. Based on this it seems strange that 1) Loving Hashem is a separate mitzvah if it is accomplished by doing other mitzvos, 2) Is it even true that doing other commandments invokes love? How can we better understand this mitzvah of loving Hashem? 

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Harris & Hayes distinguish between goals and values. Goals are things we are used to making. These are projects and items we can accomplish and check off of a checklist. An example of a goal is to wake up early on a weekday, go to the gym once a week, or run a marathon. Values are ideas that bring us meaning, direction and pride. These are not one-off things that we can simply accomplish but are ways of life. Examples of values are honesty, dependability, and courage. One cannot simply be honest one day and lie the next day. 

ACT further posits that when one accomplishes a goal that is not aligned with their own values they have not optimized the impact of their actions and may not feel joy from this accomplishment. In fact, in some circumstances, one may even experience depressing feelings when achieving a goal. One example of this is a concept called Post Series Depression. Post-Series Depression is the sadness felt after reading or watching a really long series or story (Lacklitter, 2020). It is the bitter feeling when you know the journey is over, but you don’t want it to end. The feeling of accomplishment and loss at the same time creates a vacuum in one’s life. It is difficult to persevere and move on to a new show or series. This is because the goal of finishing the show is merely an isolated goal and not aligned with one’s values. 

On the other hand, ACT states that when one accomplishes a goal in line with his or her values it creates a life of meaning and happiness. Harries & Hayes point out that this happiness does not mean life will be 100% joyous with no pain or sadness. ACT builds on Aristotle’s concept of Eudaimonic Happiness where one lives life on a journey towards his or her values providing meaning and direction throughout life. Knowing they are on the right path and living consistent to their values creates genuine and pure happiness. 

One final idea Harris & Hayes stress is that living a life you want to lead does not mean there won’t be pain and hardship. Just because health/fitness is a top priority does not mean it is easy to wake up at 5 am to go to the gym. It merely means you will feel better and happier about your investment in attending the workout even when you are really tired. ACT posits that even if your life is too chaotic right now to create goals towards our values, it does not mean you cannot do small projects or small actions each day. If studying Torah is a value but the individual has no time to set up a chavrusa or attend classes at the local Shul, one can accomplish living the life you want to lead by merely setting a small amount of time (even 5 minutes) every day to study as it aligns the individual with their value. 

I’d like to suggest that the mitzvah of  וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ Love Hashem is mitzvah to make loving Hashem a value in one’s life. This commandment states that one shouldn’t just set aside time to reflect on the relationship but to live a life aligned towards creating, maintaining and pursuing a loving relationship between man and G-d. Unlike goal-oriented mitzvos like sitting in a sukkah, blowing shofar or wearing tefillin which are accomplished at a specific time, this is a mitzvah that encompasses one’s entire life. Like the Chinuch stated above, one accomplishes the mitzvah of loving Hashem by performing other mitzvos. If one performs other mitzvos (goal-oriented mitzvos) that are aligned with the mitzvah of loving Hashem (Value oriented mitzvah) one will increase his or her relationship with Hashem and live a more meaningful life. Instead of studying Torah today or praying just to perform your daily requirements, study or pray with the intent to increase one’s relationship and love with Hashem. By aligning goals with one’s values, one is able to optimize the joy and impact of their goals. 

May we all find ways to live our lives consistent with our goals despite the challenges and other obstacles in life. May we all increase our Eudaimonic Happiness by not just not accomplishing goals from our checklist, but prioritizing the goals that are more consistent with our values. Wishing everyone a wonderful shabbos!

Work Cited

Harris, R., & Hayes, S. C. (2019). Act made simple: an easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy (2nd ed., Ser. The new harbinger made simple ser). New Harbinger Publications. Retrieved August 10, 2022, from https://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=5748522.

Kottasz, R., Bennett, R., & Randell, T. (2019). Post-series depression: scale development and validation. Arts and the Market, 9(2), 132–151.

Leckliter, Mel. (2020, January 6). Psychologists on how to fill the emptiness you feel after bingeing a great show. MEL Magazine. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/psychologists-on-how-to-fill-the-emptiness-you-feel-after-binging-a-great-show 

Devarim 2022: Maapilim: Impulsivity & Teshuva. Insights from the Maapilim story

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

             I imagine I am not the only person who does this: Whenever I have a dentist appointment I brush my teeth multiple times before leaving the house. While my oral hygiene is not in question, I still ensure to do one last intense cleaning before seeing the dentist. While helpful that my teeth get a nice cleaning,  I know it doesn’t make up for the many times I was not as careful or intense about cleaning. Yet, I still do this despite knowing it isn’t helpful. Colloquially, this is known as a concept called “Too little too late”.  

             This week’s Torah portion, Devarim, begins the fifth book of the Torah where Moshe Rabeinu addresses the nation before he passes away. Throughout the Torah portion, Moshe recaps many events from the past to warn and extract lessons for the nation entering Israel. One story that is retold this week is the unfortunate decision and actions of a group of individuals called the Maapilim. On the heels of the spies, the Maapilim decide to storm into Israel and begin conquering the land. Despite G-d’s warning that they will not be successful, they proceed with their plan and are defeated immediately. This group captures the meaning of too little too late. See Devarim 1:41-44. (The name Maapilim comes from the description in the text of Bamidbar 14:44)

             This story is slightly troubling. What did they do wrong? Their motivation and intention appear to be noble and altruistic. They appear to be fighting for G-d’s promised land and for G-d’s mission of having the Jewish nation conquer the land. Why were they punished so harshly? Devarim 1:44 describes their demise as the enemies were like a swarm of bees striking them immediately. A very harsh and crushing defeat. Secondly, do we not believe in Teshuva (repentance)? Why did G-d completely deny this group that openly recognized their sins and requested to rekindle their connection with G-d!?

             There are three main approaches as to the sin of the Maapilim: Disobedience of authority, incomplete teshuva, and impulsivity. Sefer Minchas Elazer writes while the Maapilim’s intentions may have been noble, their actions disobeyed G-d’s orders. Hashem instructed them Devarim 1:42 לֹ֤א תַֽעֲלוּ֙ וְלֹא־תִלָּ֣חֲמ֔וּ כִּ֥י אֵינֶ֖נִּי בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם Do not go up and do not battle with them as I (Hashem) am not with you.  Their ascent to Israel was in direct violation of G-d’s words and deserving of punishment.

 Sefer Akeidas Yitzchak (77:1) writes that their repentance was flawed as they were externally motivated to repent. This teshuva was therefore incomplete as they lacked genuine repentance. Sefer Akeidas Yitzchak adds that they merely feared the decree and did not desire to become closer to Hashem in their hearts. Rav Dovid Tzi Hoffman similarly writes that the goal of teshuvah is to realign and make the individual closer to Hashem. The Maapilim did the opposite, their action violated G-d’s will and did not bring them closer.

Targum Yerushalmi translates maapilim as rash/impulsive. Sforno in his commentary on the Torah explains that their attempt to go to Israel after their attempted teshuva was impulsive as Hashem did not accept their teshuva due to the massive disrespect that occurred at the incident of the spies. Their actions would have been welcomed before the sin of the spies, after this incident occurred it was “too little too late”. 

While it makes sense in our relationships to engage with others in this way, it is hard to view G-d as holding a grudge against His people. Humans hold grudges and need time to heal. In our interpersonal relationships, we need time to debrief, isolate and readjust before rekindling relationships. Is this how Hashem works as well? 

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein in his book Revival & Renewal states that teshuva is not just an opportunity to amend for one’s sins, Teshuva is the chance to redress the balance. Teshuva allows us to take off the waste and not only neutralize it but energize it; even transform it into a positive force. When we sin and perform Teshuva, we don’t instantly rewind the clock to a time before the sin, but rather utilize the lessons from the sinning experience and channel positivity and growth through the teshuva process. This is a lesson the Maapilim missed. They believed just saying sorry would erase the spies incident and allow them to become successful. 

We will read this Saturday night in Megilas Eicha 5:21- הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ ה’ אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ ונשובה חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם return us Hashem to You and renew us like the days of old. Rabbi Rob Sheinburg writes that Kedem isn’t the days of old, but rather is a name of a place. Kedem in Genesis 3:24 is the land that Adam and Chava were exiled to after their sin in Gan Eden (Bashevkin, 2019). When we recite this verse multiple times on Saturday night we are not just asking Hashem to transport us back to a time before the sin, but to give us the trajectory and path to perform successful and full Teshuva. Please allow us to be on a “journey” towards repentance and growth to fulfill proper and complete Teshuva.

Wishing everyone an easy and meaningful fast. We will daven Maariv followed by Eicha and Kinnos at 9:45pm. Shabbat Shalom and have a safe “journey”

Mattos 2022: Impulsivity Vs Endowment Effect: Analysis of the Reuven & Gad Land Request

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Anshi Sfard 2022

In 1990, Shoda, Mischel, and Peake conducted a famous scientific experiment called the Marshmallow Test. The test measured impulsivity and self-control by placing a marshmallow in front of children and instructing them to delay eating it until the experimenter returned to the room. If the child abstained from eating the marshmallow, they were instructed that they would receive a second marshmallow. The study as well as the accompanying videos helped future studies study the impact of self-control and impulsivity. It was later correlated to increased executive functioning.

At the surface, the marshmallow test appears to have originated in this week’s parsha. Two tribes, Reuven & Gad, received beautiful land right outside of Israel. Per the Orach Chaim’s commentary on the Torah, Reuven and Gad received a large portion of the land because their tribes contributed the majority of the soldiers for the wars in those lands. Because they owned more land than everyone else, they wanted to keep it instead of going into the land of Israel. Similar to the marshmallow test impulsivity, the land on the other side of the Jordan was too desirable of a place to live, it is hard to sacrifice immediate benefit even when the future benefit (portion of the land of Israel) was promised to you. 

Furthering the critical view of these tribes, commentaries analyze the choice wording of the tribes when justifying their desire to live on the other side of the Jordan. Numbers 32:16 the tribes state גִּדְרֹ֥ת צֹ֛אן נִבְנֶ֥ה לְמִקְנֵ֖נוּ פֹּ֑ה וְעָרִ֖ים לְטַפֵּֽנוּ we will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. Rashi criticizes the tribes that they cared more about their money than their own children! Rashi writes that their flaw was they made the main idea secondary and the secondary idea the main. Ralbag similarly condemns their priorities, but adds that their emotions were misled by their rashness or hastiness (מהירות). 

This is troubling. After so many years of traveling, why would they stop here, right next to Israel? How could they be so short sighted? The conclusion feels strange as well. After negotiating, the compromise states that the tribes need to still help fight the battles in Israel, but can return home after the land is conquered and divided up. This took 14 year! Why would they agree to such terms?

One interesting similarity between the tribes living on the other side of the Jordan (Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe) is that they are all first borns. Interestingly, Adler (1922) theorized that birth order and family structure impact a child. Adler notes that firstborns are typically more traditional, resilient and leaders of the family. They are less swayed by emotions and impulsivity and have a higher locus of control. Firstborns would likely pass the marshmallow test. Parenthetically, my son, the firstborn, is the only one of my children that I would wager on passing the marshmallow test. How did the first born tribes of Reuven, Gad and Manashe become swayed by non-holy land and succumb to the temptation to prioritize their sheep over their spiritual growth?

I’d like to suggest a possibility that the decision to stay on the other side of the Jordan was due to the recent influx of money/livestock. This change clouded their judgement causing this request to Moshe. The cognitive distortions generated by having money caused them to mix up their priorities and place money before their children and Israel. 

One cognitive distortion that may have played a role in their decision is the endowment effect. The endowment effect is the tendency for someone to value an object more once they own it (Thaler, 1980). Thaler writes that once one owns an object, they would value the item higher than the amount they valued the item prior to owning it. The value of something increases regardless of its objective market value merely from being owned. Carmon & Ariely (2000) illustrated the endowment effect with Duke Basketball tickets. After raffling off the last several tickets to the final Duke game of the year, the experimenters surveyed both the recipients and non-recipients of the tickets as to their perceived value of a ticket. Those that did not win only valued the tickets at $170 while the winners of the raffle valued their winning ticket at $2,400. Just merely owning the ticket increased its value. This is also the reason it is difficult to drop or trade fantasy football players that you draft early in the draft (Kennedy, 200).

Once Reuven & Gad owned and settled their land on the other side of the Jordan it became difficult for them to give it up due to the distorted and inflated value the endowment effect created. They quickly became accustomed to the luscious fields for their sheep to graze and now valued it more than any land in Israel.  

It is clear from the Torah that Gad & Reuven had incorrectly set their priorities. When they spoke they highlighted their livestock over their own children. Despite Moshe’s attempt to correct them and reversed the order, it did not sway or impact their request. This could be due to their inflated evaluation of their current land that made it difficult to move away into the unknown. Moshe’s deal with Reuven & Gad now makes more sense as he challenges them to not just help out the rest of the nation but take part of the acquisition of the rest of the land. He may have hoped that just joining in the battle would engender some desire to transition to Israel and reorganize their priorities.

On Friday we welcome in the new month of Av. As the Mishna Taanis 29a writes משנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה when the month of Av begins we decrease our acts of rejoicing. This is the time of year we dedicate to mourning the Temple and the tragedies of the past. Culminating with Tisha Beav on the 9th day of the month, the first 8 days of Av are dedicated to times of seriousness and mourning. Despite the fun summer months dedicated to fun and excitement, it is specifically during this time that we realign and look at our priorities. May we all learn from the lessons of this week’s parsha to look beyond our cognitive biases and distortions. May we rise above the clouded judgment telling us to ignore what is truly important and focus on the trivial. Like Rashi wrote as referenced above, may we align the main idea with the main idea and the secondary with the secondary. Wishing all of you a wonderful shabbos and a meaningful month of Av. 

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Work Cited

Adler, A. (1922). The individual psychology of Alfred Adler. New York: Harper & Row & London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Carmon, Z., & Ariely, D. (2000). Focusing on the forgone: how value can appear so different to buyers and sellers. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(3), 360–370.

Kennedy, J. (2013). Why so few trades are made in your Fantasy Football League. Forbes. Retrieved July 28, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshuakennedy/2013/12/06/why-so-few-trades-are-made-in-your-fantasy-football-league/?sh=44564198660d 

Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., & Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26, 978–986.

Thaler, R. (1980), Toward a Positive Theory of Consumer Choice, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 1(1) , 39–60.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1991). Loss aversion in riskless choice: a reference-dependent model. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 106(4), 1039–1061. https://doi.org/10.2307/2937956

Korach 2022: The Impact of Volunteering in the Community on Your Children

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Anshi Sfard 2022

Three weeks ago we read about the story of Korach and learned about his rebellion with Dassan and Aviram. While successful in creating chaos within the Jewish people, the rebellion was ultimately quashed when the ground opened up and swallowed the rebellion’s leaders. In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we learn a new detail about the Korach rebellion. When recounting the lineage of the tribes, the Torah informs us of a new detail that the sons of Korach did not die.

Per the reading of the text from three weeks ago, it appeared that Korach was the true leader of the rebellion. The verse states: Vayikach ַAnd Korach took. However, in this week’s parsha we can see a new perspective and interpretation of the rebellion. Ralbag in his commentary on the Torah, points out that the new detail about Korach’s sons not dying implies that Korach was not the true leader. Ralbag highlights that the recounting of the Korach story and the sons not dying in this week’s Torah portion are mentioned during the reporting of the tribe of Reuben (after it mentions Dassan and Aviram). Ralbag writes that these details are only delineated in the tribe of Reuben and not Levi (which was Korach’s tribe) because Dassan and Aviram were the true leaders. Korach was merely a celebrity/spokesperson for the rebellion and not the true leader. Ralbag concludes that if Korach were the leader, his children would have been involved and punished. Since Korach was not fully invested and merely a pawn in the rebellion, his influence did not transfer onto his children.
While Ralbag focuses on this week’s Torah portion to learn about Korach’s subsidiary involvement, others focus on the previous Torah portion and believe Korach had a prominent role in the rebellion. Rashi in his commentary writes that the sons of Korach were spared because they repented at the end. The Torah describes that after the leaders of the rebellion were swallowed up, the rebellion continued and was defeated by a plague from G-d. This rebellion influenced many and caused many Jews to die. How was it that Korach’s own kids were able to repent when so many that were less involved in the rebellion were punished?

One advantage Korach’s children had was that they were from the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi were tasked with taking care of the Tabernacle and its vessels. Korach himself had a unique role where he managed the items located in the Holy of Holies. Korach’s children grew up performing community work and important tasks for the entire nation. This responsibility influenced their personality.

Recent studies show that volunteering or performing community service increases resilience, prosocial thinking, prosocial behavior and social responsibility (White, 2019). White defines volunteering as paid or unpaid, required by school, synagogue or court of law. Volunteering is any action aimed at benefiting others or the community. While the recipients of volunteerism or community work is usually others, studies have also found a correlation between volunteers and happiness. There is a reciprocal impact a volunteer has when helping others that also help oneself.

Korach and his sons partook in community service. These years spent helping out the Jewish nation inevitably influenced Korach’s sons to repent and/or avoid the rebellion. Their active involvement in the Tabernacle influenced prosocial behavior and social responsibility towards Moshe and Aharon that they were able to escape the fate of the rebellion.

We can learn from our Torah portion the power of working for our community and the opportunity that we have for ourselves and our children to volunteer and help out at Synagogue. Even putting away prayer books, throwing out garbage from kiddush or other small tasks that aid the synagogue’s cleanliness and order can be transformative. May we all merit to see the impact of our commitment to our synagogue in ourselves and in our children. I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday for Lox N Learn and especially look forward to throwing out my plate when I’m done eating.

Have a wonderful Shabbos

Work Cited

White, E. S. (2021). Parent values, civic participation,
and children’s volunteering. Children & Youth Services Review, 127.

Balak 2022- Biblically Disconnecting Compliments

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Anshi Sfard 2022

This week’s Torah portion has something unique. In fact, it only happens 4 other times in the entire Torah. Out of the 245 columns in the standard Torah, 240 of them begin with the letter vav. This is referred to as vavei Haamudim (ווי העמודים). Five columns deviate and begin the column with a different Hebrew letter. The mnemonic given for these deviations is בי-ה שמ. This stand for Bereishis, Yehuda, Habaim, Ma Tovu and Shemor (בראשית, יהודה אתה יודוך, הבאים אחריהם, מה טבו, שמר לך). This custom to organize the Torah in this way is quoted by the Rama in Yoreh Deah 273 and is the standard layouts for Torahs. This week’s parsha hosts one of the deviations: mem. In Numbers chapter 24:5, the antagonist Bilaam attempts to curse the Jews but his cursing is swapped for a blessing/compliment to the Jewish people praising the holiness of their houses.

מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל– How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!

            Not only is Ma Tovu special due to its deviation from the norm of starting the column with the letter vav, the verse Ma Tovu has a prominent role in our prayers every day. Most siddurim begin the mourning prayers with the verse Ma Tovu. Orach Hashulchan OC 46:17 even quotes customs to recite this verse every time one enters a synagogue. Gemara Brachos 12b even entertains canonizing the entire story of Bilaam into the Krias Shema prayer, the iconic and most well-known prayer. It would appear to be an understatement to say that Ma Tovu is an important verse.

Maharsha (64) argues that this verse should not be recited. He argues that this blessing/compliment to the Jewish people had ill-intentions. While the words were nice, the intent behind the statement was malicious. Why would we want to prominently display this verse both in the Torah as well as in our siddurim? Is there a connection between the “missing” vav on the column and this compliment given by Bilaam to the Jews?

In general, compliments can be difficult to accept. There are several reasons for our discomfort when receiving a compliment. Some deflect or downplay the compliment out of fear of appearing arrogant. Others distance themselves from the compliment due to their low self-esteem or self-confidence. In some cases, receivers of the compliment may even experience fear as they might interpret the compliment as an attack via sarcasm or backhanded compliment/insult.

One variable that increases the likelihood of discomfort with a compliment is time. There is a negative correlation between time and comfort with accepting compliments. The more time passes between the event and the compliment, the less comfortable the individual will be to accept the compliment. For example, complimenting someone’s 3-pointer will be more easily accepted by the shooter if the compliment is given right after the basket was made than when given later that night. Time can increase the likelihood that the receiver will downplay, dismiss, and feel uncomfortable with the compliment.

While Bilaam’s blessing/compliment was beautiful, it was received after a delay from the event from which it was being praised. Because the entire story of Bilaam occurred without any interaction with the Jewish people, no one knew about the Blessing until it was recounted later. Therefore, when it was initially received there may have been a discomfort or a disconnect to the compliment! This is hinted to by the “missing” vav, a letter that connects and joins items together (vav’s english translation is “and”). Perhaps, the reason we specifically connect our entrance to synagogue and prelude our prayers with the verse Ma Tovu to connect the compliment to an action. We begin our prayers specifically with this verse to show how we deserve this blessing/compliment fully and not the downplayed or watered-down version of the compliment.

Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, How great are the tents of Yaakov. May we all merit to see the good in others and ourselves as Bilaam saw many years ago. Perhaps this week, the week of Biblically disconnecting compliments we can all find a way to provide a compliment to one individual. Allow ourselves to find a good deed or merit from someone else and compliment it right away to obtain the compliment’s optimal impact. May we merit to reunite and connect the “missing” vav by showing our fellow Jews kindness and love. Have a wonderful Shabbos

Pesach 2022: 4 Cups of Change

 An analysis of the psychology of change through the lens of the Passover story

Rabbi Nachi Friedman

Because of the tremendous pressures of Passover preparation, it is so easy to lose focus on the upcoming holiday. Between the massive Passover cleaning, spring cleaning and preparing ourselves for the upcoming restrictive diet/havoc on one’s internal plumbing of Matzah, it is only natural to become absorbed by the restrictive nature and stress that accompanies this holiday. We describe the holiday of Passover in our prayers as compiled by our sages as זמן חרותנו “a time of freedom”, but yet this freedom feels more restrictive than the remainder of the year. In many homes, cleaning and “chametz extermination” has begun weeks prior to the holiday and intensifies as the holiday nears. We can potentially become so lost in the details and enslaved by our process that we lose the bigger picture and the feelings of freedom and joy that this holiday was intended to generate.

On the night of Passover, during the customary extended meal called the “seder”, we are instructed to read passages and follow specific steps throughout the night. Family customs vary on this night, but overall themes are consistent. Rambam, Maimonides (1138–1204), explains this rigid process is to create an environment and replicate the experience as if those at the table were actually leaving Egypt themselves. This comment of Rambam is in contrast to the commandment/obligation of our daily remembrance of the exodus in which we merely remind ourselves of the miracles and how G-d took the Jewish nation out of Egypt long ago. Rambam states that on Passover, it is not enough to merely remember and state the details, but one must create an experience where one reenacts and feels the emotions of the exodus. For example, we eat symbolic foods such as Matzah, poor man’s bread, and marror, bitter herbs, to commemorate and relive the story of Egypt. Family customs are developed to further customize this message and engage each participant to participate in a mental exercise of what it would feel like to be slaves and freed. For many, just the feeling of no longer having to clean for Passover suffices!

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (1853 – 1918) points out that the Jews were not just workers to Pharaoh in Egypt, but were mentally slaves. The idea behind the wondrous miracles and powerful plagues that befell Egypt were not just to halt the slave workload, but to rid of the slave mentality shared by all Jews in order to enable them to leave Egypt. While the narrative of the story shared on the night of Passover focuses on the hardship that our ancestors experienced and the omnipotent miracles that liberated them from the cruel and relentless Egyptians and Pharaoh, Rabbi Soloveitchik adds that this feeling of freedom required freedom of labor as well as freedom of the mind. Our journey from slaves to the Jewish Nation was both a physical and a cognitive exodus. Thus, our job at the “seder” is to feel as if we are leaving Egypt, both physically and cognitively.

In many ways, we are all cognitively slaves. How many things do we do on a daily basis not just because we want to, but because we have to. Do we always work towards our values or do external pressures, addictions, and weaknesses assuage us to become distracted and veer off our path? If I wish to become smarter and learn more, why do I distract myself with social media, Netflix or other vices that fill my time? How can I utilize Passover, the holiday of freedom, to liberate myself and my schedule? How can I change….

One of the unique customs of the Passover night is the drinking of the four cups of wine throughout the Seder. While many foods eaten have dual meanings (Matzah is both the bread of affliction as well as the symbol of the Jews’ liberation), wine appears to only symbolize freedom (Aside from the custom to dip our finger in red wine to symbolize the blood). Yet, wine is used throughout the night, not just at the end of the night where our focus shifts from remembering the enslavement to remembering the freedom! The four cups of wine are also not generally assigned but are strategically assigned at various milestones and areas throughout the night. Understanding the message of the 4 cups of wine may help us utilize the holiday to change our mentality and free ourselves.

Whether it is changing a habit, self-improvement, changing professions or as big as changing from slavery to freedom, change undergoes a long process. Rabbi David Fohrman in his book The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, asks why the exodus had to happen with the 10 plagues and not magic carpets to whisk all the Jews away. Rabbi Fohrman’s question alludes to a process and not just a rescue mission. This process is clarified by the 4 languages of freedom as explained below.

While there are numerous explanations as to why we drink four cups of wine on Passover night, the widely accepted reason is that the 4 cups of wine correspond to the 4 languages of redemption proclaimed by G-d in the book of Exodus: והוצאתי והצלתי וגאלתי ולקחתי (take out of Egypt, save, redeem and bring to Israel). Each language of redemption appears to correspond to a different stage of the change process to free to Jewish nation of the slavery mentality. It is via the 4 cups of wine that we commemorate and experience the stages of change.

Just like there are 4 cups of wine and 4 languages of redemption, there are 4 stages of change mentioned in psychological research:  Precontemplation, Contemplation, Action and Maintenance (Prochaska et al., 1992).  Precontemplation is the first stage where one has no intention to change one’s behavior. In this stage the individual may be unaware of the problem. Contemplation is the next stage where the individual is aware of the problem but not committed towards an action. The individual knows where he or she wishes to be but is not yet ready to go there. The third stage, Action, is where behavior is modified or changes to the environment have been made to resolve the problem. This stage requires commitment, energy and effort. Finally, Maintenance is the final stage in which the individual fights to prevent relapse and maintain the commitments and progress of the action stage.

While successfully changing a behavior or resolving a problem does not always occur on the first try, this process can be repeated entirely or partially to become successful. So too, redemption is not a one time event, rather, it is an active duty upon all of us to maintain and continue to change today. Our change process occurred in Egypt long ago and continues to the present day. Once a year we get together to reignite and revive this change process. This is done via the 4 cups of wine.

This first cup of wine is והוצאתי – “I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt”. In the Exodus story, this refers to the stoppage of the back-breaking labor of slavery. Sforno (1475 – 1550) writes that this stage of redemption occurred once the plagues began. We still lived in Egypt but no longer worked as slaves. This stage of change is parallel to the pre-contemplation stage of change. The Jewish nation was unaware of the mental toll this slavery has endowed on them. The nation had tunnel vision and hyper focused on the workload as it was difficult and completely over encompassing in their lives. G-d’s first redemption highlights the problem by removing the blindfold of slavery to reveal the problem at hand. How many times have we taken a vacation from work, school or from our house and realized a problem in our family dynamic?

The second cup of wine is והצלתי “I will rescue you”. In the Exodus story this is the physical action of G-d taking the Jewish nation out of Egypt. Sforno emphasizes this is merely the removal of the people from the borders of Egypt, not their spirit or their mind. The Jewish nation was still attached to Egypt culturally and emotionally despite being “free”. The Exodus story recounts that many complained to Moses upon traveling from Egypt to return to Egypt despite Egypt being a source of tremendous pain and suffering. Even when a problem is revealed, and solution/future is identified it is difficult to abandon one’s old habits. Old habits are comforting despite the pain they have caused and will cause. This stage of change, parallel to the contemplation stage, is not quite ready to take action as the individual is still holding onto the behavior.

The third cup of wine is וגאלתי “I shall redeem you”. Sforno writes that this happened after the sea split and drowned the Egyptians. This experience rebooted the internal constructs of the Jewish nation’s mind and removed the slave mentality from their cognition. While the second cup symbolized taking the Jew out of Egypt, this stage takes Egypt out of the Jew. This is the action stage where one removes any triggers of the behavior from one’s home and life. Previous stages have successfully revealed the areas that need change and this stage cleanses one’s system. While the Jewish nation was no longer “slaves” there still required one last stage to provide maintenance and direction.

The fourth cup of wine is ולקחתי “I shall take you to Me for a people”. In the exodus story this is where the Jews that left Egypt became a nation. The maintenance stage provided structure, accountability and a new relationship with G-d. Sforno writes that this occurred when the Jews stood as a nation by Mount Sinai ready to receive the Torah. After the action stage is complete, one’s behavior needs direction and structure. This stage prevents relapse and succumbing to the temptations of old habits. The direction and replacement behavior becomes one’s new normal and anchor to sustain the hard work performed in previous stages.

As we sit at our Passover meal this year and drink our 4 cups of wine, we are journeying through Exodus and the stages of change with our ancestors. As Rambam posits, we must experience the story as if we are leaving Egypt, going through these changes and becoming redeemed. This redemption is not just the removal of hard work (as symbolically done as we have stopped our cleaning for Passover), but the cognitive revival and freedom to pursue our goals, wishes and dreams. May we all use this Passover holiday and the power of the holiday of freedom to identify and rid ourselves of any behavior, cognition or aspect of our life that is encumbering ourselves. May we utilize the power of change that this holiday equips us with to maintain this level of spiritual inspiration and achievement throughout the year. When we drink each of the four cups of wine perhaps we can keep in mind one area of growth and achievement we would wish upon ourselves to change and maintain. Throughout the seder night, as we read the hagaddah, we can utilize this area of growth and change to accomplish the experiential experience Rambam mentioned as the unique obligation for the day. As we journey through the Exodus and relive the change, may we free ourselves of our negative behavior and create positive growth.

Wishing everyone a happy Passover and happy changing,

Prochaska, J.O., DiClemente, C.C., & Norcross, J.C. (1992). In search of how people change: Applications to the addictive behaviors. American Psychologist, 47, 1102-1114. PMID: 1329589.