I'm at home and by myself for Passover this year, sneezing, coughing and with a raging headache. Sometimes when I'm alone on holidays, I try to put together some sort of celebration. In advance, I'd bought and prepared many of my favorite holiday foods. While I can't eat much of them, last night I found a "virtual seder" recording on the internet, listened to that while flat on my back, had a little dinner and later vegged out in front of the TV.
The strange thing is, I didn't feel that I wanted or needed to be anywhere else last night (or tonight). My own company is good and I live in freedom as long as I say so. "Let my people go." Can I let myself go, free myself from the prison of believing I shouldn't be sick, should be with family, that my friends back home should have called me? Can I get free from thinking that holidays should never be spent alone, that they are more important and meaningful than other days?
Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights when I'm alone I don't always notice or have a problem with it.
I'm not big on revisionist holidays (the language of feminist Haggadahs and siddurs, for example, never felt natural to me), but I do like to see where the "originals" push my buttons and discover my part in it. Here's what I sat with last night:
"God released ten terrible plagues."
Is it true? I can't know.
How do I react when I believe this thought? It appears that God plays favorites among us humans and beasts and that He is wrathful and unkind. When I believe this I feel separate from God. I resent this Universe. I treat God as the enemy, as something to be feared.
I'm disconnected from friends and family who are celebrating; how can they celebrate a story in which many of God's children die? How did I celebrate this blindly for so many years? I feel ashamed to be a Jew when I believe this thought.
Whose business am I in mentally when I believe that God sent terrible plagues? What an interesting question. Am I in God's business? It seems I am in "history's" business, believing or not believing the tale of yore. I'm in the Egyptians' business: can I know they suffered? Can I know my own people suffered before the plagues came? I can only know my own suffering.
Why would I hold a such a stressful belief as this? If I did, it would be because I feared for my own survival. It would be because I see the world as "dog eat dog," and that the only salvation is God's intervention. I remember how futile and hopeless life seemed when I felt that God was a punisher and task-master.
Here's where I do relate to the Passover story: I believe that survival means survival of the physical body. If I no longer believed the thought "God released ten terrible plagues, " I would not fear plagues. I would see physical death as no worse (or better) than physical life. I would not have a reference for violence and wrath. I would see the ten plagues as things...locusts, frogs, boils, cattle disease...no different from flu, messy living room, unfinished tax papers, headache, war in Iraq, traffic noise outside. They are all what I say they are. In and of themselves they have no "charge" on them. This doesn't mean I condone war, don't treat my cold symptoms or that I have to live in a mess once I'm feeling better.
Without this thought, there is enough strength to dust some furniture, do some writing, do The Work, raise a glass of wine in honor of my heritage (a small one, not the prescribed four glasses), celebrate life, stop giving energy to death. I am God's sister; I re-order creation. I stop sending down plagues.
Turned around: "God did not release ten terrible plagues." It could be just as true:
1. Perhaps it's just allegory and I'm not seeing deeper, more peaceful symbolism.
2. It could be that plagues are not terrible, they are simply "what is." What if plagues—like the one inexplicably killing off Northern California's oak trees—are making room for something else, something that's for our highest good? Would we be here now if the dinosaurs had lived?
3. God created the Earth, where plagues appear sometimes. They arrive when they do, they abate when they do. But we want answers in order to make it all okay. It's like this: there's an AIDS virus and we tell the story that someone must have done something to go against God in order to get this disease. When a disease gets eradicated, "we" did that; or God did it because He loves us!
"I released ten terrible plagues." Yes, it was me who said they were terrible and I don't even know what murrain is!
Here are ten terrible plagues, or unquestioned beliefs, as released and lived out by me:
10. Slaying, in my mind, anyone who criticizes or disagrees with me. The "first born," a thought which would create a "me" and "you" in my mind, that would keep me from loving you as my own self.
©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.